When the Great Mills swim team shows up for its Southern Maryland Athletic Conference dual meets and championship events this season, the odds are pretty good the Hornets won't be the loudest team on the pool deck. After all, Great Mills fields the smallest team in the conference.
But once in the water, the Hornets make plenty of noise, primarily thanks to siblings John and Jackie Kitner, who have established themselves as two of the premier swimmers in the SMAC.
"We are the smallest team in terms of numbers," said second-year Great Mills coach Brent Gordon, "but with the two of them, we will be able to have some success in the conference."
For the past two seasons, John Kitner has been a member of Patuxent, two-time defending SMAC boys' champion. Last season at the SMAC championships, he won the 100 butterfly and took second in the 100-yard backstroke, helping to catapult the Panthers past Leonardtown for the boys' title.
Last season as a freshman for Great Mills, Jackie Kitner made a statement at the SMAC championships, winning the 200-yard freestyle and coming in fourth in the 500-yard freestyle.
The Hornets, in their second season fielding a swim team, now have unquestioned leaders for their respective boys' and girls' squads. But according to Gordon, their styles of leadership could not be more different.
"They have kind of a yin-yang personality," Gordon said. "John will bring quiet leadership and performance in the pool, while Jackie brings the complete opposite. She is vocal instead of internalizing."
Leonardtown Coach Megan Shelton has watched the pair compete for their club teams.
"It's just like a big brother, little sister type relationship, with John being the quiet leader and Jackie just being loud," said Shelton jokingly.
But despite their differences in personality, the siblings will be aiming for the same goals -- to maintain their level of performance within the SMAC and to set a strong example for their teammates.
John Kitner's arrival at Great Mills could not have come at a better time for the school's boys' program, as Will Richards, a standout for the Hornets last season, has left the team to swim for McDonough. Among those whom John will help lead through the season are freshman Andrew Kelly, a breaststroke specialist, and senior Zane Jones, who is new to the school and will compete in the sprint freestyle races.
"John has earned the respect of both the boys' and girls' teams by demonstrating his commitment to the school and the team," said Gordon about the early impression John has made. "He is already eager to help the younger swimmers and will definitely raise our overall performance."
On the girls' team, although just a sophomore, Jackie Kitner has quickly become a leader in and out of the pool along with relay teammate Jennifer Graham, a senior. This season the Hornets hope she will be able to help bring along a pair of freshmen, Alison Keenan and Rachel Bailer, as well as sophomore Annie Kwon, each of whom are versatile swimmers capable of competing in multiple events.
For Gordon, it is a luxury to have the brother-sister combination swimming for him, but his expectations are tempered because of the size of the team. In last year's SMAC championship meet, Great Mills had swimmers finish in the top 10 of individual events only five times in 18 opportunities.
"We have to organize our goals around individual improvement and stroke development," Gordon said. "We have goals to try and beat two or three teams that we didn't last year, but our goals are primarily not set for dual meets but instead for the SMAC and regional meets."