Though their season has come to an end, the story is just beginning to unfold for the Waxahachie swim team.
Twenty-four Lady Indian and Indians swimmers are poised to return next season. That number includes all 13 girls from the District 13-5A Lady Indian team, which captured its first district title in five years back in January. The boys finished third in the district meet. It was the first district title for the Lady Indian swim team since both teams captured crowns in 2013.
A few weeks later, Lady Indians then placed third as a team in the 5A Region 4 meet held Feb. 3 in Lewisville, while the boys placed 8th out of 30 teams.
The only two swimmers not slated to return next season are seniors Brandon Gilliland and Nathan Jones.
"I am extremely proud of how well our team competed, especially those younger swimmers," Waxahachie head swimming coach Tamara Pruitt said. "They are the building blocks for our program moving forward and the experiences that they gained during the district and regional meet will certainly benefit us, and them individually, next season."
Pruitt added that the girls' winning a district championship for the first time in five years was the icing on top of a season that saw phenomenal growth for the program.
"District championships are always one of those goals you set for your team at the beginning of the year, but to watch them grow over each meet and to see it play out in the pool was fun. It is certainly a boost to our program and something we can build on."
In the regional meet held at the Lewisville ISD Aquatic Center, junior Ashlyn Florence shined for the Lady Indians with a pair of fourth-place finishes in the 500-yard freestyle and 100-yard breaststroke.
Florence finished about 15 seconds back of a medal in the freestyle (6:17.72) and just two seconds back of third in the breaststroke (1:19.38).
"Even though she is only a junior, Ashlyn is one of the leaders of our program, and I couldn't be more excited for her to finish the season so strongly," Pruitt said. "She shows up every day to those early morning workouts and puts in the work to be a medal contender, and it showed in the regional meet. I can't wait to watch her compete next season."
In total, 30 high schools across North Texas met for the tw0-day regional competition that consists of the top-6 finishers from each of the four district meets.
The top-8 swimmers from the Friday preliminaries advanced to the A finals on Saturday with a chance to qualify for the state championships (top-2). Those who finished 9-16 in the prelims swam in the B finals on Saturday.
Florence also helped the girls' 200-yard medley and 400-yard freestyle to fifth and fourth place finishes. She anchored the freestyle team of Jillian Dayton, Sarah Smith, and Savannah Heisler. Smith anchored the medley team of Hope David, Yazmine Dawson, and Florence.
The girls' 200-yard freestyle relay also finished fourth in the A finals and consisted of Dayton, Dawson, David, and Heisler.
Individually, David finished eighth in the 100-yard backstroke, and Dayton placed eighth in the 100-yard freestyle and 13th in the 100-yard individual medley. Other standout performances included Dawson (11th, 100-yard freestyle), Heisler (10th, 100-yard freestyle; 11th 50-yard freestyle), freshman Trista Mitchell (15th, 500-yard freestyle), and Smith, (1tth, 100-yard fly, 12th 500-yard free).
The Indian swimmers also competed well in the regional meeting, finishing sixth in the 200-yard medley (Jayce Hendricks, Dylan Florence, Rafe Butler, Ethan Brown) and 7th in the 200-yard freestyle medley (Nathan Jones, Nathan Parker, Joseph Gilliland, Brandon Gilliland).
Individually the boys were led by Brandon Gilliland's 12th-place finish in the 100-yard freestyle and 14th-place finish in the 100-yard backstroke. Florence (10th, 500-yard freestyle) and Joseph Gilliland (12th, 100-yard breaststroke) also swam well.
The swimmers have had to overcome more than just their competition, too. At times the group had to make the best of a practice pool — which is already much too small for the large group to begin with — that did not have enough, or any, lane lines to use during their early morning work. There were even a few times team members had to had to hold the lane line in place while others finished after the hooks that hold the floating dividers broke.
"We don't have the facilities that other programs do, but we make the best of what we do have and are very appreciative to SAGU for allowing us to utilize their pool," Pruitt explained. "Our swimmers embrace every practice with a mindset to get better, and that is the most important thing. They are all exceptional kids, and I'm lucky to have the opportunity to coach such outstanding student-athletes. The support from our parents is also second to none. I am very excited to watch this young group take the next step forward next year."
Travis M. Smith, @Travis5mith