BENTON - The Benton High School Panther swim team was in the water Tuesday evening for one of the last practices they will have before the Arkansas State Swim and Dive meet on Saturday after the boys finished third (246 points) in the South District Meet championship on Friday, Feb. 8, and the girls (142.5) finished fifth. This is the first official year for the team as a part of the Benton High School athletics department, even though there has been a swim team representing the Benton Panthers for the last six years. The Benton School board added swimming as an official school sport at the end the 2011-2012 school year. Deb Law, coach for the team, said “We had 28 swimmers try out, with 16 making the team. It has been an exciting season and I would like to thank the school, the board and the parents for all their support. Because of the parents volunteering their time we were able to host our first home swim meet at Bishop Park.”
The team finished the year in third place at the South District Championship on Feb. 8 at Bishop Park.
Six of the Panther swimmers have qualified to compete in the Arkansas State Swim and Dive meet this Saturday at the University of Arkansas at Little Rock. Four of the six are Luke Jamison, Jax Hopkins, Ethan Spurlock and Garrett Sullivan and they will swim on the boys relay team.
“This is the first time Benton had a relay team entered in a state event,” said Law. "This boys relay team ruled the water with a first-place finish in the 400-yard freestyle relay and a second in the 200-yard freestyle relay with a second-place finish at the district meet. Also qualifying for state are sophomores Hope Ernhart and Jenna Jamison.
Senior Luke Jamison, who has been swimming for Benton for four years, has been a team leader and role model for both new and current swimmers, according to Law. Luke Jamison placed first in the boys 100-yard freestyle at the district meet with a time of 52.40 seconds, and second in the boys 200-yard freestyle with a time of 2:04.78. Sophomore Garrett Sullivan finished first in both the 100 butterfly with a time of 59.32 and the 100 backstroke at 59.40. Sophomore Ethan Spurlock took first place in the boys 500 freestyle with a time of 5:38.21 and fourth in the boys 100 freestyle at 55.05.
Sophomore Hope Ernhart is one of the top swimmers in the state in the girls 50, 100 and 200 freestyle. During the district meet, Ernhart competed in the girls 50 freestyle finishing in first place with a time of 25.06. At the same meet, she took first place in the girls 100 freestyle with a time of 56.29. The other member of the girls’ team to qualify for state is Jenna Jamison. She placed fourth in the girls 100 freestyle with a time of 1:00.42 and second in the girls 100 backstroke with her time of 1:06.79
Also swimming for the Panthers at district were sophomore Merritt Goodson and fjnior Sofia Stewart for the girls' team. Goodson competed in the 50 freestyle and 100 backstroke, and Stewart in the 100 freestyle and 100 backstroke. On the boys’ team, Jax Hopkins, Dalton Martin, Cory Thompson and Jared McGraw competed. Hopkins competed in the 100 backstroke and the 100 breastroke. Martin swam in the 50 freestyle and 100 backstroke. Thompson competed in the 100 freestyle and 100 yard breastroke, and McGraw competed in the 100 freestyle and the 100 breaststroke.
The Benton swim team, with its incoming freshmen and sophomores next year, have the potential to bring more championships home. Coach Law is very excited to see the change and feels that the team will grow in the years to come supported by swimmers working with many of the summer swim programs.
The State Meet will be at the UALR Donaghey Center Natatorium, with the swimming portion kicking off at noon on Saturday.