CONYERS - Whether or not Michael Phelps is making an impact on the Rockdale swimming program is unclear.
Conventional wisdom says the Olympic gold medalist has, which could easily explain why Rockdale coach Stephen Sansing had a record 50 swimmers attend tryouts earlier this season.
Or it could be because Rockdale swimming is on the rise. Or a combination of both.
"I think (Phelps) has had something to do with it, but at the same time there's just a lot of interest in swimming around here," Sansing said. "We had a lot of freshmen come out, but I didn't necessarily want to turn them off because we'll need them later.
"Rockdale's had some good swimmers in the past," he added, "but in the last couple of years we've really kind of come on. We're a lot stronger now than we ever have been."
Thanks to a very balanced team - particularly on the girls end, who won the Conyers Cup last year - Rockdale has the potential to sink its competition this season.
"Our core, especially girls, is very deep," Sansing said. "We've got some very good top swimmers, but our middle is much better than most teams' middle, and that's what helped us win the county championship last year. Our depth really came through toward the end."
For the girls, three seniors return to the water - Katie Newman, Patty Murphy and Rachel Ceciliani - along with a host of juniors and some talented freshmen.
"Our girls are our strongest point just because they've been swimming longer," Sansing said. "My top girls can swim basically every stroke - butterfly, breaststroke, backstroke and freestyle - and do all of them well. But we have some others who specialize in one or two strokes, some who specialize in long distance and some who specialize in short distance."
The boys' team returns three swimmers - Buck Farmer, Nolan Roberts and Kari Logan. Rockdale graduated eight seniors from last year's squad.
"They're kind of the core," Sansing said of his experienced trio, "but we've got some ninth- and tenth-graders who are really going to help us out."
Although a state championship is a bit of a stretch - for now, at least - Rockdale's main focus is to win the county title.
"If we can at least show that we can compete in the county and hopefully win, that's a big deal for us," Sansing said. "Our other goal is to get as many people qualified for state, including all three girls relays. I'd love to have a boys relay qualify for state, and I'd love to have two or three individuals qualify, too."
Last year Rockdale sent seven girls to state. As for the rest of the team?
"What I do with them is talk about their personal times," Sansing said. "We won a lot of meets last year - boys and girls - and the reason we're able to do that is because of our depth.
"If they all swim to their potential then we should have a good season."
Jason Murdock can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.
SideBar: At a glance
· Team: Rockdale Swimming
· Coach: Stephen Sansing (third year)
· First Meet: 10 a.m. Saturday, Wildcat Invitational (Clayton County)
· Key Returnees: Abbi Lewis, Emily Boyer, Katie Newman, Melanie Wright, Miranda Wright, Nicole Young, Patty Murphy, Rachel Ceciliani, Buck Farmer, Kari Logan and Nolan Roberts