By Gene Phelps
Lucas Smith didn’t have to look far to find somebody to swim the butterfly leg in Saturday’s 200-yard medley relay at the MHSAA Class II Swim Championships.
Tupelo High’s coach selected senior Michael Ray for the role in the pivotal event that opened the meet at Delta State University’s Natatorium.
“I knew he could get it done,” Smith said. “He doesn’t even swim the butterfly, but he competes. He always steps up.”
The Golden Wave relay unit – Connor Anderson (backstroke), Grant Thornton (breast), Ray (butterfly) and Jarett Estess (freestyle) – won the state title in 1 minute, 39.86 seconds.
Tupelo was trailing when Ray hit the pool, but he captured the lead. The relay win – a first against Oxford this season – kickstarted Tupelo’s run to a seventh consecutive team championship.
“That was a big shot of momentum for us,” Smith said. “That’s what we needed.”
Tupelo’s Anderson also provided some top performances. He set a state record in the 50 freestyle, but it came during his competition leg in the team’s winning 200 free relay. He swam a record 21.55 in the preliminaries and a 21.22 in the finals.
Tupelo’s Lady Wave won their third straight state championship behind senior Cris Roberts, who set Class II records in the 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke.
“Her win in the back gave us the push we needed to win the meet,” Smith said. “We were only up by eight or nine points at the time.”
The THS swim program now has 21 state championships – 11 girls, nine boys and one combined.
Tupelo Christian Prep had 16 swimmers qualify for the Class I state meet. The Eagles and Lady Eagles combined to score 52 points – 23 girls (7th place), 29 boys (8th).
“We’re one of the smallest schools in the MHSAA,” coach Phil Jones said. “To finish in the top eight is quite an accomplishment.”
Bryce Thornton, a senior, posted the team’s top finish, when she placed third in the Class I girls 50 freestyle in 26.0 seconds. The previous two seasons, Thornton had finished ninth in the prelims and missed the finals.
“She really had a great year,” Jones said. “She had big drops in her times.”
Katie Metts, an eighth grader, just missed making the medal stand when she placed fourth in the girls 100 freestyle in 1:00.47. The boys 400 freestyle relay unit of senior Carter Trousdale, senior Jacob Orozco, freshman Chase Cervantes and sophomore Benjamin Jones placed fourth in 3:53.07.