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Knights plan a winning streak of their own

It had been 19 years since a Southwestern 4A champion other than Providence High had been crowned in women's swimming. The Panthers had so dominated opponents that they had not lost a single conference meet in that time.

Although none of the Ardrey Kell women's swim team members were born when the streak started, they all understood the meaning and history of it. Providence was supposed to win its 20th straight conference championship, and everyone else was left to fight for second place.

"My freshman, sophomore and junior seasons, when you walked into the Providence pool, you were scared," said all-conference Knights senior Jordan Pierpont. "They come out in their caps and smoke machines, you see their banners hanging all around the pool and you know they are Providence.

"This year was different, though. I won't say they were scared, but they respected us."

And for good reason.

The Knights trailed Providence by 39 points going into the final relay race of the conference championships: the 400 freestyle.

By the time Ardrey Kell junior Shannon Foreman dove in for the final leg, there was nothing more that could be done. Either Foreman would pull it out or the Panthers would close out their second decade of dominance.

"We felt confident we would come out on top when Shannon dove into the water," Pierpont said. "She is the type of swimmer where she is going to hit the wall first; that is just how she is."

At the end of the race, Foreman didn't know what had happened. She knew she was neck and neck with her opponent but didn't know who won.

"I knew going in that to win the meet we had to win that relay," said Foreman. "I didn't know at first when I hit the wall, but I looked around and was saying thank you. We had done it."

Immediately after Foreman's finish, Knights head coach William Keith, a Providence graduate who swam for the Panthers from 1998 to 2001, grabbed Pierpont to tell her they had upset the Panthers.

"Coach told everyone after the meet that we had done it," freshman all-conference and 400 freestyle relay member Sam Benson said. "He said we did it, and we all knew that it took everyone to accomplish what we just did. He let us know we won as a team."

The final score was 568-565, handing the Knights their first-ever conference championship in just their fifth year of existence.

"This group really has a calm confidence about them, and they believe in what they can do and ultimately believe in what their teammates can do," said Keith. "In the end it came down to us needing 39 points for a chance for us to end their streak. ... I was confident this group would get it done."

Pierpont, who has been with the Knights since their second year as a school, acknowledged that while they were confident, they still needed to show they were ready to take the top spot.

"Of course this win changes things for us because nobody has accomplished what we have in any of these girls' lifetimes," said Keith.

"From the beginning of the year our goal was to win the conference and then win the regions and states," he said. "We have just reached one of our goals - that is how we look at it."

"We won't change our mindset and become cocky and think that we are the dominant team," Pierpont said. "There is still work to do and we are ready to take it on and see how far we can go."

Keith said the goal was to win the conference title and compete as best they could in regionals and states. With the regional tournament approaching Feb. 4, there is still work to do.

"The whole team contributed to our conference championship and that gives us our best chance to advance further," said Foreman.

Keith has instilled in the Knights a winning and confident formula he said he hopes will land them their first state title and stick with them for years to come.

"Coach is just one of those people you want to do your best for and someone you want to impress," Foreman said. "You want to give everything you have to him because you see the how he brings everything to us."

The conference win has cemented the Knights' belief they are one of the elite teams in the state. Now they have to show everyone that beating Providence was not a fluke.

"If everyone gives it their all, we can be really good," Benson said.

"Our team is not about swimming fast; it is more about encouraging others and everyone getting behind everybody. We can look to our left and look to our right and know we will touch the wall first because my team, my coach, everyone, backs each other up on this.

"We feel we are going to do it because we want it the most."