Central swimming enjoys strong season


Central Davidson's Lucas Rhodes swims in the boys 200-yard freestyle event during the Davidson County Championship Meet last month at Winston-Salem State University. (Photo by Donnie Roberts/The Dispatch)


In his nine-year tenure as Central Davidson’s swimming coach, Chad Hench has watched West Davidson enjoy some special moments in the pool. A handful of West athletes have won individual state championships, and the West girls won the team title in 2010.



Hench and the Spartans seem to be on the verge of a similar run right now. He went from eight swimmers on his first team to 36 a year later. And with his roots running deep to the youth programs at Brookside and some other pools that participate in the Davidson County Aquatics Association, Hench is getting freshmen now that are ready to make an impact.



Take this year’s squad, for example. After losing Logan Hammond, the best individual to come through Central since Cole Yarbrough, to graduation after last season, a healthy crop of youngsters has taken complete control of the Central Carolina Conference. A trio of sophomores — Lucas Rhodes, Connor Sturgill and Jonathan Hench — is back after strong freshmen campaigns. Those three teamed with Hammond to finished sixth in the state in the medley relay, and they hope to find an anchor who can get them on the podium stand this year. Junior Greyson Myers and senior Connor Gallimore have looked good in various spots, and Hench said they will figure prominently in their relays.



As if the boys’ success is not enough, the Central girls have been equally impressive. Like they boys, they rely heavily on a pair of sophomores, April Kearns and Lexi Bodford, to put up points in waves. Freshmen Kresen Leonard and Emerson Williams have also made an impact, meaning the present and the future are very bright for the Spartans.



The boys and girls have only lost twice this season, and they were to the same teams. North Davidson defeated Central in the county championships, and Concord got past the Spartans at the Pfeiffer Invitational. Other than that, Central has been unbeatable in the pool heading into next week’s CCC championship meet.



Balance has been a real key so far. “We can go two-, three-deep in every stroke,” Hench said. “Obviously, when you go to the big meets, that gives you the opportunity to put more points on the board.



“The girls maybe don’t have the flashier swimmers, but they score points in bunches.”



Rhodes is a distance specialist for the boys, Sturgill’s best stroke is the butterfly and Jonathan Hench’s best stroke is the breast. They have all three qualified for two events in the regional meet Feb. 1 in Huntersville. Kearns has qualified in two events as well, and her specialties are the 200 free and the back stroke. Bodford’s strongest in the 200 IM and the 500 free.



Hench believes the strength of the summer programs in the county have a lot to do with the high school teams enjoying such success over the last decade. Reeds had a dominant stretch that led up to West’s run as a state power. Arcadia has turned into the county’s powerhouse, and that has translated into more success at North. And Brookside has been right there with the top programs in the county the whole time, which in turn has benefitted Central. Hench noted Lexington’s Cole Riggan and Adam Wetherell as serious contenders to be on the podium at the state meet next month, and he said Lexington’s youth swim club has exploded over the past few years.



“I definitely think it has a lot to do with the summer league programs,” Hench said. “And you’ve got more year-round swimmers coming in.”



He said several events have factored into the explosion of popularity in swimming among young people. “You can probably trace it back to the 90s, the Olympics always have an impact,” Hench explained. “When the Olympics do well, and the U.S. does well, kids come out for swimming.



“You go to a year-round meet, and the amount of little kids, 8, 9, 10, that are out there, it’s incredible…and when you get someone like Michael Phelps or Missy Franklin, the recognition they get, and the amount of commercials they get.”



Hench noted Franklin retained her amateur eligibility, and joked about sending a high school swimmer to a meet to face her. The Spartans won’t have to face anyone of her caliber in the coming weeks, but Hench knows the Spartans will have to swim awfully well to continue the run they’ve been on.



Jason Queen can be reached at 249-3981, ext. 220 or jason.queen@the-dispatch.com.