by Cliff Mehrtens

HUNTERSVILLE – Hough High and Lake Norman Charter continued their regional swimming dominance. Next up, a chance to win state championships.

Hough’s girls’ team won its second straight N.C. 4A West Regional title on Feb. 2 at Huntersville Family Fitness and Health. The Huskies, who won a state championship last winter, piled up 514 points, well ahead of second-place Providence High (419 points).

Hough’s Emily Allen broke the regional record in winning the 100-yard freestyle (52.29 seconds). She also won the 50-yard freestyle and swam the anchor leg in the winning 200-yard medley and 200-yard freestyle relays.

Jessica Merritt set a regional record by winning the 200-yard freestyle in 1:52.45.

Heather Merritt won the 100-yard backstroke. Hough’s Kathryn O’Brien, Heather Merritt, Ally Dupay and Jessica Merritt combined to win the 400-yard freestyle relay.

Karly Adams won the 1-meter diving event. Dupay took second in the 500-yard freestyle, and Hough had several top-five finishers, which led to the lopsided victory.

The N.C. 4A championship will be Feb. 7 at the Triangle Aquatic Center in Cary.

“It’s pretty high-pressured, but we’re ready for it,” Allen said. “We know how we have to prepare for it.”

Alexandria Kitchens, who swam on the 200-yard medley relay and finished second in the 100-yard backstroke, said Hough won’t be distracted by the atmosphere of a state meet.

“We have a strong connection with each other,” she said. “We’re all great friends. Being there for each other after we swim, and before we swim, it gets everything out of the way.”

Hough’s boys scored 375 points to win their first regional, edging runner-up South Meck by seven points. Hough’s Jack Manchester won the 200-yard freestyle and set a regional record in winning the 100-yard backstroke in 51.02 seconds. He also swam on the 400-yard freestyle and 200-yard medley relay teams that finished second.

Hough’s boys were second at last year’s state meet.

“It’s exciting,” Manchester said. “We’re all ready. The key is to (qualify) as many guys as possible, doing the best we can and hopefully taking home the championship.”

Hough’s Harrison Mitchell cruised to his second straight regional diving title, outscoring the second-place finisher by nearly 100 points. Mitchell, a junior, is the reigning 4A state diving champion.

Lake Norman Charter’s boys and girls squads won their second straight N.C. 1A/2A West Regional on Feb. 1 at HFFA.

The Knights boys scored 275 points to finish ahead of runner-up Shelby (246). Austin Jones won the 100-yard freestyle and Drew Queen won the 100-yard breaststroke. Lake Norman Charter also won the 200-yard medley relay and 400-yard freestyle relay.

Charter’s girls scored 273 points, 65 ahead of second-place Lincoln Charter. Its’ lone individual winner was Gabi Osterholz in the 100-yard breaststroke, but depth keyed the championship. The Knights qualified swimmers in all 11 events for the state meet

“I was very impressed by all three divers (Nathan Lane, Ady Lowe, and Erin Lee) who scored valuable points for the team right from the start of the day,” Lake Norman Charter coach Kevin Happ said. “I was also very impressed on how Austin Jones led the 200 medley and 400 free relays to great swims, as well as his race strategy in the 200 and 100 freestyles.”

Happ credited James Creel’s performance in the 100 breaststroke, swimmers Sean Powers, Briana Del Valle, Gabrielle Monroe, and the leadership from seniors Abbey Joiner and Osterholz.

The N.C. 1A/2A state meet will be Feb. 9 at the Triangle Aquatic Center in Cary.