Aquatics: Only one way for STE to outdo 2010
St. Thomas Episcopal made history a year ago, claiming the school's first-ever state championship in swimming and diving.
Head coach Helena Finley believes her swimmers can do even better, with the girls defending their TAPPS Division III state crown and the boys seeking to move up a spot after last season's runner-up finish.
"We have a lot of kids back," Finley said. "I don't see any reason why we can't do it."
St. Thomas Episcopal lost two of its best swimmers when Gabriella Lozano, a former individual state champion, graduated and junior Mitchell Crossey moved to San Antonio. Otherwise, the squad remains intact.
Finley said the only thing holding back St. Thomas Episcopal is a lack of competition. She noted that the retirement of former Duchesne head coach Bruce Rollins, who organized a number of private-school meets, is being felt on the area swim scene.
"We've done a dual meet or two. Otherwise, we haven't swum much," said Finley, whose squad ended its layoff by competing in Bellaire's Cardinal Classic at the Lamar Natatorium. "Now that Bruce isn't around, there just isn't much going on."
Finley, though, said practices can be intense and is confident St. Thomas Episcopal will be prepared for the TAPPS South Regional Swimming and Diving Championships on Jan. 29 at the Conroe ISD Natatorium and the TAPPS Division III State Swimming and Diving Championships on Feb. 11-12 at the Josh Davis Natatorium in San Antonio.
St. Thomas Episcopal's girls are loaded with talent and experience. They return three-quarters of last year's victorious 200-yard medley and 400-yard freestyle relays. St. Thomas also earned a silver medal in the 200 freestyle relay.
Senior Christine McGough, one of the best versatile athletes on the team, is back after placing third in the 500 freestyle and fourth in the 50 freestyle. While McGough's endurance is not in question, Finley expects her standout to concentrate on the 50 and 100 freestyle races.
Junior Elizabeth Finley, the coach's daughter, was slowed by an ankle injury last season, placing fifth in the 200 freestyle and seventh in the 100 breaststroke. Healthy at last, she figures to finish considerably higher in both events.
Sophomore Colleen Chen, who concentrated mostly on relays, might be the team's breakout star. Chen could improve on her sixth-place effort in the backstroke. She also could get a look in the sprint freestyle or 100 butterfly.
Junior Valerie Halsey, who finaled in the 200 and 500 freestyle, should earn valuable points in whatever races she chooses.
But Finley said the top newcomer is senior Claire Coulter, who came out for swimming after leading St. Thomas Episcopal's to a state title in cross country in the fall. Coulter is following the example of twin brother, Andrew, a talented swimmer and runner.
"It's Claire's senior year and I just think she wanted to be on the (swim) team with her brother," Finley said.
Claire Coulter is off to an impressive start and could enter a number of different races. Her options include the 100 butterfly, sprint freestyle and 500 freestyle.
But St. Thomas Episcopal's title defense largely will depend on the relays, which should be among the finest in the state.
The boys came tantalizingly close to winning state a year ago, losing by one point to Katy Faith West. Finley is convinced they have what it takes to get over the proverbial hump.
Senior Andrew Coulter is the emotional leader. Coulter was second in the 100 butterfly and third in the 500 freestyle during his junior year.
However, senior Jason Zubrick is the most accomplished male swimmer in the program's history. Zubrick, who owns a number of school records, is the reigning state champion in the 100 backstroke and came in second in the 50 freestyle. He also was part of the gold medal-winning 200 medley and 400 freestyle relays.
Senior Reece McDonald finaled at state in the 200 freestyle and 100 breaststroke, although he may concentrate on the former this season. McDonald also should bolster all three relays, which seem certain to be among the top three in the state.
Other notable swimmers include senior Anthony Masterson and junior John-Philip Seale, both relay standouts and sprint freestylers, and junior Eli Anton, fifth in the 500 freestyle a year ago.
Freshman Xavier Marshall, who specializes in the 200 freestyle, is the most impressive newcomer.
In a span of five years, St. Thomas Episcopal has emerged as one of the premier aquatics programs in TAPPS. Don't expect it to change any time soon.
"We're going to be good again," Finley said. "Hopefully, we can win both (titles) this time."
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