PEMBROKE — In short races, the difference between first and second place can come down to hundredths of a second.
So during a recent practice, Taylor Jackson, captain of Lumberton’s girls swim team, decided to skip the traditional swimsuit, opting to join teammate and boys team captain Thomas Bailey in attire more suited for use outside the pool.
“It’s like the baggiest t-shirts and gym shorts you can find,” Jackson said. “It drags you down and makes you pull through the water harder.”
In her senior season, Jackson is pulling out all the stops as she looks to return to regionals and possibly earn a spot on a collegiate team next season.
She’s one of two area seniors that are expected to be their teams’ top performer, each in the same event.
While Jackson has been the centerpiece of the Lumberton girls team, Phil Locklear is playing a similar role for Purnell Swett’s boys team. Both are sprinters specializing in the 50-yard freestyle.
They were both on display on Tuesday as the schools hosted a five team meet at the Jones Center at The University of North Carolina at Pembroke.
Lumberton’s girls won the points competition with 80, beating South View, who had 59, Pine Forest with 48, Cape Fear with 44 and Purnell Swett with 10.
Cape Fear won the boys competition with 86 points, followed by Pine Forest with 65, South View with 57, Lumberton with 35 and Purnell Swett with 16.
In Jackson’s case, she picked up wins as part of the 200 freestyle and medley and 400 freestyle relay teams, and also took second place in the 50 free. The second place finish came in a dead sprint with Pine Forest’s Kehaulani Kiwaha.
Kiwaha led the race by several body lengths after making the turn at the midway point, but Jackson made a late rush, losing by just over half a second, finishing in 27.97 to Kiwaha’s 27.33.
Despite the narrow miss, it was a race she said was exactly why she loves the sport.
“I just like that feeling, that competitiveness,” she said. “I like the adrenaline rush.”
She said even with little room for error, she still wanted to push Kiwaha.
“I just feel like if you don’t give up, there’s still a chance.”
Though Jackson has made regionals as a relay team member in the past, neither she or Locklear have ever qualified for regionals individually. Both are hoping to make it this year, even though it will require the tough task of cutting seconds off an even that generally lasts no longer than half a minute.
Locklear, who has been swimming since he attending middle school in Florida, joined the Rams after moving to Pembroke for his sophomore season.
In his two seasons, he’s been right in the grey area, missing the an automatic regional bid by a tenth of a second in the 50 free.
“It just tells me I have to work harder,” Locklear said. “Swimming’s a very hard sport because it’s based off of time and you can only do so much but you have to spend almost all your time perfecting your technique and speed and endurance, everything.”
In the 50 free, Locklear struggled against the Cumberland County schools. He finished in 26.5 seconds, which placed him fifth. Logan Dail won the race in 24.13.
He fared better in the 100 free, placing second to Pine Forest’s Jerry Shank.
He was one of three Purnell Swett swimmers to place in the top two. Forrest Malcolm took second in the 100 breaststroke and Emmaline Mansfield took second in the girls 500 freestyle. The Rams did not win any races.
All of Jackson’s relay wins came with Alexis Ard. Summer Martin contributed to the 200 and 400 freestyle relays, Kailey Prevatte contributed to the 400, and Kendall Blaine raced as part of the 200 freestyle and medley teams.
Individually, Blaine also won the 100 butterfly and Katie Hamilton took second in the 100 breaststroke.
The coaches for both Lumberton and Swett acknowledged the roles that their senior centerpieces are expected to play this year.
First-year Pirate coach Lonnie Cox said it wasn’t hard to make Jackson the captain for a team with plenty of youth.
“Taylor is like one of my assistant coaches,” he said. “She has a rare ability in that she makes everybody around her better.”
Purnell Swett coach Jaclyn White, who was promoted from an assistant to head coach this year, said that Locklear’s work ethic is hard to match.
“Phil’s been our lead swimmer for a good while,” she said. “He came to us an experienced swimmer and he continues to improve, continues to push himself. He does an excellent job in the water and does an excellent job helping lead the team as well.”