State championships in town

A field of almost 600 competitors, including more than 30 from the Rock Hill area, converge on the Rock Hill Aquatics Center today for the USA Swimming South Carolina State Championships.

The meet begins at 4 p.m. and continues through Monday. Action starts at 7:30 a.m. on Saturday, Sunday and Monday and runs into the evening. An individual and a team champion will be determined from among most of the top YMCA and club swim teams in the state.

"This is the biggest meet in South Carolina," meet director Merv Faassen De Heer said. "We'll have about 600 athletes who qualified for the event; will have about 1,500 people in the facility each day."

Competition will be held in the 10-and-under, 11-12, 13-14 and 15-18 age divisions for boys and girls.

The local competitors swim for Rock Hill YMCA Aquatics, who are coached by Lynn Williams and De Heer. Many of them qualified in multiple events, some as many as 15 or 16, but meet rules allow them to compete in no more than three per day and 10 total.

De Heer expects several members of the RAYS to challenge for individual titles.

In the 15-18 boys, Alex Carr could challenge for titles in the distance events -- 1,650, 1,000 and 500-meter freestyle. He's ranked in the state's top 10 in the 1,650 and 500 and is No. 1 in the 1,000 freestyle.

Kenny Jeffrey is ranked among the state's top 10 in 12 events for the 11-12 boys and could be a major contender in the 50 butterfly and 100 individual medley.

Twin brothers Brandon and Richard Keller compete in the 10-and-under division. Both had qualifying times in 12 events and are seeded 1-2 in the 50 backstroke. Brandon Keller is seeded first in the 50 breaststroke, with a time three seconds better than any other swimmer.

Brian Peterson in the 15-18 age group could factor in the 200 backstroke, and Brandon Sweezer, who had qualifying times in 15 events, bears watching.

In the 11-12 girls division, Izzi Woodard had qualifying times in 15 events, with the 100 and 200 breastroke her top events.

Leanna Martin, also in 11-12, had 14 qualifying times, with her best events the 50 breaststroke and 100 butterfly.

Jenny Russell, in the 15-18 division, could be a factor in the 100 and 200 breaststroke, while Stephanie Bayag, if she's able to overcome a broken toe, hopes to do well in the 100 backstroke.

The meet is also a major event for swimmers who want to get qualifying times for the YMCA Nationals, which will be held the first week in April in Fort Lauderdale.

"All of our 12-and-under kids will be trying to get those times," De Heer said.

A list of swimmers from RAYS who met eligibility requirements for this weekend's championships: