Huntsville's Largest Swim Meet at Nat
By P.M. Black
HUNTSVILLE – More than 1,400 Rocket City Swim League athletes are primed for the prestigious City Championships July 13-14 at the Braham Spring Natatorium.
The 47th RCSL City Meet features 18 teams from pools all around Madison County competing together for individual, relay and team titles at a neutral site. Each team recently completed five dual meets on a home and away basis during the regular season.
The City Meet begins at 8:30 on Saturday and Sunday with the 10-and-under swimmers competing in the morning sessions and the older swimmers in the afternoon.
The Huntsville Natatorium indoor facility, located at 2213 Drake Ave., offers bleacher seating for spectators. This meet is so large, though, team tents are set up all around the outside of the facility to hold the swimmers prior to their events.
"This is a huge meet and takes a lot of great volunteers to make it work," said City Meet Director and RCSL Vice President Brent Bell.
Bell says he was the head deck marshal last year when he was approached by some board members to take a position with the RCSL Board of Directors.
"I volunteered and as time took its course, I began to understand the magnitude of everything involved in putting this together," Bell said. "Jenny Barrett, the former city meet director, helped me get going and I still contact her for insight. I want to help all I can and be involved with helping make this happen for all the kids."
The championship meet features electronic timing. Concessions, swim gear and souvenirs are available for the public to purchase. Admission for event viewing is free.
The mixed freestyle relay is one of the crowd favorites, with two boys and two girls on each relay team. Over at Byrd Spring, the combination of Ian Blasingame, Chloe Hui, Mary Northcutt and Sam Vasquez are the defending City Meet champions. In 2012, they broke the City Meet record held by Camelot for 35 years.
They also set the age 13-14 mixed relay dual meet records in both yards and meters last year. In a very rare feat, these four swimming sensations are still together in the same age group this year and they've reset both of their dual meet records. They broke their own 200 yards record by more than two seconds (1:42.31) on June 12. They lowered the meters mark by nearly three seconds (1:54.67) on June 6.
"We've all known each other for many years, so we are very good friends," said Hui. "Every meet we look forward to swimming the mixed relay. We all hope to break more records in the future."
Hui is an upcoming freshman at Grissom High School. In 2011, she set a City Meet age 11-12 record in the 50 free (25.39), beating a mark held by Margaret Hoelzer since 1995. Hoelzer is a Huntsville native who went on to become an All-American at Auburn University. Hoelzer also competed in a pair of Olympics, winning three medals in the 2008 Olympics in Beijing, China.
Prior to 2012, the RCSL mixed 13-14 free relay record was held by Jones Valley in yards since 2007. The Southeast YMCA had held the meters record since 1984.
The Byrd Spring 13-14 mixed relay squad won the City Meet title last year with a time of 1:40.76, which beat the record of 1:41.37 held by Camelot since 1977.
"Mixed relays are fun because you get to have two boys and two girls and you don't get that in year-round swimming," Blasingame said.
Blasingame, 14, started swimming in the RCSL at age 8. He enjoys reading fiction, writing and music. He's won a pair of Huntsville Literary Association awards. Entering his freshman year in high school, Blasingame is homeschooled and a member of Covenant Christian Academy. He is also a member of the Madison Swim Association.
"It's fun to work hard and then see the results of your accomplishments. Everyone steps it up with fun, cheering for each other and team spirit from your fellow swimmers and coaches."
Regan Weakley, a rising star at Mountain Springs, who recently celebrated her 13th birthday on July 5, set multiple age 11-12 girls individual records during the dual meet portion of the season. Some of her records include a new 50 yard freestyle mark of 25.75 set on June 12, as well as the 50 meters record of 28.51 the week prior. She lowered her yards record to 25.37 on June 26. She notched a record time of 29.44 in the 50 yard backstroke as well this season. The 50 free age 11-12 meters record shattered a time of 28.77 held by Hoelzer.
"I am proud for myself and for my team," Weakley said. "My Mountain Springs coaches are very encouraging when it comes to attempting records. They are supportive no matter what."
Weakley is a straight A student going into eighth grade at Huntsville Middle School. She attributes hard work in practice as the main reason for her success. She is a multiple winner of City Meet titles in the past for Mountain Springs.
Weakley has numerous other RCSL records and also notched several Huntsville Swim Association team records. She started swimming at age 6 with Mountain Springs.
Her teammate, Chandler Espy, set a new RCSL dual meet record of 28.63 in the boys age 15-17 backstroke for the Stingrays during the first meet of the season. At age 15, Espy recently qualified with HSA and competed in the NCSA Junior National Meet in Orlando. He finished 78th overall in the 50 back, but was ninth against swimmers his own age. He was 22nd in the 100 back.
Espy is also an assistant coach for Mountain Springs. He has set numerous RCSL records. His sister, Ryan Espy, is the head coach of the Stingrays. Ryan attends Auburn University and is majoring in engineering and expects to graduate and commission into the Air Force in 2015. And, Regan Weakley's older sister, Callie, is also an assistant coach for Mountain Springs.
"Regan is a team player," said Ryan Espy. "Regan and my brother Chandler are good friends. Chandler runs a lot of our age group practices and improves everyone's stroke."
Ryan Espy is in her first year as head coach of Mountain Springs. She was the Jones Valley head coach for two years, before going into field training for the Air Force last summer.
Some of the other dual meet records include Sarah Margaret Cimino of Blossomwood, who swam a 29.90 in the 13-14 girls 50 meter butterfly. That beat Hoelzer's time of 30.51 set in 1996. Cimino also set a 50-yard fly record of 26.55, a 50 back record of 28.57 and a 50 free record of 25.13 this season.
Cimino won the City Meet age 13-14 individual titles last year in the free, butterfly and backstroke for the Barracudas as a 13-year-old. She currently holds several RCSL and HSA records at various age levels.
Like Espy, the talented Cimino recently competed in the NCSA Junior Nationals. She set a HSA record with her time of 56.77 in the 100 butterfly. At age 14, she was 72nd overall, but fourth against females her age or younger. She was sixth in reference to swimmers her age or younger in the 50 fly, 12th in the 200 fly, 15th in the 500 freestyle, 16th in the 200 free and 20th in the 100 free.
Cimino's first RCSL record in 2005 is one of her most impressive, a time of 20.32 in the 6-and-under 25 meter freestyle.
John Smith, yet another NCSA Junior National swimmer, set a dual meet RCSL record of 23.94 in the boys age 15-17 50-yard butterfly. He lowered it to 23.78 on June 19.
Riley T. Groves secured a dual meet record with a stunning time of 15.83 for Redstone Arsenal in the boys 8-and-under 25-yard butterfly. He also set a standard of 16.41 in the 25-yard backstroke.
Greenwyche is the defending team champions. Piedmont has finished runner-up the past two seasons, losing to Greenwyche by just 26 points in 2012.