Local swimmers in good position at midway point

MORGANTOWN — With just two months left until the start of the WVSSAC state meet, the Morgantown and University High swim teams are slowly preparing for the final push of the season.

The prospect of a state team title for either side, a feat only the MHS girls have accomplished, most recently in 2012, is a bit daunting. Still, as the Mohigans and Hawks approach the midway point of the year, the focus is less on a team win and more on individual success, something neither side has lacked in recent years.

MHS, which finished fourth in the girls’ race last season, has spent the season trying to replace one of the program’s top swimmers in Courtney Deem.

Now a freshman with the Fairmont State swim team, Deem claimed three state championships a year ago, two in individual events and a third as the anchor for Morgantown’s 400-yard freestyle relay.

“Anytime you have someone like that, you never want to lose them,” first year MHS coach Matt Jernigan said. “She was a big part of our relay teams. The other girls knew they had to step up this year, and, in our second meet, the four girls — three from last year’s relay — their time was better than the record they set last season.”

Those three girls, seniors Abigail Riggs and Abby Voorhees and sophomore McKenna Moore, have mixed in well with sophomore Riley Pierce. The group has continued to post strong times in the 200- and 400-yard freestyle relays as well as the 200-yard medley relay, which provides each with a chance to showcase their respective individual strokes.

“We have two seniors and two extremely strong sophomores,” Jernigan said. “They each have an individual event that they can blow out of the water. They’re very strong as a relay, and they’re just as strong in their individual events.”

Riggs finished second in the 500-yard freestyle and third in the 200-yard free at states a year ago, while Vorhees posted a top-10 finish in the 100-yard backstroke and Moore had a pair of top-5 times in the 50-yard free and 100-yard butterfly.

On the whole, the boys’ team for MHS is a work in progress, given a young roster. The same could be said for UHS, except for the Hawks’ lone senior Griffin Nordstrom, a regular at the state meet since his freshman year.

The University girls’ team, apart from limited numbers, is also having to fight through injury halfway through the year. Yet, like their rivals, the hope for individual success at states has not diminished.

“There are teams that are so much bigger, and, with injuries, we’re even smaller,” UHS coach Joanna White said. “We lost six seniors, and we didn’t just lose the seniors. We lost a couple of other swimmers that we had planned on having back. … I’d always love to see them take home the gold, but, realistically, I just want to see us kick it into high-gear.”

Jacqueline McCutchan leads the way for the Hawks in several different events. The junior posted third-place times in the 50-yard free and 100-yard backstroke at last year’s state meet. Sophomore Emma Kitzmiller and freshman Mia Rice also have impressed this season for UHS.

“Jacqueline really stepped up her game a little more in the offseason,” White said. “She already broke two of her school records this year. Emma, she’s a great talent. I think that she’s going to do well, too. Mia, the past three meets, she’s won the 100 breaststroke. We’re small in number, but we’re mighty.”

How mighty will be determined at the Feb. 15-16 state meet, at the WVU Natatorium.