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FULL STORY: 'Toppers swimmers capsize competitors

Jason Mullins • Jan 20, 2013 at 12:12 PM

BRISTOL, Tenn. — The Science Hill swimming team continued its dominant season Saturday at the Northeast Tennessee Regional Championships at Tennessee High. Science Hill coach Chris Coraggio’s boys and girls teams picked up victories in all but two events.The Hilltoppers tallied a combined team score of 820, besting second-place Tennessee High by 371 points and third-place Dobyns-Bennett by 421. “We had some kids really step up and turn in some inspired performances,” Coraggio said. Marlee Jennings was one of Science Hill’s standout performers at the meet, winning the women’s 50-yard freestyle and picking up a commanding victory in the 100-yard backstroke finals. Jennings defeated her nearest competitor, teammate Lauren Belcher, by nearly five seconds with a time of 59.67. “Marlee is one of our seniors who has always been a bridesmaid and never the bride at these events,” Coraggio said. “She just really showed a lot of heart today.”Science Hill’s Daniel Chang continued his season-long domination, earning first-place finishes in the 200 freestyle and the 500 freestyle events. Chang — a freshman — gave his most impressive performance in the 500 free. With a time of 4:58.70, he defeated second-place Scott Walz of Elizabethton by nearly nine seconds. Chang was also part of two Hilltopper victories in the 200 medley and the 400 freestyle relays.Despite the impressive performances, Coraggio said Saturday’s victory was the result of an overall effort by the entire team. “At the top end, there were a lot of heroes,” he admitted, “but in the end, the victory belongs just as much to our kids who were turning in second- and third-place finishes. Those kids are really the strength of our team.” After dealing with an illness earlier in the year, Tennessee High coach Chris Estep said his team’s second-place finish at the meet carried even greater significance. “Throughout the time that I was out, the whole team made sure to let me know they were thinking of me,” Estep said. “I can’t tell you the number of times they would call or send me a text. We’ve got a great bunch of kids at Tennessee High.” Estep’s team was able to break through Science Hill’s dominance of the event with a 1-2 finish in the women’s 500 freestyle. Junior Blakeleigh Mathes picked up the win in the event, turning in a time of 5:29.91. Teammate Caroline Blackmore followed in second place. D-B coach Nathan Love took some solace in the second-place finish from his boys’ team, despite finishing third in the overall standings. “We’ve been chasing Tennessee High all season long,” Love said. “They were just a bit too strong today for us to pick up an overall second-place finish.” Love said he was generally pleased with the outcome, noting that several of his swimmers have qualified for next month’s state tournament. State qualifiers advance to the Tennessee high school swimming and diving championships, set for Feb. 8-9 at Pilot Aquatic Club in Knoxville.

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