Hibriten head swimming coach Chris Washburn has a solid corps group of returning swimmers this season and knows they have a chance to be good on both the girls and boys teams.
However, Washburn is quick to point out that Hibriten has moved up to 3A this season and will participate in a new conference which could lead to tougher competition this season. Washburn might be concerned about the new opponents the Panthers will meet this year but he also has Kyle Hites on his team.
Hites is the defending state champion of the breastroke winning MVP honors in last year’s state finals.
“We have a great group of corps seniors returning this season on the boys team lead by Kyle (Hites),” Washburn said. “Kyle, Jake (Washburn) and Gray (Beane) give us great leadership with that trio of swimmers who know how to lead and — more importantly — win.” Washburn was talking about his son Jake Washburn, and fellow senior Beane along with Hites as the trio of swimmers have been competing with and against one another since they were eight years old. Jake Washburn and Beane compete in the middle distance freestyle events. “We have worked hard and been fortunate to do well in the conference and state tournaments but this season we move up a classification and will face some new opponents who will be tough competition,” Washburn said
Also returning this season for the Panthers are Mitch Vapniarek, Travis Toliver and Collin Hites.
Vapniarek is a specialist in the individual medley and freestyle events and Toliver leads in the backstroke and distance freestyle events. Collin Hites, younger brother of Kyle, also swims the backstroke and sprint freestyle events. On the girls team, Washburn also returns a solid group led by four swimmers who all qualified for the state finals led by all-state swimmer Morgan McCuen. Samantha (Sam) Vonnegut, Caitlin Bush and Elizabeth Gantt also return after solid performances last season. Newcomer Julie Bottoms is also expected to contribute in her freshman campaign on the squad.
Chris Washburn, in his fourth year leading the program for Hibriten, feels the recent success of the program (boys finished third in state finals last year and second in 2008 and 2007) is a result of the youth program led by Todd King at Lenoir Aquatic Center. King coaches the Swim Lenoir team and is guidance and dedication by the swimmers have helped build the program into one of the most successful in western North Carolina. “All of our kids are great student-athletes,” Chris Washburn said. “Todd has done a great job in helping the kids who swim year round develop their skills to lead the team.
Then the year-round swimmers want to help the other team members who might not swim year round get better each day.” The format this season to qualify for state finals will be different as the top 12 finishers in the region will advance in a format different from years past. “We hope to get five to six guys and four to five girls to the states this year but it is going to take a lot of work to beat some of the new teams we will face this year,” Washburn added.
“Finishing in the top five in the 3A bracket is going to be difficult but I know we have the type of swimmers on this team who will accept the challenge and work hard to return to the finals.” Chris Washburn just wants his team to enjoy swimming much like he did as a high school swimmer in Shelby and later at UNC-Charlotte. “Swimming is mostly an individual sport except at the high school level where the team concept comes into lay as the kids are always helping one another,” he said. “We have a group that wants to see everyone get better and be successful. That is one reason why I have so much fun watching the kids swim.”