Eastside sending its first competitors to championships

COVINGTON - With little fanfare, Eastside's swim team will have two of its swimmers - in fact, its only two swimmers - compete today in the Georgia High School Swimming and Diving Championship.

Junior Drew Ellwanger and junior Nijyl Chavis will compete in the 100-yard breaststroke while Ellwanger will swim in the 200 individual medley (IM) as well.

In their first year having a swim team, the Eagles have a chance at claiming a state champion in the breaststroke.

Ellwanger qualified for the state meet with the third fastest time - 1 minute, 0.15 seconds - which is only 1.17 seconds less than the top time of 58.98 seconds by Lakeside-Evans' Eric Chiu.

"I have to drop about a second from my qualifying times. My times in practice are good enough to do that. I just have to put it all together," Ellwanger said. "If I drop my time, I could walk away with it. A lot of these swimmers do better at USAA state than they do at high school state because they train more for that. My goal is do be an All-American, which is a time of 59.50."

Chavis is getting back in the pool after sitting out for two years. During his time away from the pool, Chavis was a member of the Eastside football team.

"I'm just trying to get back where I left off. I still have to work on some things but I'm getting there," Chavis said. "Hopefully, by my senior year, I'll be at full throttle and be ready for anything."

At state, Chavis is hoping finish the event faster than his qualifying time.

"At state, I'm just trying to drop my time," Chavis said. "I'm trying to drop that time and try to catch up with (Ellwanger)."

All Ellwanger wants to do in the 200 IM is to improve his time.

"Breaststroke is the only thing I'm really concentrating on. I'm 16th right now (in the IM); I'd like to keep that spot and drop maybe two seconds," he said.

While doing well at state is a goal they both share, their ultimate goal is to increase swimming's popularity at Eastside.

Their success and word of mouth seems to be paying off as Eastside coach Angela Mitchell said that she is hoping to have as many as 15 people for next year.

"We're hoping to get a team together. A team is anywhere from 20 to 40 people and we're estimating between 12 to 15, including some girls," Mitchell said.

Mitchell, who was not sure about coaching until her husband Todd convinced her that she should do it for the kids, is really glad that she has the support of Eastside's administration.

"They've been so supportive, they're willing to do anything they can to help," she said.

This year has been hard getting meets with a two-swimmer team. However, the Rockdale schools have been a very supportive.

One way that Salem has shown their support for the new program is by allowing Ellwanger and Chavis to tag along on their meets. Although they do not have their own team cheering them on, the Eastside duo feels that Salem, Heritage and Rockdale are all part of their team.

"We know a lot of swimmers for Heritage, Rockdale and Salem. We just get with them and psych each other up and stuff," Ellwanger said. "We're getting to know a lot of them and I help out with Rockdale with their stokes and stuff. There's not that much competition, it's more like a friend thing. We're one big family."

Despite not having a full team, Chavis and Ellwanger have fared well. In some of their outings, the two managed to earn more points then several full teams.

"We've done pretty good," Chavis said. "I guarantee that if we had a lot more people, we'd be great."

Manny Fils can be reached at manny.fils@newtoncitizen.com.