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Rutherford's drive, Sutton's consistency spark Laurel High swim team

Laurel High swimming coach John Venit gives encouragement to his swimmers. Juniors Carolyn Sutton and Mia Rutherford have led the Spartans by advancing to Wednesday's Class 4A-3A state championships in Landover.
Laurel High swimming coach John Venit gives encouragement to his swimmers. Juniors Carolyn Sutton and Mia Rutherford have led the Spartans by advancing to Wednesday's Class 4A-3A state championships in Landover. (File photo/BSMG)

Laurel High junior Mia Rutherford couldn't escape the memory of the 2014 South Region 3A-4A swimming championships, when she missed qualifying for the state championship by a hundredth of a second in the 100-yard breaststroke.

It still bothers her today.

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"It was really awful," Rutherford said. "I used that as motivation for this season. My goal was simply getting to states."

Rutherford achieved her goal by finishing third in the regional championships at the Patuxent Aquatic Center in Laurel.

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Teammate and junior Carolyn Sutton also qualified for the state championships Wednesday at the Prince George's Sports & Learning Complex in Landover.

Sutton repeated as regional champion in the 100 backstroke (105.20) and finished second in the 100 butterfly (104.98).

But what Rutherford accomplished in the regionals was the Spartans' biggest highlight of the season — and one of the most surprising.

She swam the 100 breaststroke in 1:18.01, which was more than a second faster than her previous best time.

Rutherford said she was considered an underdog to reach states and was seeded seventh in her event.

"Everybody was pretty shocked," Rutherford said her time.

Count Laurel swim coach John Venit among them. In his 29 years on the job with the Spartans, he hasn't seen that many swimmers do that.

"What she did was outstanding," Venit said. "A lot of times you measure improvements in swimming by tenths of a second and she improved by an entire second. She is peaking at the right time.

"She was doing 1:21 at the beginning of the year. That's a three-second drop of the course of the season. "

Venit said Rutherford's hard work leading up to regionals made a difference.

"We worked on her starts and finishes," he said. "She worked on getting off the blocks better, improving her turns and coming into the wall with acceleration."

Rutherford swims year-round for the Patuxent Aquatic Club in Laurel and also competes in the 100 back and 200 and 500 freestyles.

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"She has improved time and time again," Venit said. "She is training harder with both her high school and USA team. It's showing in all her strokes."

Sutton, a three-time state championships qualifier, is Laurel's premier swimmer.

Besides her top performances in the regional championships, Sutton won county championships in the 100 back (104.72) and 200 individual medley (2:24.10).

"It was a great accomplishment," Venit said of the two county titles. "She was outstanding in both. She was six seconds faster than the next closest competitor in the backstroke and 10 seconds faster in the individual medley."

Sutton is a role model for Laurel's younger swimmers. She's in her fifth year of competing year-round for the Maryland Suburban Swim Club in Laurel.

"A swimmer like her doesn't come around often," Venit said.

Sutton could be Laurel's next college swimmer.

"She will probably want to do something with swimming in college," Venit said. "She puts a lot of a time into training. She is very versatile and can do any of the strokes."

Laurel also had some other postseason standouts. Junior Adam Gebhardt placed sixth in the 100 butterfly (104.80) in the county and ninth in the individual medley (2:35.90) in the region, senior Tyler Carmen finished sixth in the county in the 500 free (7:09.76) while sophomore Megan Hendershot was fourth in the county (6:43.95) in the 500 free and seventh (6:40.50) in the region.

Rutherford and Sutton stand out among the 2015 accomplishments.

"I want to make a big deal of that fact that they made it to states," Venit said. "Hopefully, other kids will start to put in the time that they need to put in to improve their swimming ability to make it to states."

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