ASHLAND Calyx Holmes of the Ashland Area Y River Monsters trailed by about two body lengths when he dived into the pool for the anchor leg of the 400-meter freestyle relay.

A highly competitive Holmes welcomed the challenge set before him. The 17-year-old caught his rival from Lexington’s Beaumont Y Barracudas in the late stages and won by three-tenths of a second.

Asked if his adrenaline was pumping throughout the chase, Holmes quickly responded, “Heck yeah.”

The Ashland Blazer junior took five first places and a second in his individual events, but he rated the 400 freestyle relay his best race. Holmes turned in a speedy 46.84 split.

AAY assistant coach Billy Cox, standing nearby, broke into a smile.

“Calyx will die before he comes in second,” Cox said. “He’s like an animal with that.”

Holmes, who teammed with Dylan Midkiff, Will Waits and Reece Pennington for the victory, had a big weekend at the Kentucky YMCA Competitive Swimming League State Championships. So did AAY teammate Jazzie Webb. They swept the age 15-18 boys and girls titles.

Webb tallied 84 points, sweeping all six of her individual events and “we got I think two first places in three relays,” she said.    

For Webb, who recently turned 16, the performance fit well with her list of high-point awards at the meet going back to age 9. She felt she definitely had to earn this one.

“It was really close races in all six,” Webb said of the individual battles. “The 50 free came down to four-hundredth of a second. The 100 butterfly probably stands out the most for me. I was not expecting a win there.”

Holmes finished with 80.5 points to edge Beaumont’s Josh Bame, who scored 78. Pennington — the other half of AAY River Monsters’ strong one-two combination in the boys 15-18 division — was a close third with 71 points.    

Pennington smiled after setting PRs in the 100 and 200 backstrokes as well as the 200 and 400 individual medleys in the home AAY pool.

“It’s pretty great,” he said. “I like swimming here a lot.”

It wasn’t long ago that Pennington’s sister, Kenzi, also excelled in the AAY program. She went on to swim at University of the Cumberlands and transferred to Shawnee State. Now 20, Kenzi is in her first year as the River Monsters’ coach after previously helping out as an assistant.

“I’m getting use to it,” Reece said. “She’s a good coach.”

There’s a lot of excitement surrounding the program, according to Cox.

“The team camaraderie has really escalated,” said the veteran swim coach. “The kids are having fun and want to stay after practice. Kenzi’s doing a great job.”

The new coach feels right at home at the Ashland Area Y, which was a beehive of activity all weekend with 491 swimmers from seven Kentucky YMCAs.

“I started swimming when I was seven,” Pennington said. “Most of my life has been spent here. I want our swimmers to make memories at this meet like I always did. Our youngest is 5 and the oldest at this meet is 18.”

The AAY entered 40 swimmers and made a solid showing with the girls scoring 628 points (fourth place) and the boys posting 455.5 (fifth). In contrast, girls team winner Northeast Family YMCA, of Louisville, brought 141 swimmers and boys champion Beaumont had 135.

“It’s gone pretty well,” Pennington said. “We do have a smaller number. I expected that with the coaching change. But especially my older group of kids has worked hard to get up there.”

For example, a 200 freestyle relay team of Webb, Cait Waits, Carlie Whitlock and Abby Christian made a zone cut (qualifying time) during a time trial at the end of the meet.  

 It’s really cool to be on the other side now to see all the planning that goes into this event,” Pennington said.

 AAY Aquatics and Fitness Director Holly James said the state meet — a fixture here for several years — wouldn’t be possible without continued support from parent volunteers.

“All the parents here help and are glad to do it,” James said. “They’re really well-organized. This is really a good thing for our area. It brings in money with people getting a hotel for the weekend and they go to restaurants.”

High school seniors at the championships received a microfiber towel embroidered with their name.

The inside page of the event’s official program includes a list of 16 area sponsors.

“I really appreciate all of the sponsors who helped make this possible,” James said.      

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