For the Lakeside swim team, the first half of the season couldn't have been better.
The Panthers have competed in three swim meets so far in the 2005-06 season. The boys have yet to lose a meet, while the girls have taken first place in two out of the three events.
Not bad for a team with four seniors.
"We did lose a lot of depth because all our seniors graduated last year," Lakeside swim coach Sonja Bowlings said, "but we gained a lot of year-round swimmers who are freshman."
Those freshmen already are making waves among the elite Columbia County swimmers.
In the Boys 200-Yard Medley Relay, the Lakeside Panthers have won the event in two of the three tournaments this year. Statistically, the wins are no surprise since Lakeside did much of the same last season as the team swam to a first-place finish in the CSRA Championships.
The difference comes in the fact that last year's relay team was made up of four proven Lakeside seniors. The 2005-06 version of the Lakeside 200-yard medley relay is a combination of juniors and freshmen that together have already qualified for state competition.
"Last year, the guys had been together so long. This year it's just a big mix," Bowlings said. "Most of them are freshman but they're very good swimmers."
Juniors Brian Maleck and Christopher Plummer and freshmen Charles Johnson and Eric Chiu make up the newly formed relay team. Another freshman, Jimmy Meixiong, swam in place of Maleck in the Aloha Meet on Dec. 3 for a second-place finish.
After seeing so many seniors gone from last year's squad, Chiu said, he wasn't sure how things would go this year.
"The future was really unclear because we had so many seniors graduate," he said. "I had some doubts, but I was pretty optimistic about it."
Chiu and the rest of the relay team have plenty to be optimistic about. In this past weekend's meet at the University of Georgia, the boys relay team swam a first-place time of 1:45.53. The mark was less than two seconds off the school record, which was set by four seniors swimmers last February.
Bowlings said that record won't last much longer.
"They're trying to get it," she said. "They will get it if they work hard enough and work together."
The boys relay team isn't the only Lakeside swimmers who have found success. At least eight Panthers have qualified for state competition and the team keeps winning.
Both Lakeside's boys and girls swimmers took first place in the season-opening meet against Lakeside, Westside, the Academy of Richmond County and John S. Davidson Fine Arts School on Dec. 1.
Two days later, the Panthers and Lady Panthers matched the feat by beating out 13 other schools to take first place in the Aloha Meet at the Augusta Aquatic Center.
Last week, the Panthers hit the road and traveled to UGA's Gabrielsen Natatorium at The Ramsey Center. The boys team took first place out of 11 schools. Their 582 points beat second-place Oconee County High School by more than 100 points.
The Lady Panthers finished in third place with a total of 355 points. The two teams combined for an overall first-place finish with 937 points.
With so much early-season success, Bowlings said, she wouldn't be surprised to see her team improve on last season's ninth-place finish at the state meet.
"The team is going to have to grow," she said. "As the season goes we'll have a bigger state team, and I'm hoping we'll do better. Right now we have a great chance to improve from last year."
Lakeside will pick up competition in January with a pair of meets against their county rivals. The Panthers will meet Greenbrier on Thursday, Jan. 5, then face Evans a week later Jan. 12. Both meets will take place at the Augusta Aquatics Center.
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