South Hills stops Cross Lanes’ run of 26 straight swimming titles

LAWRENCE PIERCE | Sunday Gazette-Mail
South Hills’ Haley Hemsworth swims her way to victory in the girls 17-18 50-yard freestyle final.

Members of the South Hills swim team had a different air about them heading into this week’s Greater Kanawha Valley Summer Swimming Championships.

“They wanted to win this year,’’ said third-year South Hills head coach Cindy Hemsworth.

South Hills did so in astonishing fashion, wrenching the championship away from Cross Lanes, which had won it the past 26 years, by 191 1/2 points (3,682-3,490 1/2). Sleepy Hollow was third with 1,947 points followed by YMCA of Kanawha Valley (1,792) and Elkland (1,052 1/2).

“I’ve been coaching 20 years and this is just icing on the cake,’’ said Hemsworth after a string of runner-up finishes for South Hills. “Just having a group of kids that really wanted to work hard ... we all pull together. That’s a big accomplishment for the kids.’’

South Hills was dominant from the start of the four-day event at the University of Charleston, leading wire to wire.

“We knew it was going to be a lot different this year,’’ said South Hills assistant coach and swimmer Haley Hemsworth, the coach’s daughter who also won high-point honors in the 17-18 girls age division after finishing first in the 50-yard breaststroke and freestyle and 100 individual medley.

“We had less older swimmers than what we normally do, but our little kids made up for that this year. We were all very excited, especially the little kids. They asked over and over, ‘What’s the score?’ and ‘How are we doing?’ Some of them came to watch the older kids today and cheered us on. It was very nerve wracking.’’

Other South Hills high-point winners included Marissa Cormany (girls 6 and under), Kenneth McGlothen (boys 6 and under), Kara Edstrom (girls 7-8), Grant Ridenour (boys 9-10) and Kalissa Lacy (11-12 girls).

South Hills’ Alyssa Rittinger (15-16, 50 freestyle) and Claire Blackwood (17-18, 50 freestyle) also won events Saturday, and South Hills also took the boys and girls 18-and-under 200-freestyle relay events.

South Hills seized the lead Wednesday on the first day of competition and never trailed, taking a commanding 1,005-point lead heading into Saturday’s finals. Cross Lanes chewed up much of that lead Saturday but it was just too much to overcome. Cross Lanes boasted 96 swimmers while South Hills had just 75.

“Honestly, coming into the meet I didn’t think we had much of a chance,’’ said Cindy Hemsworth. “After Wednesday night we were ahead and I’m like, ‘OK, maybe we can pull this off.’

“I was a little nervous because Cross Lanes has a lot more older swimmers than I have, but they pulled it off. We have a lot of quality kids that swim year-round and that really helped us. Our younger kids, the 10 and under, really helped.’’

Haley Hemsworth, who has helped George Washington capture the girls high school state title the past two years, has known nothing but frustration at the city meet. She has been looking up to Cross Lanes every summer since she began competing first at Windemere and now the last three years at South Hills.

“It’s been kind of discouraging, but we got closer and closer every year,’’ she said. “We usually started off kind of strong but then it would just go downhill. We just did the best we can and got as close as we could.

“We’ve been focusing more on stroke work rather than having all of our kids get DQ’d. Getting them correct, where they need to be and it just paid off. Coaching the kids and swimming the whole season was tough, but we did it. It was a lot fun.’’

Majester Abdul-Jalil of YMCA set a meet record in the 13-14 boys 50 breaststroke with a time of 29.46 seconds, besting the old mark set in 2007 by 27-hundredths of a second.

Reach Tommy R. Atkinson at or 304-348-4811.

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