NORMAN — The Norman North boys made history last season by running away with the state title behind a talented group of seniors and an even more talented group of underclassmen led by Justin Wu. With the record-setting junior back this season along with plenty of other speed on the team, the Timberwolves have a good shot to duplicate that success.
And, this year, the girls hope to join them.
Behind returning sophomore Maddie Sarantakos, who won the 100-yard butterfly and finished second in the 200 freestyle, the Timberwolves believe they have another state title contender in the pool.
“Second place would be okay, but we’re all aiming for first,” she said. “It’s going to take all of our girls placing and our relays winning, but that’s the goal.”
If the Timberwolves seem confident, it’s because they’ve earned it. The Norman High and North swim programs have flourished in recent years — the NHS boys finished fourth and the North girls third last season — under coach Kent Nicholson, and this year isn’t expected to be any different. The two schools will compete Feb.7-8 at the Edmond School Aquatic Center in the state’s first regional meet, a change from previous years where swimmers only had to meet a certain time to qualify for state.
Instead, the top eight finishers from each regional will make the state meet, as well as the next eight best times from either regional.
“It’s different than last year because you have to make sure you’re at peak performance on that day,” North senior Jackie Dyer said. “Before, you had several chances where you could swim well to meet the time.”
Another aspect about the Norman programs is how intertwined they are. With just one coach at the helm, the four programs comprised of 55 swimmers are tightly connected, as are their members. Tigers and Timberwolves train together and compete together under the Sooner Swim Club umbrella when not racing in OSSAA events.
The result is a rising tide that lifts all four programs, even when one of those — like the NHS girls this year — is smaller than usual.
“We’re small but we’re mighty,” said senior Kaylea Fabri, who is back in the pool this year after missing all of last season with a shoulder injury. “We’ve improved a lot already this year and we’re still getting better.”
For Nicholson, the continued success of the swimming program at both schools is a result of the talent he’s had to work with and the training they receive in middle school through the Sooner Swim Club program.
“Our teams are steadily getting faster,” he said. “The kids come in faster and more prepared almost every year. We graduated a good chunk of speed last year, and we have a lot more young speed now. They’ve changed regionals this year, and I’m excited to see how it plays out. We’ll just try to get as many kids as we can into the state meet.”
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