Laurel High swimming making top times worth the effort in postseason

Laurel coach John Venit gets excited when he talks about the Prince George's County or Class 3A-4A South Region championship meets.

The county meet is Feb. 9 and regionals Feb. 16, both at the Fairlands Aquatics Center.

"We swim in a lot of dual meets," said Venit, whose team is a combined 9-5 (girls, 5-2; boys, 4-3). "They are shorter, like three hours. When you get to the counties and regionals, they are five, six hours. There's more excitement and drama. It's where you can make a name for yourself. It's the climax to the season."

And he expects several Spartans to shine at both meets.

Last year, Jade Hill captured a regional championship in the 50-yard breaststroke and R.J. Pauling nabbed a county title in the 100-yard freestyle, and finished as regional runner-up in both the 50 and 100 free.

Since Hill now swims at North Carolina A&T, Venit is relying on several talented freshmen and varsity veterans to score points in the Spartans' biggest meets.

Pauling, who set a school record in the 100 freestyle (50.39) at the Holiday Invitational Swim Meet in Laurel on Dec. 28, returned as the team's most accomplished swimmer and one who hopes to swim at the next competitive level.

"He is definitely one of the better ones I have coached (in 27 years)," Venit explained. "He is the type of kid who doesn't come along very often. He is such a versatile athlete. He is not a kid who comes out, says he wants to swim and is good. He has trained hard and been on a USA (junior) team."

Pauling, a club swimmer with Fairland Aquatics, said he's gotten some offers from Division II and III colleges.

"I have to figure out where I want to go," Pauling said.

In the meantime, Pauling, who swam in the state championships last year, is primed for another big postseason.

"I have trained harder than I did last year," he said. "I am a better swimmer. I am getting more practices with my (club) team."

The other top Spartans who support Pauling in the lineup include freshman Adam Gebhardt (100 butterfly, 200 individual medley), senior Correy Blake (100 backstroke) and sophomores Ariel Quevedo (200, 500 free), Tyler Carmen (free, backstroke), George Bonney (100, 200 free), Cameron Johnson (50 free, 100 butterfly) and Deep Patel (200, 500 free).

On the girls' side, Venit boasts freshmen Carolyn Sutton (100 back, 200 IM), Mia Rutherford (100, 200 free), Michelle Thigpen (200 IM, 100 fly) and Kira Noelle-Burke (200 individual medley).

"I have four really good freshmen," Venit explained. "We will be strong in years to come."

Of the four, Sutton is probably the most versatile.

"Caroline is mainly a backstroker, but she can swim anything," Venit said.

Junior Tiffany Nightengale (200 IM, 100 fly) could have the most post-season success of any Spartan girl.

"She is one of our team leaders and she was kind of overshadowed last year by Jade Hill," Venit said.

Junior Alyssa Mills (200, 500 free style) and senior Divina St. Peter (50, 100 free) are other Laurel swimmers to watch.

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