By Matt Hill
Defeating Science Hill, Tennessee High and Dobyns-Bennett in a Regional swim meet is almost an impossible task for a school the size of Elizabethton, but what the Cyclones boys accomplished on Saturday night at the Viking Hall Pool was just as special.
The EHS boys finished fourth in the region behind the three major schools in this area to cap off an amazing turnaround for the Cyclones in the Region Swim Meet.
The Lady Cyclones tallied an impressive seventh place finish of their own in what is a ten-team region where Elizabethton is the smallest school enrollment wise of any school in this region that has swimming.
Led by Scout Walz winning the 500 yard freestyle and 100 backstroke to give the Cyclones their first region individual title in several years, EHS was able to do something that would have been considered far-fetched a few years ago.
“This is hard to describe,” EHS first-year head coach Justin Conway said. “When I think of some the schools we swam against today, schools like Greeneville, Morristown West, Sullivan South, Sullivan Central, Sullivan East; all those schools have some tradition in swimming that Elizabethton doesn’t necessarily have. For our guys to come up and beat all those schools as small as we are and only lose to the three big dogs, that’s pretty awesome.
Walz has gotten a lot of well-deserved attention this year for the standout year he has had and it continued with two easy wins.
Walz and Science Hill’s Tyler Mills were probably the two most dominant male swimmers in the meet and Conway is very happy to have such a hard worker and good kid on his team.
“Scout works so hard,” Conway said. “A lot of credit has to be given to the work he’s done with the Baracudas in Johnson City. His hard work and dedication that he brings to Elizabethton High School is outstanding. He comes in around 5 a.m. every morning and also leads his team in practice in the afternoon. He’s always there for advice and always there to be a role model and as a coach I’ve had a privilege coaching him and we have a great relationship. He not only works hard, but he listens, he responds and he does everything I ask him to.
“Tonight he didn’t necessarily want to swim in the events he was in, but he did it with a smile on his face and ended up winning two championships. He could swim six events in one night and loved it. He’s an outstanding young man and I can only see him getting better.”
Though Walz had the best night, it was a great evening for the entire EHS swim team as this has to be most improved squad in the area over the last month and a half.
On the boys side, Walz, Preston Davis, John Smith, Chris Lanthorn, Anthony Huber, Jon White and Nathan Warner all reached either the main bracket finals or the consolation finals.
The girls side of things saw Emily Thornton, Katt Smith, Kelsi McKamey and Chelsea Taylor all reach finals in one event.
“At the beginning season we set out our season goals and we had a little scrimmage meet and I recorded those kids times and from their times in October to the times tonight they have grown tremendously. They all set goals in their hearts and in their minds and really put in a lot of hard work,” Conway said.
With the TSSAA not involved in swimming, the rules are more relaxed and that allows the team to work a little harder and longer. This group of young men and women took full advantage of that.
“They did two-a-days during Christmas break,” Conway said. “They had hard practices and those kids have cut their times and hit their career goals. I’m beyond proud of them.”
Conway was really pleased with three young ladies who continue to just get better and better.
“Emily Lyons and Kat Smith have combined to take off 45 seconds in all their events today and Kelsi McKamey is a freshmen in high school and missed a good two months of our practices playing volleyball and she comes into the pool and everyday she’s the hardest worker on the team. All three of those young ladies did great,” Conway said.
On the boys side, there have also been some outstanding stories.
“I made Chris Lanthorn have a tough night,” Conway said. “It was one event and then I made him swim another event. He made finals in both events and swam very fast in both events.”
Making Lanthorn do both events so quickly is part of a bigger plan for Conway and his swim program.
“Life is going to get hard no matter what you’re involved in,” he said. “If you’re involved with something that you love with all your heart, there’s still going to be hard days and all the hard days lead up to nights like this. They’re on cloud nine and they wouldn’t be on cloud nine if they didn’t work so hard.
It was a night to remember for Elizabethton High School swimming and one Conway and the Cyclones will never forget.
I feel blessed to have kids who respect me and will work hard for me,” he said. I feel blessed to have parents who have bought into the program and have given me 110 percent support and I feel blessed to work with these kids on an every day basis and watch them grow.
Walz has qualified for the state meet, with McKamey closing in on a state berth. Several Cyclones will participate in the last-chance meet, which is a meet to qualify for the state meet in Nashville in mid-February.
It was a great swim meet for Elizabethton and everybody involved, but unfortunately the swimming community in Northeast Tennessee was saddened this past week by the news of Tennessee High athlete Austin Arnold being tragically killed in a car wreck in Bluff City last weekend.
Arnold primarily played soccer, but he did swim with Tennessee High’s squad over the summer, but his soccer commitments wouldn’t allow him to swim during the season.
Arnold taught Sunday School at Discovery Church in Bristol and was considered by his peers to be a young man of high moral character.
Before Saturday night’s finals, a tribute and prayer went out in the memory of Arnold and to Arnold’s family and friends. The entire meet was dedicated in his memory.
The Elizabethton Star sports department would like to extend its thoughts and prayers to the Arnold family, friends, Tennessee High School and the entire swimming community in Northeast Tennessee.