The Wildcats have enjoyed success in sprint and distance freestyle in recent years, including when Sean Sloat won state in the 100 freestyle in 2012. With the early success from Kevin Zhou, Stephen Johnston, it appears this season will be more of the same.
Despite the quality freestylers, the lack of depth in other events has prevented Wheeler from being a major threat to some of the other premier programs in the county, and that’s an area fourth-year coach Cameron Ward is addressing this season with a young team made up of mostly sophomores and juniors.
“We’re trying to transition lot of guys into other strokes because we have so many at freestyle,” Ward said. “We’ll see how it all works out. I got more than enough depth in freestyle. I got five guys who can hit 24 (seconds) in the 50 and five who can hit 54 in the 100 but not fast enough to compete at county and state.”
Ward does have a few swimmers competing in other events and they seem to be progressing.
Ethan Neault has a shot at making the main finals of the 100 breaststroke at the Cobb County meet Jan. 23-25 — his low time of 1:08.48 in the breaststroke is eight best in the county – and is also contributing in the 100 butterfly.
Cooper Brownell is swimming primarily the 100 backstroke (1:00.67) and the 200 individual medley (2:10.55) this season, and Johnston, who can also swim both distance freestyle events, broke 58 seconds in the 100 butterfly at the Walton Meet on Friday. Jordan Lightstone is handling the 200 IM and 100 breaststroke.
Zhou has the fifth lowest county time in the 100 freestyle (50.09 seconds) and swims in the 22-second range in the 50. Johnston is the most experienced at distance with his strength being the 200 where he has a season low 1:52.79, and Essilvo Sulejmani is another free style swimmer who can make a difference in the relays.
Nicholas Hatch is a freshman swimmer who will likely become a breaststroke but the Wildcats still looking to raise their numbers in the non-freestyle events.
“I feel we can do a lot better in terms of branching out,” Brownell said.
The Wildcats may not yet be able to beat Lassiter and Walton at county yet, but they have a young nucleus that will be intact for future seasons.
“We’re still young, and if we can finish in the top five of county that would be the best we’ve done in a long time,” Ward said. “I think we have another two or three good years of swimming with the group I got.”