Dragon trio wins state titles

Spencer Duff of Gretna swims the 200-yard freestyle during the Bellevue West Triangular Jan. 26.

When the swimmers hit the pool Friday for the State Swimming Championships, there’s going to be no doubt which school has overcome the most to make it there.

The Gretna boys swimming team qualified all three relay teams and Spencer Duff made the cut in the 100-yard backstroke, the first individual qualifier in Gretna history.

The Dragons, in just their third year with a swim program, finally broke through with some state qualifying times.

“The third time’s the charm for us,” Dragon senior Kyle Moore said. “This was the first time a lot of people practiced in the off-season and it’s paid off.”

For first-year coach Tasha Soby, reaching the state tournament was objective No. 1.

“When I first got here, that was my only goal,” she said. “That was the end game from the get-go.”

All of the Dragons’ success came despite the constant battle of finding a place to practice. They did most of their practices at the Amhurst YMCA, which has just three lanes. About halfway through the season, they started having some practices at the Jewish Community Center, but that involved long travel and early morning practices – as early as 3:40 wake up times for Moore.

The Dragons aren’t asking for anything special, really, they just want some starting blocks.

“That’s the biggest thing for me,” said Duff, who hasn’t been able to practice a real backstroke start off a starting block all season while still making it to state in the event.

“What we had to endure most of the season, and to still make it to state is amazing,” Soby said. “We have a rare group. Not a lot of athletes put up with what they have to but it’s going to be a mental edge we’re going to have at state.”

The Dragon team started making some noise this season and started realizing that they can swim with most schools out there.

Moore said the Brownell-Talbot Relay Invite got the team some attention from other schools while Duff thought their showing at the Westside Invite was also a key one.

“I’ve always felt like we belonged,” Moore said, “We just had to continue to work hard at this and catch some other schools.”

Duff added: “At the Westside Meet, we heard some other teams talk about our relay teams and how we were getting better.”

That mentality of belonging can be a tough hurdle for new programs but now that the Gretna team is past it, the future is bright.

“They do belong with the best and we take advantage of any shot we have,” Soby said. “They eventually did come around and they’re not done yet.”

The Dragons’ top qualifying relay team is the 200 freestyle relay, which qualified with a time of 2:37.90. Duff and Moore are slotted on the team along with Zachary Halinski and Carter Hunter. The 200 medley relay (Duff, Halinski, Hunter and Johann Ott) and the 400 freestyle relay (Hunter, Tanner Cano, Ott, Duff) will also be representing Gretna come Friday.

The Dragons want to do their best Friday but they also want to be sure to enjoy the environment.

“It’s state, it’s the biggest meet in the state and they need to enjoy every minute of it,” Soby said.

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