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Whalen gives Volunteer first regional swimming title

Tanner Cook • Jan 19, 2020 at 1:53 AM

KINGSPORT — On a day Science Hill continued its reign over Northeast Tennessee swimming and diving, Tinsley Whalen made Volunteer history.

Whalen, a senior, not only became the first swimmer to earn a top seed in a regional final, she also became the school’s first regional swimming champion when she edged Dobyns-Bennett’s Ellie Hall to win the 50 freestyle title at the Kingsport Aquatic Center.

Whalen’s winning time of 25.42 was made even more special because her mom and dad were there to witness the feat.

“It was a two-step process,” said Jim Whalen, who is both Volunteer athletic director and swim coach. “If it had been a 51-yard race, the Dobyns-Bennett girl might have caught her. Hats off to her.

“For Tinsley, this is a gorilla-off-your-back moment. She’s been second so many times.

View Tanner Cook’s 📸📸📸 from Saturday

“Her motivation was — as funny as it sounds — to be able to pick out your own walk-up song in the finals,” the proud papa added. “She debated on two or three different ones and finally went with AC/DC’s ‘Dirty Deeds Done Dirt Cheap.’ ”

The memory of the moment will be something to cherish for all involved.

“I had goosebumps there,” Coach Whalen said. “I’m biased as a dad, but I think the loudest race of the night was her race because she had a lot of family here and a lot of local support. That was a special moment and we’ll always have that.”


Science Hill took home the combined team championship for the 14th consecutive year, though the title didn’t come easily. The Hilltoppers outpointed rival Dobyns-Bennett down the stretch and amassed 1,010 points to the Indians’ 969.

“Tonight was a very close competition and every place mattered tonight,” Science Hill coach Chris Corragio said. “Our swimmers and divers performed very well and some people stepped up and placed where they had never placed before.

“That’s what a team is all about, though. Everyone plays a role and everyone knows their role on this team. ... It’s harder to stay on the top than it is to get there, and all the young men and women that have come through the program in the last 14 years have met that challenge.”

D-B did take home the girls title, finishing with 523 points — 80 more than Science Hill.

“Our kids fought the best fight they possibly could with the situation that was presented,” Tribe coach Nathan Love said.


Freshman Matthew Potter stepped up in a big way for Science Hill, winning the 200 individual medley in 1:55.02 and 100 backstroke in 59.21. Both times were faster than his seeding times.

“Matthew is a very talented young man and he’s just a freshman,” Corragio said. “More importantly, though, is he’s a hard worker. If you look at all of these meet records — most of them are by Science Hill swimmers — all of them had one thing in common: They had talent and they did something with it.

“He wants to perform well and he works to perform well. Working to perform well is the more important attribute.”

Science Hill sophomore Dustin Niebauer also had a big day for the ’Toppers, winning both the 100 free (49.78) and 200 free (1:49.49), both in convincing fashion.


The Lady Indians had a big 1-2 punch that led them to the title in senior Gracie Allen and sophomore Libby Russum.

Russum started off the individual finals on the right foot by winning the 200 freestyle in 1:59.09 and the 100 free in 53.70.

She was also part of D-B’s winning 400 relay, which closed in 3:46.53.

Allen came up big in both the 200 individual medley, winning in 2:16.63, and 100 backstroke, in which she was second in 1:04.11. She was also part of two victorious relays.

“Libby swam phenomenal and almost broke a few records,” Love said.

“I’m so proud of all the kids tonight. I can’t say enough about my kids.

“Our girls did really well last year and we beat Science Hill in the dual meets all year. It’s good to come home with the title.”


Daniel Boone’s Cassie Lowe posted one of the day’s impressive meets. The sophomore won both the 500 free and 100 backstroke titles, events that were held less than 20 minutes apart.

What was even more impressive is that she was four one-hundredths of a second off the meet record in the 500, a mark that’s stood since 2000 and is the oldest record in the books. Her final time was 5:11.92.

In the backstroke, Lowe fought off a hard-charging Allen in the final 10 yards to finish the day unbeaten.


The finals started off well for the two favored teams. D-B swept the top three spots in the 1-meter girls diving competition. Kynadi Lane won with 407.80 points, followed by Layla Russell (338.25) and Laney Height (333.05).

Science Hill took two of the top three spots on the boys’ side. Nick Van Eaton won with 396.1 and Hilltoppers teammate Nicholas Dorr was third (349.25). Tennessee High’s Caden Myers broke up the sweep with his second-place finish.

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