Don't be surprised that Cox Mill High School's most accomplished boys swimmer doesn't spend much time in the pool during his team's practices.
Like many serious swimmers, by the time the Chargers have their daily workouts, senior Ethan Garrison has already spent his fair share of time training. As a member of the NOMAD year-round swim program, with which he trains 2 1/2 hours a day, Garrison's value to the Chargers' team is as much mentor as athlete.
Coach Jamie Carter is happy to have the luxury of a swimmer like Garrison, a three-time state high school meet qualifier. He swims fast times, wins races and can share the tricks of his trade with his teammates.
Having finished in eighth place last year at the state meet, Garrison has cut enough time off his 50-yard freestyle time that he is a legitimate 3A state championship contender. This year's state meet will be held Feb. 9 at Cary's Triangle Aquatic Center.
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"He works hard and he has a natural feel for the water," said Carter. "We all just kind of sit back in amazement."
Garrison has some momentum going into Friday's 3A Western Regional at Huntersville Family Fitness and Aquatic Center. He won his two individual events - the 100-yard freestyle and the 200-yard medley - at the South Piedmont 3A Conference meet at NOMAD on Jan. 21.
His performance earned him all-conference honors for the fourth straight year. Garrison spent his freshman year at Northwest Cabarrus before being redistricted to Cox Mill prior to his sophomore year.
While he is adept at virtually every stroke, Garrison's strongest events are the 50 free and 100 free, the events he swims at regionals and at states. Competing for NOMAD in early December, Garrison churned out a time of 21.97 seconds in a 50-freestyle race, a career-best time.
At the 2011 state championship meet, Garrison finished eighth after registering a time of 22.58 seconds. That was less than a second off the first-place time of 21.80.
Garrison's fourth-place finish in the 50 free at the 2010 state meet was better than his 2011 finish though his time was 0.03 seconds slower. His fourth-place time in the 100-free in 2010 was 49.04, but his 2011 mark of 49.21 was good enough for seventh place.
The closest Garrison has been to a state championship was the 400-yard freestyle relay last year. He teamed with Kyle Cicenia, Preston Roycroft and Nick Cannon to take second place at the 2011 state meet.
The 200-yard medley relay, which included Garrison, Roycroft, Cannon and Austin Kirby, placed third at states. Without Roycroft and Cannon, who graduated, this year's relay teams aren't as strong.
Garrison has stepped in as a team leader in his final year. Quite often, Carter pairs him up with other swimmers so that he can coach them on their technique. Bethy Beard, a senior on the girls team and another year-round swimmer, often shares the same responsibilities.
"Usually (Carter) will see something," said Garrison. "I pull them aside and break it down for them. It's usually something with flip turns or strokes. Sometimes I get in the pool and demonstrate."
Garrison says he was inspired to start swimming competitively about five years ago after attending the prestigious Charlotte Ultra Swim event with a friend.
He was enamored with the performances of some of the world's greatest swimmers, including Olympic gold medalist Michael Phelps.
Now he has his sights set on a championship of his own.
"I want to win all my big meets," said Garrison. "I hope to place first at regionals and at states. This is my senior year, so I want to go out with a big bang."