|Bluebird Program Grows Every Year|
|G. Michael Graham Photo. The Highlands Swimming team members practice their strokes at Silverlake on Tuesday.|
The Highlands boys swim team finished third in the state with 154 points after winning its first Region 7 crown since 1994 with 508 points ending Covington Catholic's 19-year run of consecutive region titles. The Highlands combined swim squads also won their seventh straight region title with 760 points and finished sixth at state.
Head Coach Amanda Johnson welcomes back another large squad. A total of 34 boys and 24 girls make up this year's squad. The boys are expected to have another big season despite the graduation of Garrison Herfel, Chas Sand and Davis Guthier.
Junior diver Finn Murphy returns for Highlands after capturing the one-meter individual diving championship last year with 452.6 points. Murphy won it after finishing runner-up in the 7th Region meet.
Senior Brenden Conley returns after qualifying for state in the 200 and 500-meter freestyle events. He took seventh in the 200 in one minutes, 43.45 seconds and seventh in the 500 in 4:44.17. Conley is committed to George Washington University.
"The good thing about swimming is it's easy for anyone to step up to just treating every meet like it's important and going out there and just swimming as fast as you can just leading by example," Conley said. "The younger kids see that and try to go fast as well."
Conley and returning sophomore swimmers Will Griffith and Mac Russell helped the 200 Free Relay team finish third in 1:26.32 and the 400 Relay finish fourth in 3:12.14.
The Highlands 200 Medley Relay team finished 11th in 1:41.02 in the state meet. Two seniors off that team in Matthew Lorenz and Jake Ryan return along with sophomore swimmer Jack Banks. Banks also took 10th in the 100 Breaststroke in 58.82 seconds.
Johnson said a number of other swimmers could step forward. That list includes senior Grant Sower, juniors Davis Recht, Tyler Brown, sophomore Harrison Pawsat, freshmen Benjamin Vaught, Sam Jones and eighth graders Matt Herfel and Sam Hopper.
Sophomore Michael Meadows could also help in diving. Individuals can participate in two individual events and two relays or three relays and one individual event.
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"It's cool to see that both parts of our sport are growing and kids want to be involved in it," Johnson said. "It really adds to your depth because a lot of teams don't have four divers at regionals. If you can get four boy divers and four girl divers at regionals, you can score a lot of points. That's really helped us over the years. In swimming, we can fill every single event. That's huge for us."
Junior swimmer Caroline Sand leads the Highlands girls. Sand said leadership is key in swimming and diving like any sport.
"We just try to get them pumped up and get them excited for the races so they perform better," Sand said. "We try to say encouraging things to them and get music going. You really just have to have a positive attitude the whole time."
The Highlands girls finished 20th at state with 25 points after finishing fourth in region with 252 points. The biggest loss to graduation from that team was Savannah Brady.
Sand finished seventh in the 200 Free at state in 1:53.96 and eighth in the 100 Free in 52.47 seconds. She was also a member of the 16th-place 200 Free Relay team at state. Other returning swimmers from that relay are juniors Tori Sutkamp, Rachel Moscona and freshman Evia Combs.
A number of other swimmers could also step forward for Highlands. Senior Olivia Hopper and sophomore Sarah Redden also return for the Bluebirds.
The first meet is Saturday in the Eastern Kentucky University Relay Meet at 10 a.m. in Richmond. It is swimming only.
The Highlands girls have 12 state championships in school history. Their last one came in 1974 in Class AA. The last of five state titles for the Highlands boys came in AA in 1968.