Small numbers don’t deter Northwest Cabarrus girls’ swimming

Imagine a basketball or football team – or a team in any sport for that matter – competing with only a third or a fourth of the number of athletes its opponents have, and still vying for championships.

A lack of swimmers puts the Northwest Cabarrus High girls’ swim team at a disadvantage, but it has not deterred the Trojans from competing on a regional and state level.

Last year, Northwest finished fourth in the 3A Central region with just eight swimmers on its roster. The Trojans may maintain its level of success this year, since three important members return.

Senior Emily Robinson and juniors Emma Prager and Abby Gribble are back to anchor two important relays: the 200-yard medley and the 400-yard freestyle. The trio and their coach, Bob Ringer, are confident that a quality swimmer will fill the key fourth position soon, making the Trojans as viable as they’ve been in recent years.

“(Last year) we didn’t think we could compete with the bigger teams,” said Gribble. “But we did well with such a small team.

“I’m excited for this season. I know our relay is going to be really good again. Hopefully we’ll make states again.”

In 2013-14, Robinson, Prager and Gribble were grouped with senior Corrine Enriquez in both relays. In the medley relay, Enriquez swam the butterfly leg, and Prager’s specialty was the breaststroke. Robinson covered the backstroke while Gribble filled the freestyle.

With Enriquez graduating, Robinson will swim the butterfly while Gribble covers the backstroke. One of seven newcomers to the Trojans team will be the freestyler.

As individuals last season, Gribble and Robinson both qualified for states in the backstroke, while Prager advanced in the breast stroke and 200 freestyle. Swimmers must finish in the top eight in their regional events to qualify for states.

That’s what made the Trojans so good at regionals in 2013-14. Only four swimmers scored points at the meet, but they did so in eight of the 11 events.

At the state meet, the best result Northwest had in any event was Prager’s 10th place finish in the 100-breaststroke.

“Coach Ringer did a good job of making sure we were all in our best events where we could help our school and get the most points we could,” said Prager.

Because of the way conference meets are scored, a small team like Northwest has little chance of accumulating the number of points needed to win a championship. The Southern Piedmont 3A Conference is one of the strongest in the state. Six SPC teams finished in the Central region’s top eight.

Ringer thinks the reason the Trojans have so few girl swimmers is that many neighborhoods that were once in Northwest’s district were redistricted to Cox Mill High when it opened in 2009. Ringer says Northwest regularly filled a roster of more than 50 girls before Cox Mill opened.

Having been a year-round swimmer since the age of 6, Robinson adds that most high school swimmers have been swimming for many years, and that very few pick up the sport once they reach high school.

“You’re either good at it or your not,” she said. “You’ve either trained or you haven’t. You can’t just jump in the pool and do a 200-breaststroke. So a lot of people that have never been exposed to year-round swimming or summer league are not going to go out for high school because they’re not going to know how to do it.”

The girls 200 medley and 400 freestyle relays recorded regional qualifying times in Northwest’s first meet of the year at the Kannapolis YMCA last month.

Northwest doesn’t have as much trouble fielding a boys team. There are 20 Trojans on this year’s roster, including five that competed at states in either individual or relay events: sophomores Jacob Weston and Luke Hamilton, junior Kaleb Jenkins, and seniors Grant Sustar and Cory Shrum.