Despite continued problems getting unfettered access to a local place to practice, the swimming program for Cumberland County Schools continues to make gradual progress.
Here’s a general look at the prospects for this season, focusing on some of the programs that enjoyed the best success in 2017-18.
Coach Amey Shook has taken an aggressive approach to building the numbers at Cape Fear. She’s been reaching out to athletes from sports out of season and encouraging them to take part in swimming to help them stay in condition when their sport is over.
“We have a little bit of everybody on our team again,’’ she said, noting the Colt swim roster includes players from soccer, volleyball, football and baseball.
“Most of them don’t have any formal swimming experience,’’ she said, “maybe lessons when they were little. But they are strong kids that have swum in backyard pools, oceans or lakes. They come with a little bit of knowledge, but we have to teach them most of the technicalities, the strokes, the starts and the turns.’’
With a mix of newcomers and some promising returners, Shook is hopeful that Cape Fear will again be competitive in the pool this season.
Among the key returners is her daughter Amelia Shook, who made her swimming debut at Cape Fear last year as a freshman.
“Her endurance and overall knowledge of swimming continues to grow into her sophomore season,’’Amey Shook said. “She can do all the turns
and knows how to do the starts.’’
The biggest challenge for Amelia will be coming back from a second tear of her ACL she suffered in March. “I could swim three months out from my surgery,’’ she said. “I started swimming mid-summer. I couldn’t do cross country and I’m still not cleared for soccer — hopefully by the end of December.’’
She thinks the back stroke will be her best event as well as the fly.
Jared Kaiser, who swam for his dad, Richard, at Gray’s Creek, is in his first season coaching Terry Sanford, which has probably the richest tradition in swimming of any Cumberland County school.
“I inherited a lot of good swimmers and I’m pushing them, expecting to score at the top,’’ he said. “I expect us to be up there with the best this season.’’
The top returner for the Bulldogs is David Li. “His strength as a swimmer is not just consistency but the fact he swims year-round,’’ Kaiser said. “He’s doing a real good job working with the team and working with some of the newer swimmers as well.
“I think that will actually be a good utility for us this year, helping get some of the freshmen and sophomores trained. The fact he’s got such long experience in the sport and knows how to do the techniques and the skills and can help pass that down, that’s going to be the most vital thing he can provide this year.’’
Li said the high school swimming season is important to the development of a swimmer but added year-round training is the key to building the overall swimming program in the county.
“Constant practice, constant building,’’ Li said.
The Bears will be dealing with some challenges as the season opens due to some graduation losses and an illness involving one of its top returning swimmers, Zizhou Lou.
“Most of the boys team is new this year,’’ said head coach Richard Kaiser. “We’re going to struggle out of the gate. Hopefully some of the guys will pick it up.’’
On the girls’ side, Kaiser has some veterans returning and feels a little better about their chances.
The big concern is Lou, who qualified for the state meet last year but suffered a viral illness over the summer that led to him losing about 15 pounds. “He’s not a big guy so he’s trying to get his strength back right now,’’ Kaiser said. “We’re not sure where he’ll be at the end of the season.’
Lou said he expects the early part of the season to be difficult. “I feel after a couple of months I should be back in shape,’’ he said. “I feel my overall energy and physical ability have gone down a little. I’m just going to practice harder than usual, get more time in the pool and be healthy.’’
Teams to beat
As usual, Cape Fear’s Amey Shook feels Terry Sanford will be among the top teams, along with South View, Pine Forest and Gray’s Creek.
Gray’s Creek’s Kaiser thinks Cape Fear has solid swimmers on both of its teams. “I think the two powers are going to be Terry Sanford and Cape Fear,’’ he said.
“A couple of teams that have been historically smaller, like Gray’s Creek, are getting better numbers,’’ said Terry Sanford’s Jared Kaiser. “It will be more competitive than it has been in the last few years.’’
Kaiser expects the biggest competition to come from Cape Fear and Pine Forest. “It’s tough to tell because we’re not all practicing at the same time,’’ he said. “Those are the teams I’ve seen a little bit, and they are looking good so far.’’
Photo: Amelia Shook; David Li; Zishou Lou