Numbers and wins are up for Laurel High swimming

Cutting athletes can be one of the most difficult tasks facing high school coaches.

Just ask Laurel coach John Venit, who hasn't dealt with telling a swimmer he or she wasn't good enough to compete on the varsity since 2008.

"We had 70 kids come out and we had to cut it down to the 50s," said Venit, in his 28th season as Laurel's head coach.

But Venit said he found some good in having to make the cuts.

The large number of swimmers crowding the roster makes the Spartans a deeper and better team than in past seasons.

Venit loves that the numbers are up, and particularly the class of promising freshmen girls that joined the team: Olivia Pettyjohn-Robin, Jessica Martin, Kelly Horn, Megan Hendershot, Sheeba Fallah and Ibrahim Keita.

And the coach is seeing the depth pay off in the results.

The Laurel boys and girls teams each started the season with a sterling 7-2 mark. Laurel's biggest highlight came in mid-January when both teams beat archrival High Point convincingly.

The Spartans only loss for both squads in the first two months of the season came to defending Prince George's County champion Eleanor Roosevelt.

"This is the deepest teams we have had in a couple of years," Venit said. "These swimmers are really dedicated. That's the best part. We had a lot of new freshmen come in, which was outstanding. We had swimmers come in two years ago that were just learning to swim. They are now a major part of the team."

Now with the regular season behind the Spartans, they are sharply focused on post-season success in February. The schedule includes the county, regional and state championships.

"We call it championship month," Venit said.

It all starts with the 21-team county championships on Feb. 8.

Sophomore Caroline Sutton figures to make the biggest splash of any Spartan.

Sutton finished second in both the 100-yard breaststoke and the 200 individual medley in the county championships.

She was also second in the Class 3A-4A South Region championships in both events.

"She is our top dog," Venit said. "She was first-team All-County as a freshman. That's pretty impressive. The backstroke is her best stroke. She trains really hard and just loves it. Sometimes, when you love something, you do better in it."

Sutton swam a 1:07.96 in the backstroke last year in the county meet, but she's getting faster and posted a season-best 1:04 in late December in the Holiday Invitational.

Sutton, who is in her fourth season of swimming year-round for the Maryland Suburban Swim Club in Laurel, has county and regional titles on her mind.

"Second is getting kind of boring," Sutton said. "My best chance to win is in the 100 back. I feel more confident this year."

Sophomore Mia Rutherford is another Laurel standout girl swimmer. She finished fourth in the county in the 100 breaststroke as well as sixth in the region last season.

"We are looking for her to finish top-two, top-three in the county," Venit said. "That's the goal. She has improved training for a USA team, Patuxent Aquatics Club."

Venit also hopes Pettyjohn-Robin (200 IM, 100 back), Martin (100 fly, 500 free), junior Nicole Boddie (100 fly, 500 fly), sophomore Madison Tuttle (50 free, 100 free) and seniors Alyssa Mills (200 free, 500 free), Chayne Jordan (500 free) and Julia Gallagher (50, 100 free) and the 200 free relay teams of Sutton, Rutherford, Tuttle and Hendershot can score some points at county championships.

Sophomore Adam Gebhardt (200 IM, 100 fly) and senior Josh Borg (100 breast, 500 free) are the leaders of a talented Laurel boys squad.

Gebhardt placed eighth in the county in the 100 fly last year.

"A lot of times swimming is a 12-month commitment," Venit said. "It takes a lot of training to get where they are. That's why they've had success."

Seniors Deep Patel (100, 200 free) and Ephraim Jourel Tuazon (200 IM, 100 breast) and juniors Tyler Carmen (200 free, 500 free) and Ariel Quevedo (100 back, 100 fly), Brandon Custis (50 free, 100 free), Dezimond Fisher (100 back, 100 fly), sophomore Jahmari Samuel (200 IM, 100 breast) and sophomores Harsh Patel (200, 500 free) support Gebhardt and Borg in the lineup.

"We have a lot more guys than we did last year," Borg said. "That means we have more people in events and we are getting more points and more firsts, seconds and thirds."

Laurel swimming post-season schedule

Prince George's County championships, Feb. 8.

3A-4A South Region championships, Feb. 15.

Maryland State championships, Feb. 22.

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