Staff Photo: Jonathan Phillips<br> Peachtree Ridge finished second at state last year thanks to the efforts of, from right, John Simmons, Luke Upchurch, Bryce BeVier and Bradley Faxon. This year, the four seniors are chasing a state team title.
SUWANEE — When Peachtree Ridge’s four state qualifiers piled into the head coach Jeremy Laird’s car for the trip to the state championship meet last year, their expectations weren’t too high.
The four swimmers knew their previous times placed them among the meet’s elite, but they didn’t understand the might they could wield from their races. Even Laird didn’t understand. But as the meet wore on, races were finished and points tallied, and Peachtree Ridge stayed near the top of the total team points.
When the day ended, the four Lions had placed no worse than 14th in 11 different events, including taking four titles. Four swimmers and diver, Michael Russell, gave Peachtree Ridge a second-place state finish.
“Who would have thought the second-place state team would fit in one car?” Laird asked.
“In an Audi,” John Simmons, quickly added, laughing.
The finish surprised every member of the team and also galvanized the group’s resolve. Simmons, Luke Upchurch, Bryce BeVier and Bradley Faxon all return for their final year at Peachtree Ridge. And armed with an understanding of the true potential of their combined efforts, this season began with the idea of bumping last year’s finish up a notch.
“We didn’t really think (a team state championship) was possible until last year,” Upchurch said.
“(The goal) really solidified after our junior year when we came in second at state with only five people,” BeVier added.
With the goal in mind, Laird and his top four swimmers meet before each contest and plan out a strategy. They considered the competition not only of the upcoming meet, but at the state level and decided how best to maximize their point potential.
“It’s been a long journey,” Simmons said. “I couldn’t imagine doing anything else.”
Swimming’s scoring, albeit intricate, rewards teams for having the most and best swimmers in a variety of events. Add a limit of two individual events per swimmer and it ensures no one swimmer can dominate the state meet to the degree of skewing the results.
But four? Well, the plan this weekend is for them to find that answer. Four swimmers, eight individual events.
Simmons will swim in the 100 and 200 freestyle. Last year he placed fourth in the 200.
Faxon also will swim the 100 and 200 free. He took 14th in the 200 last year.
Luke Upchurch will swim the 100 backstroke and 100 butterfly. He is the defending champion in the 100 free and 100 back, but is sacrificing his title defense in the 100 free to maximize the team score since a pair of his teammates already fill that event’s ranks.
Bryce BeVier will swim the 200 individual medley and the 100 breaststroke. He placed fifth in the breast as a junior.
As a group, they will defend their 400 relay state title as well.
“There is a lot of strategy involved,” BeVier said.
More than strategy, it’s preparation. All the number-crunching and event selecting won’t matter if their performances falter. A small group means more pressure, something these year-round senior swimmers understand.
“People expect a lot of us,” BeVier said.
“We have to score really high to (win),” Simmons said. “It’s our last chance.”
Members of the swimming community know each other. The best all train at the same pools and compete in the same events through the summer season. Swimming is first an individual endeavor crammed into a team competition. And it’s that team concept these four swimmers willingly embraced. They may all swim similar events and compete in their individual strengths, but for this goal, the four friends shelved some of their personal ambitions.
It’s a genuine friendship with a blend of personalities, some more gregarious than others.
“We are all pretty loud when we are around each other,” BeVier said.
“Sometimes, things get out of hand,” Simmons chimed in.
They spend weekends together out of the pool, playing video games and watching movies.
“There are girls there too, of course,” BeVier made clear. Everyone agrees.
Their coach, Laird, teaches the four seniors together every day. He calls the group fun and he should know, he is around them as much as any adult. And he’ll be around them again this weekend.
It’s his Audi they used last year.
“I think we should stick with that tradition,” Laird said.