WESTMINSTER — It appears the pieces are finally starting to fall into place for the Carroll County Piranhas YMCA swim team.
It has more swimmers than ever and more talent than ever, says Steve Hildenbrand, who coaches the team in concert with Jim Mobray and Robin Askins, a Western Maryland College junior.
And, for the first time in its 12-year existance, it actually has a regular home pool of sorts.
The Western Maryland College facility is available for the Piranhas' Saturday home meets this year because the Terrors' away meets are the same days.
Accordingly, the YMCA team has scheduled four of its meets at Western Maryland.
Hildenbrand says the chance to use the Western Maryland pool helps his team's performance because swimmers are familiar with the pool and parents and other supporters are around to cheer them on.
However, the home waters didn't help Saturday.
Mid-Delmarva, a Salisbury-based team, decisioned Carroll, 335-299, leaving winning the major piece of the Piranha puzzle yet to fall into place.
Carroll, 0-4, hasn't won a swim meet in several years.
But the Terrors' pool still held bright sparkles for the county team Saturday.
Carroll's supporters could cheer over their favorites' 31 first- place finishes in 82 races.
Shannon Jones won four of these, taking firsts in the 13-14 girls' 50-yard freestyle, 100 butterfly and breaststroke, and 200 individual medley.
Michelle Kuidort also took four events, winning the 15-18 girls' 100 butterfly, breaststroke and backstroke and the 200 individual medley.
Jennifer Moody, Mary Easterday, Mary Dickensheets, Matt Easterday and Heidi Metzger each were winners in three events.
Brian Lawson, Scott Straehle, Aimee Yingling, Chris Moody, Heather Wilkerson and Megan Straehle were double winners and Aaron Kuidort won once.
Despite the loss, third-year Piranha coach Hildenbrand looks beyond the 0-4 mark to other, more encouraging numbers.
First, this year's roster seemingly bulges with 78 swimmers, more than histeam has ever had, and more than twice its numbers of only three years ago.
For the first time, the Piranhas generally suit up almost as many swimmers as their opponents. They now enter contestants in almost all meet events and reduce the forfeits that often condemned them to lopsided losses in the past.
Saturday, in fact, they had moreswimmers than Mid-Delmarva.
Also, this squad is far more seasonedthan its predecessors.
"A good percentage have three to four years' experience with the team and a few have as many as six," says Hildenbrand.
He recites other encouraging numbers.
With three meetsremaining, 30 Carroll swimmers already have recorded qualified for the postseason YMCA championships.
Hildenbrand added, "Three or four more are within one-half second" of making it.
In addition, the14-year-old Jones has already qualified in two events for the national YMCA championships slated for April in Orlando, Fla., and is the first Carroll YMCA swimmer to do so.
Only 18 local swimmers qualified for postseason YMCA competition last year.
"I think that, basedon previous years, our gains in numbers and ability are indicative of how far swimming as a rec sport has come in the county," says Hildenbrand.
He credits much of these improvements in membership and experience to heavy recruiting from the county's five summer swim clubs, saying that 40 to 50 of his YMCA team's swimmers also compete in the summer.
And, while the Piranhas haven't won very often over the years, Hildenbrand feels he has valid selling points when he recruitssummer swimmers.
Tops among those is the opportunity to improve individual performance by swimming during the winter in a YMCA atmosphere that stresses learning and sportsmanship, but not pressurized competition.
This opportunity is enhanced because the YMCA now has three practice nights at the Western Maryland College pool instead of two, thus allowing swimmers extra time to work.
He added that the team will become even more attractive when a new pool is available at the planned Carroll County YMCA near Westminster. Groundbreaking for the project has been delayed several times over the past three years.
And then that final puzzle piece may fall into place.
"We're looking for big things down the road. It just takes time," he says.