The end result from Thursday night’s meet between Tennessee’s Signal Mountain Green Giants and the host Dalton Dolphins was a prime example of the rivalry built between the two Chattanooga Area Swim League programs in recent seasons.
The Dolphins won 431.5-324.5 at the Dalton Recreation Center pool, forcing a season split between the two teams, both members of the CASL’s top-level Blue Division.
The win put Dalton on top of the league and in control of its own destiny in the hunt for the regular-season division title with the schedule past its midpoint.
Swimmers and coaches on both sides talked Thursday night about how a rivalry has been built in the past decade. Dalton and Signal Mountain are usually the CASL’s top two teams, and the Dolphins have held their own in the chase for the regular season title — which is based on dual meet results — while Signal Mountain generally takes home the postseason crown at the City Meet, often referred to by Dolphins coach Charles Todd as the league’s version of the Super Bowl.
And that script rarely, if ever, ventures off course.
Since 2003, the Dolphins have won regular-season titles in 2005, 2006, 2007 and 2011, while Signal Mountain won in 2003, 2004, 2008, 2009 and 2010. In the same stretch, the Dolphins have just one City Meet title (2006), while Signal Mountain has won it each other year.
And with the exception of 2003, the Dolphins have been at least competitive every year during that time frame, finishing in the top three both in the regular season and at the City Meet.
“In the last probably decade, either the Green Giants or the Dolphins have won not just the City Meet but the dual meet championship for the season,” Todd said. “We’ve won the dual meet season, but they (almost) always get us in the championship.”
For Green Giants coach Adam Brock, this is his first year experiencing the rivalry. Still, he can tell it is a competitive one from the two encounters this season. On June 4, Signal Mountain won 382.5-377.5 at home, a very close result for a swim meet.
“They intended to come up there and beat us the first meet at home,” Brock said. “Yeah, as far as I can tell, the two of us, Dalton and Signal, usually come away with bragging rights at the end of the season.”
Todd said there is a reason for the Green Giants’ ability to stay above the Dolphins come City Meet time. In dual meets, only two swimmers earn points for a team in each event. But at the City Meet, up to 16 swimmers earn points and depth is as important as good times. Signal Mountain has a long roster, especially at the younger ages, and overwhelms competition by having a lot of swimmers pick up points.
Neither side is disputing that.
“They have so many little kids, and they’re fast, too,” said Taylor Dale, a Dolphin for nine years and a soon-to-be Dalton High senior and U.S. Olympic Trials competitor. “They’re probably the biggest competition we have in the league.”
Crosby Wheeler, 18, has been swimming for Signal Mountain for 13 years.
“Honestly, it’s usually been us because we’re a bigger team,” Wheeler said. “It just works out well for us. In the past few years, (Chattanooga’s) Stuart Heights has also done really well.”
Todd said there are 120 swimmers on the Dolphins squad while the Green Giants have that many age 8 and younger.
“When you go up on the mountain, every kid on the mountain swims,” Todd said. “They’ve had as high as 400 kids on the team and the highest we’ve had in Dalton is about 150.”
But Dolphins swimmer Anna Clark believes the heart of the rivalry lies in the younger kids because of the number of little Green Giants. Clark, who just graduated from Dalton High and will attend the University of Georgia this fall, has been on the team since she was 12 years old.
“It’s more exciting, especially for little kids, because (Signal Mountain) has so many young kids,” she said. “So when you’re younger it’s really exciting because you have great competition. Now it’s more personal competition, like you versus the clock.”
For Wheeler and the Green Giants, everyone gets involved.
“At our home meet, everyone was excited about it,” he said. “Our older kids will get just as worked up about it as our younger kids.”
The Dolphins improved to 4-1 with Thursday’s win, while Signal Mountain fell to 3-2 — the Green Giants also lost to Stuart Heights earlier this month.
The CASL season includes eight dual meets, two against each team. The drive from Dalton to Signal Mountain is a long one by CASL standards, which means the visiting team often does not bring a full squad.
“We usually lose the first time we face them and win the second time,” said Dolphins swimmer Ethan Pence, 13. “When we go up to their meet, we only have about half our people here. When they come here, they only have about half their people here.”
A meet in Signal Mountain usually comes first, and because the Green Giants are the main foe for the Dolphins, it acts as an inspiration to defend home turf, Clark said.
“If they beat us, we’re always like, ‘We have to rally and come back here and beat them,’” she said.
Todd’s coaching tactics also lie in inspiration, another sign the rivalry between the two teams is alive and well after another season split in 2012 and the City Meet on the horizon next month. This year’s competition is set for July 14-15 in Fort Oglethorpe.
“It’s a friendly rivalry. They have some fast kids and we have some fast kids. We go at it,” Todd said. “I try to motivate the kids all week by letting them know, ‘We need to beat the Greenies.’”