Fleming Island, aka Relay High, snags swim gold (again)

By Randy Lefko Sports Editor
Posted 11/11/20

LAKE CITY - Fleming Island High swimming may very well have created themselves a bit of legacy by again dominating relay events at the state championships as the girls medley relay team; Sarah Grimm, …

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Fleming Island, aka Relay High, snags swim gold (again)

Posted

LAKE CITY - Fleming Island High swimming may very well have created themselves a bit of legacy by again dominating relay events at the state championships as the girls medley relay team; Sarah Grimm, Emma Grimm, Abree Clark and Christine Johnson powered to a second straight gold medal in their specialty, the 200 medley relay, at Friday’s Class 3A Swimming and Diving Championships in Stuart.

“The medley repeated and that was our main priority,” said Fleming Island coach Jordan Bright. “We were second team overall (in Class 3A) which is pretty exciting. Our big goal this season was to get all three relays; 200 medley, 200 free and 400 free, to state. We’ve never done that. The second goal was to get all three on the podium (top 8).”

The two consecutive gold medals is still one shy of three gold medals from the boys 200 free relay squads from about four years ago; John Hutton, Nick Hackett, Jack Neeley and Andrew Heinton for two, with David Thompson replacing Hutton for number three.

Unfortunately for the girls team, three of the four swimmers for Bright will be graduating this year. Johnson is the lone underclassman.

The foursome has rattled off top times in the event all season with a cushion of 2-3 seconds on statewide competition up to the state meet, but head coach Jordan Bright, in his 16th year, almost had his heart stop in this one with Fort Myers nearly throwing a monkey wrench into his dynasty plans.

As the relay squad prepped for the very fast final with morning prelims, Bright was eerily contemplating a change in the team makeup knowing that butterfly specialist Johnson would be anchoring the foursome in the freestyle and that he had a freshman phenom freestylist; Maryn McDade, a double podium finisher in two sprint events; third in the 50 free and third in the 100 free.

McDade’s inclusion in the 400 free relay was the main cog in that team getting to the podium.

“Without her on the 400 free relay, they would not have a chance at top eight,” said Bright. “We went with Christine and she delivered.”

“We had the lead off the backstroke (Sarah Grimm), Emma (Grimm) extended a little bit (breaststroke) and Abree (Clark), in the butterfly, held the lead, through the first three legs,” said Bright. “We were worried about Countryside and Chiles going in because they had moves left going in.”

Bright, who explained that “moves’ meant names of swimmers able to be installed in relays at a late notice, had a pleasant surprise when Fort Myers put their sprint specialist in as anchor for the medley relay.

“The season has been crazy from the summer on with the COVID and not being able to see teams compete in big meets,” said Bright. “That doesn’t give a true picture of who is hot during the season so when we looked closer at names available, Fort Myers had one more move left.”

Not one to change something not broken, Bright went with his veteran Johnson as the anchor and with sterling legs from the Grimms and Clark, Johnson had enough of a cushion: 1:22.62 to Fort Myers’ 1:24.25 after three legs, to hold off Fort Myers sprinter Olivia McMurray’s 22.84 second anchor leg. McMurray’s split was a very fast 22.84 with Johnson holding the lead with a 24.35 clock.

“I took one really deep breath before diving in and didn’t take a single breath during the 50,” said Johnson, the lone underclassmen of the foursome. “I saw her on my turn and knew she was on me and just tried to do the best I could to defend our title. I was extremely relieved to touch the wall and hear my teammates and our parents screaming, and see that the scoreboard had a number one by our name.”

Fleming Island got the gold by just .12 seconds; 1:46.97 to 1:47.09.

“All of a sudden, this anchor from Fort Myers was behind and, out of nowhere, started catching up on Christine,” said Bright. “Johnson has speed, but there are a lot of girls faster. This Fort Myers swimmer went 22.8 on us, gobbling Christine up with Christine out-touching her at the wall.”

Bright later found out that McMurray is slated to swim at the University of Texas next year.

“She was in the 200 free (next event) and we thought they would hold her,” said Bright. “I talked to the Fort Myer coach and they only had three meets in their season so there was no scouting her.”

In 2019, Fleming Island won the event in 1:48.35 with Fort Myer again second at 1:48.85. McMurray was leadoff leg for Fort Myers in 2019 and swam a paltry 26.74.

Part two and three of Bright’s team goals were made whole with the 200 free relay; Emma Grimm, Maryn McDade, Sarah Grimm, Christine Johnson, getting second and the 400 free relay; Ashlynn Nieuwenhuis, Maryn McDade, Abree Clark, Sarah Grimm, placing eighth.

As for a repeat to make three in a row and more medals in the other relays; Bright sees the possibility possible.

“We lose three great swimmers, plus 21 seniors, and it will be a task to replace them, but the one piece in the medley relay I worry about is a strong backstroker,” said Bright. “Everything else, I feel confident we’ll do alright.”

In getting their team silver medal, Fleming Island’s girls team got two thirds from McDade (50 and 100 free); an 11th place finish by sophomore diver Jillian Labelle; 16th in the 200 free from Nieuwenhuis; 15th in the 200 individual medley, seventh in 100 butterfly from Christine Johnson; fourth in 50 free, third in 100 breaststroke from Emma Grimm; sixth in the 100 backstroke from Sarah Grimm; and fourth in the 100 breaststroke from Julia Sheffler.

In girls team points, Chiles, who is in Fleming Island’s district and region, won the Class 3A championship with 242 points with Fleming Island second at 208 and Countryside third at 188.

For the boys, Fleming Island finished seventh with 99 points behind team champion Sarasota’s 254.5 and runnerup Barron Collier at 200 with Chiles third at 190.5 Fleming Island got team points from just five swimmers; Austin Wheeler (seventh 200IM, 6th 100 breaststroke), Alec Bilyeu (7th 50 free, 14th 100 butterfly), Justin Lebesch (8th 50 free); seventh 200 free relay (Bilyeu, Wheeler, Lebesch, Dylan Ducut) and seventh in 200 medley relay (David Goodwin, Wheeler, Bilyeu, Lebesch).

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