At age 6, Chiles senior Cece Williams jumped in a pool and began swimming for the first time. She would subsequently get nervous before every summer league meet then and she still gets nervous now.
But 12 years later, a very prestigious high school career has come to a close and it appears whatever butterflies she may feel inside her actually make her swim faster.
Williams, who has signed with the University of Virginia, has been named the 2013 All-Big Bend Swimmer of the Year for girls swimming after winning state championships in the 200 and 500 freestyle events, winning two state titles on the 200 and 400 free relays and leading Chiles to its fourth straight state title as a team.
This is the second straight honor for Williams, who shared last year’s award with former teammate Alyssa Tambor-Maul, who now swims at Florida.
“My friendships are probably the biggest things I’m going to look back at and all the memories we had at swim meets, winning state together,” Williams said. “I’ll never lose those friendships I’ve made through swimming.”
And for his district championship in the 100 backstroke, while competing at the state meet in the 500 free and 100 back, Chiles sophomore Brandon Chason has been named the 2013 All-Big Bend Swimmer of the Year for boys swimming.
“My parents are my rock,” said Chason, who was a second-team All-Big Bend swimmer last year as a freshman.
“They always support me 100 percent, good or bad swim. I would be nowhere that I am without their support. They sit me down and ask me my goals. Honestly, they don’t know much about swimming so it’s all, ‘Wow, that’s good!’ but just them being there for me 24/7, all the time is such a blessing.”
Chason finished 11th at state in the 500 free and 13th in the 100 back, while the Timberwolves as a team earned runner-up in the Region 1-3A meet. Now Chason is setting his sights higher for his remaining two years of high school swimming even as he competes with ATAC in the club season.
“I just try to do my best in the pool and go as fast as I can,” Chason said. “I have to keep training as hard as I can and keep setting goals. Next year, I want to make the A Final in the 500 (free) and 100 back, and senior year get on the podium.”
For Williams, it was after a quality practice in eighth grade that Area Tallahassee Aquatic Club coach Terry Maul pulled her aside and gave his endorsement of her effort that she realized her potential.
“He said, ‘You’re going to be really good if you just keep working and doing everything you can do in practice,'” Williams recalled. “From that point on, I really just pushed myself until I got where I am today.”
During her freshman year, she didn’t realize how big a deal it was for her team to win state. It didn’t dawn on her as a sophomore. Then her junior year she won an individual state title in the 200 free and was on two dominant relay teams.
But with such strong seniors departing and Chiles moving up a class to 3A, winning wasn’t a guarantee. It came down to the wire, but Williams, who put an emphasis on enjoying her senior season, was able to participate on the relay team that won the meet for the Timberwolves.
“It was so fun,” Williams said. “It was the most fun at state of all the four state meets I went to. The girls just really stepped up. This high school season was just fun. You go out and do your best, but most importantly get to enjoy your friends and go out with a bang. That will help me in college because my friends there will become my family, just like they are here.”
Coaches of the year
Two longtime area club coaches in their first seasons as high school head coaches made quite a splash. Maclay coach Bob Ruth has been named the 2013 All-Big Bend Coach of the Year for boys swimming, while Chiles’ Amanda Meyer was named Coach of the Year for girls swimming after the Timberwolves won a fourth straight state title.
“It was really a great experience all around,” Meyer said. “All the swimmers deserve all the recognition they’re getting because of all the hard work they put in every single day.”
That Meyer undertook what could be considered a daunting task– manning control of a three-time champion minus several huge seniors– cannot be overlooked.
And Chiles won all the same, even while moving up to 3A. But Williams, Indiana signee Delaney Barnard and a host of other talent finished off another championship even with the meet score much closer and more nail-biting a finish than desired.
“I never felt like I had expectations to live up to, but everybody was just supportive and positive throughout the season,” said Meyer, 25, who is from Hollywood and began work with ATAC in 2007.
“We’ve known Amanda for a while through ATAC, but she just brought so much fun and energy to the team which we needed this year,” Williams said.
After coaching club swimming for the better part of his life, including 31 years in Tallahassee as director of the Bob Ruth Aquatic Club, Ruth took on Maclay’s open position this past season but had a different-looking squad to work with than Meyer. His team largely consisted of underclassmen and, in many cases, seventh and eighth graders.
Still, his boys team won the District 1-1A title and performed well in a very fast region. Senior Josh Cottle qualified for state, while winning district titles in the 200 medley and 500 free, and eighth grader Rafaele Chambasian won district in the 100 breaststroke. In all, seven individuals made the region meet and five were underclassmen, including two eighth graders.
“I’ve coached all my life that winning is improving, especially during a developing stage, winning is beating a time,” Ruth said.
“That’s everyone’s goal no matter how old you are or how skilled you are. You’re going to win by trying to improve. Conversely, that also takes pressure off some of the kids that are really good. They don’t have to worry about other kids in the race, just worry about improving themselves.”