, Muskogee, OK

February 15, 2013

Fort Gibson girls vie for third consecutive state prep swimming title

Phoenix Sports Writer

Coach Connie Dean giggled nervously when the suggestion was made that she’s building a dynasty with the Fort Gibson High School girls swimming team.

The Lady Tigers have won the last two Class 5A state championships, and they go for their third on Friday and Saturday at Jenks High School’s Acquatic Center.

Dean remains cautiously optimistic.

“I don’t want the girls to get the big head, but our chances of repeating look really good,” she said. “The girls are swimming really well.”

The Lady Tigers have reasons to be confident.

They have seven girls, led by seniors Hali Martin and Hannah Cantrell, who have qualified in two events each. The Lady Tigers also been successful at the Jenks pool this season, winning two of three matches in a quad dual, beating Pryor and Bixby but losing to Jenks.

In addition, Fort Gibson has beaten Stillwater, which Dean calls their strongest competition this weekend, in an earlier meet. In that meet, all three of Fort Gibson’s relays got second to Jenks but set personal bests in doing so.

Martin, though, insists she and her teammates are not thinking three-peat just yet.

“All of us think we have a really good shot,” she said. “But we can’t afford to have anybody disqualified. We need to go there and do what we need to do.

“We were the state runner-up in my freshman year and after that, we thought we had a chance to do well and we’ve been getting better every year. This is my last year and that makes this one special. I want to swim my best.”

With each swimmer competing in two events each, meaning the Lady Tigers have as many 14 girls who will be in the pool competing, that’s plenty of opportunity to accumulate points.

“As far as we know, that’s more than anybody else,” Dean said. “Jenks is a fast pool and we turned in some pretty good times earlier this year. We’re excited about going back.”

Add to that that all of their relays have qualified for state. That’s worth double points at state.

“We’re going to have to swim our hardest,” Martin said. “The whole team has a target on its back because we’re the two-time state champion. It’s not going to be easy, but winning for the third straight time is a reachable goal.”

Cantrell, an Oklahoma Baptist University signee, is excited about going back to defend her title in the 50 freestyle. However, she’s recovering from a sprained left ankle.

“We’ve looked really good this year,” she said. “I think we have a chance to win and I hope we can do it. I don’t know about a dynasty, but I’m confident in my team.”

On the boys side, the Tigers are in search of their first state title, and while Dean admits that’s a daunting task this weekend, it’s not an impossible one.

“It’ll be very tough on the boys side and I’m hoping we can finish in the top three,” she said. “We’ve got seven boys going and that as many as our biggest rivals, Harrah, Bixby and Shawnee.”

Like the girls, the boys have two seniors with Derek Cookson and Chris Huggins.

Cookson said he and his teammates are as confident.

“We graduated only one guy off last year’s teams and that’s why I really think (our chances) should be good,” he said. “It’s going to be a dogfight.”

Other top swimmers include juniors Brandon Walker and Dalton Martin. Connor Schapp is a freshman who rounds out the Tigers’ roster.

“Brandon’s ranked real high in the state and I have a lot of options with him,” Dean said.

Preliminaries begin at 5 p.m. Friday and the finals start at 4:30 p.m. Saturday.