Championship programs aren't built in one year or even two or three.
However, as Columbus High prepares for the Georgia High School Association State Swimming Championships -- which start today in Atlanta -- it's safe to say the Blue Devils' program is definitely headed in the right direction.
Columbus High is sending six boys swimmers in seven different events and five girls in four different events. This comes a year after the Blue Devils qualified six boys and only one girl for the state meet.
"It's really exciting that we have that many swimmers going," said Columbus High senior Charlie Flowers, who qualified in the 50-yard freestyle, 100 freestyle and as a part of the 200 and 400 freestyle relay teams. "Swimming isn't that big a sport around here, but the swimmers we do have are all hard workers and we're continuing to build this program."
Columbus will be competing in the Class A-5A division and qualifying starts at 9 a.m. The finals -- which include the top 16 qualifiers in each event -- will be held at 1 p.m. Saturday.
"We're definitely more experienced than we were last year," said Columbus coach Karen Waters. "Another thing that I think has made this a good team this year is that everyone gets along so well. All of the swimmers are like one big family. Last year, we didn't quite jell as much, but we really came together this year."
Along with Flowers, headed to Atlanta on the boys side are Walton Bray (100 backstroke) and Jorge Orderique (100 butterfly) in individual events and three different relay teams. The 200 medley team of Bray, Thomas Marsh, Orderique and Marvin Lewis, 200 free relay team of Orderique, Lewis, Flowers and Chris Scrivner and the 400 free relay team made up of Bray, Orderique, Lewis and Flowers will be swimming in Atlanta as well.
"Competing in a big meet like the state meet can be nerve-racking, but it's a good experience," said Orderique, who is a sophomore. "We're a faster team than we were last year so hopefully we can set some school records."
Lauren Crane qualified as an individual in the 200 freestyle and as a member of the 200 medley relay, 200 free relay and 400 free relay teams. The other 200 medley team members are Jennifer Landry, Molade Olubowie and Lauren Cass, the 200 free relay team includes Olubowie, Cass and Lauren Duncan and the 400 free relay team also has Landry, Crane and Duncan.
One factor that works against Columbus is its lack of year-round swimmers. Crane and Orderique are the only members of the Blue Devils' roster that swim with the Columbus Hurricanes program and other swimmers -- including Marsh and Scrivner (both baseball), Lewis (rifle) and Flowers (golf) -- compete in other sports, meaning their focus isn't solely on the pool. Still, Waters is proud of what her team has accomplished this season.
"We compete in Class A-5A and most of the top schools in that division are full of year-round swimmers," said Waters. "Our roster is mostly high-school swimmers who only swim three months out of the year. It's tough to qualify for the state meet when you're only swimming three months out of the year, so they've worked hard to be able to earn this opportunity."
The Blue Devils as a team are doing some of their best swimming at the right time, as one individual and three relay teams qualified for the state meet at the last regular-season meet in Newnan a couple of weeks ago.
"I do feel like we're peaking," said Waters. "We'd love to have at least one relay team in the top 16 and individually we have some kids we're hoping we can get into the top 16. Last year, we were in Class 3A and compared to the other Class 3A teams, we finished 10th. This year, we have more relay teams and individuals going, so I definitely think we can do better. It's definitely a stepping-stone for our younger swimmers, but all of them are going to keep getting better."
Crane -- another sophomore who is making her first trip to the state meet -- isn't sure she can win a state title this weekend, but is optimistic about her future chances and the future of the Blue Devil program.
"I just want to do my best," said Crane. "Right now, I feel like I can still swim faster than what I have been doing lately. Either way, this year is more about gaining some experience and hopefully we can do better over the next couple of years."