Joe Hulen, a 2012 Creekview graduate, helped lead the wrestling team to a state championship this season, the first for any boys team in school history.

WOODSTOCK Sarah Goodbread said she knew during preseason tryouts that this year would be different for River Ridge’s swimming program.

The Knights had nearly 50 swimmers come out for the team — up from an average of around 30 in previous years — and it did not take long for Goodbread to realize this season would be special.

“We’ve never had a team that big before, and then, after tryouts, I realized we had some really good swimmers,” Goodbread said. “It was really encouraging throughout the season that we could do well with this many swimmers.”

The added depth, especially on the boys side, paid dividends.

The Knights placed first at the Cherokee County Championships, marking the first time a River Ridge boys or girls team had claimed a county championship. The Knights also finished second as a combined team, only 20 points behind Etowah.

For her efforts, Goodbread is the 2019-20 Cherokee Tribune Boys Swimming Coach of the Year.

“I was excited when I heard, but I think it’s more about the success of the kids,” Goodbread said. “Our depth was our biggest area that helped us do well. We had so many boys who could swim any event. We even had a ‘B’ relay qualify for state, which we’ve never had before. I knew our boys were capable this year. They just had to show up and do their best.”

At the county meet, River Ridge senior Alex Blankenship finished first in the 50-yard freestyle (23.03 seconds), but it was the combined efforts of a number of underclassmen which helped River Ridge score the points needed to win county. In the 200 medley relay, Ben Johnson, Noah Leikler, Carter Lukow and Bridger Putzer finished third (1:49.79) while the “B” relay of Craig Chace, Carson Portis, Heath Roper and Mason Sass took sixth (1:54.94).

Similar efforts in the 200 and 400 freestyle relays allowed River Ridge to continue to rack up points, while the Knights shined individually as well. Six swimmers finished in the top 12 of the 200 freestyle, while five finished in the top 12 of the 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke.

Teams score points up until 12th place at the county championships.

“They were all fighting for spots all season,” Goodbread said. “It was six or eight kids fighting to be on that ‘A’ relay each week, and probably at least 10 fighting for spots on the ‘B’ relays. The difference between our ‘B’ and ‘C’ relays, sometimes, was less than a second.”

The optimism is high for River Ridge moving forward as the it will lose only five seniors to graduation this spring. Goodbread said she saw dramatic improvements in multiple swimmers this season, and with another offseason ahead of them, the Knights could potentially challenge for their first combined county championship next season.

“I’m very excited for next year,” Goodbread said. “It’s very promising for us moving forward.”

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