Two years ago, the girls who compete for the Chiles High swimming and diving program made Tallahassee history by becoming the first city school to win a state championship in girls swimming.
Today, well, it’s no longer a novelty.
After winning the last two Class 2A state titles, the Timberwolves enter today’s state meet as the favorite to threepeat. And, yes, they say feel the pressure from their fellow students on campus to keep this championship streak alive.
“I feel like they kind of expect it now,” Chiles senior Hannah Capers said. “It was a big deal the first time. Now it’s like, ‘Oh, it would be tragic if y’all didn’t win.’
“It would be like, ‘What the heck, girls?'”
Capers is one of four Chiles seniors competing today in her fourth state meet. She will swim in the 500-yard freestyle and the 200 free relay.
Lia Lombardi (100 breaststroke, 200 individual medley, 200 medley relay and 400 free relay), Madison Upton (200 free relay) and Alyssa Yambor-Maul (100 butterfly, 100 backstroke, 200 medley relay and 400 free relay) were also a part of the freshman class that finished second at the state meet in the fall of 2009.
Together, the four seniors have seen the program become one of the few public schools in Florida to win multiple state championships in swimming. That has made the Timberwolves the most successful swimming program in Tallahassee history.
“I think it makes it that more special because of the history of our state in that sport,” said Chiles assistant principal Paul Lambert, formerly the school’s athletic director.
The Timberwolves were just a few seconds away from starting this championship streak in 2009. They missed out on the state title by eight points, finishing runner-up to Gainesville Buchholz.
“We were trying to win it our freshmen year, but we got beat right at the end,” said Yambor-Maul, who will swim at the University of Florida next year. “So we were geared up to win the next year.”
Lombardi, the city’s most dominant breaststroker in recent years, said that freshman-year experience educated the Timberwolves.
“We thought we had a shot our freshman year,” Lombardi said. “But it was important just getting to see what that meet was like and finding out where we were.”
Following the 2009 meet, the Chiles program added two future All-Americans when Cece Williams and Delaney Barnard enrolled as freshmen in the fall of 2010.
“I knew they had been really close the year before, so we knew we had a great chance at winning it that year when Delaney and I moved up,” Williams said.
Williams (200 free, 500 free, 200 medley relay, 400 free relay) and Barnard (50 free, 100 free, 200 medley relay, 400 free relay) should score big points in every event they swim today.
They will be joined by sophomores Makayla Ayers (200 free, 500 free, 200 free relay), Allison Greene (1-meter diving), Ali Lombardi (200 free, 100 breast), Lauren Peavy (200 IM, 100 breast) and Christina Pereda (200 free relay).
“You never want to go into it feeling cocky,” Capers said. “You always hit it hard. You train like it’s going to be a close meet.”
Win or lose, the girls say they have not taken these titles for granted.
They’ve enjoyed the extra attention they have received on campus. (“It’s never as much as football or baseball,” Williams said, “but it’s still nice.”)
And they appreciate that today’s meet still represents quite a challenge — even if the expectations are to bring back another state title.
“Swimming is a really tough sport,” Upton said.
“The competition changes every year. You have freshmen coming up every year that are just as fast as the seniors. So just making the podium is a pretty big deal.”