16 Pools The Patriot Athletic Conference will hold its annual postseason swim meet Wednesday, Jan. 23, at 4:30 p.m. at the Fayetteville State University swimming pool in Capel Arena.

But more than a conference championship, it will also mark the celebration of a milestone in advancing the championship aspirations of Cumberland County’s high school swimmers.

This year, Cumberland County’s swimmers didn’t have to take a two-week break from practice during the Christmas holidays.

Fayetteville State traditionally closes its doors during the Christmas break, meaning the pool at Capel Arena isn’t available for practice. But thanks to the city of Fayetteville, the swimmers had an alternative to not practicing this year.

Amey Shook, swimming coach at Cape Fear High School, said Fayetteville purchased two plastic bubbles to cover the outdoor pools at the Westover and College Lakes recreation centers. Since the pools at both locations are heated, the bubbles allow the swimmers to go inside and practice during the period the FSU pool is closed for the holidays.

Even when the temperature outside the bubble is freezing, Shook said, the bubble is a workable alternative to not practicing.

“Most days I can be comfortable coaching in a short-sleeved shirt,’’ Shook said of the atmosphere in the bubble. “When (the temperature) gets way down, I might wear a light jacket.’’

Shook said both recreation centers have heated indoor dressing rooms where the swimmers can go and change before and after practice.

“It’s a work in progress,’’ she said of the addition of a practice option for the county’s swimmers. “Each year we are gaining more and more support for the sport of swimming in the county. It’s going to change our results.’’

Looking ahead toward the conference meet, Shook is expecting a competitive battle for top honors. From a team standpoint, she said Cape Fear, Pine Forest, Gray’s Creek and Terry Sanford have all had outstanding team and individual performances this year.

Among individual swimmers, Shook said Zizhou Lu of Gray’s Creek has been almost unbeatable this season. Another top swimmer for the boys has been Brandon Chhoeung of Pine Forest.

Lu is strong in multiple events, but his best include the sprint freestyles. Chhoeung excels in the distance freestyle events.

For the girls, Shook said top competitors include her daughter, Amelia, and E.E. Smith’s Sarah Morton.

Amelia Shook is strong in several events, including the backstroke, middle distances and the butterfly. Morton’s best events are the breaststroke and the sprints.

Coach Shook said the key to success in the conference meet is a good effort from each team and swimming clean races. She said a number of county swimmers have already qualified for competition in the North Carolina High School Athletic Association regionals.

“I think, countywide, we have some great shots at at least a half-dozen state qualifiers,’’ she said. “On my team, my goal is to double the number of state and regional qualifiers we have.

“We have a lot of great swimmers in this county. They have worked hard all year. They are ready to swim fast.’’

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