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Sherando's De Jong delivers all-around excellence

Megan De Jong and Ben Grove are swimmers of the year
Sherando's Megan De Jong, left, and Handley's Ben Grove are The Northern Virginia Daily's swimmers of the year. De Jong qualified for the state meet in every individual event, while Grove won a second straight state title. Dennis Grundman/Daily

All-area girls swim team

FIRST TEAM


  • Megan De Jong, Sherando — The Northern Virginia Daily’s 2009-10 Girls Swimmer of the Year, De Jong qualified for the Group AA/A state meet in every individual event this season. She finished 12th in the state in the 200 individual medley and 17th in the 500 freestyle. De Jong won district titles in the 200 individual medley and 100 butterfly, led the area in the 200 individual medley and 100 backstroke, plus ranked among the area’s leaders in every individual event.

  • Emalee Firestein, James Wood — A senior co-captain for the Colonels, Firestein tallied 15th-place finishes in both the 200 freestyle and 500 freestyle at the Group AA/A state meet. Firestein won district titles in the 200 freestyle and 400 freestyle, led the area in the 200 freestyle and 500 freestyle, and ranked among the area leaders in three other events.

  • Sparkle Kitchin, Handley — A sophomore, Kitchin completed her season with a 26th-place finish in the 200 freestyle at the Group AA/A state meet. Kitchin, a district runner-up in both the 200 freestyle and 400 freestyle, ranked among the area’s leaders in two events.

  • Hattie Schiavone, Handley — Schiavone, a senior who will swim at St. Mary’s next year, finished 23rd in the 100 butterfly and 39th in the 100 freestyle at the Group AA/A state meet. Schiavone won district titles in the 50 freestyle and 100 freestyle, led the area in both of those events and the 100 butterfly, and ranked among the area’s leaders in two other events.

  • Kaye Whitacre, James Wood — A sophomore, Whitacre notched a 19th-place finish in the 100 breaststroke at the Group AA/A state meet. Whitacre, who won a district title in the 100 breaststroke, had the area’s fastest time in that event and also ranked among the area’s best in the 200 individual medley.


SECOND TEAM

  • Jessica Baker, Handley

  • Marina Baker, Sherando

  • Katie Kozlowski, Millbrook

  • Alex Lew, James Wood

  • Caroline Ulich, Millbrook


COACH OF THE YEAR

  • Joe Knight, Sherando


By Jeff Nations - jnations@nvdaily.com

WINCHESTER -- Sherando High School sophomore Megan De Jong had a few ideas to share with Warriors swim coach Joe Knight before the season.

Just a few goals she hoped to reach -- nothing too extravagant. De Jong, a sophomore, had targeted the individual events in which she planned to achieve state qualifying times -- the 50-, 100-, 200- and 500-yard freestyle, the 100 butterfly, the 100 backstroke, the 100 breaststroke and -- of course, her specialty -- the 200 individual medley. That's each and every individual event, and De Jong had determined she would have the option of competing in any one of them at the state level.

Oh yeah, and De Jong also planned to help two relays break school records and also qualify for the state meet.

How hard could it be?

Not very, apparently. Not for De Jong.

"It happened a lot faster than I thought," De Jong said. "I was going to wait until districts to see if I could get all of them, but by the end of January I had all my cuts so I was happy with that."

That all-around excellence and versatility was enough to earn De Jong the nod as The Northern Virginia Daily's 2009-10 Girls Swimmer of the Year. It's an attribute Knight knows all too well, and one he's taken advantage of for two years now.

"She's the kind of swimmer who knows the opposition's strengths and weaknesses," Knight said. "Before every meet, she and I would sit down and discuss where she would be best suited in the meet to take advantage of the other team's weaknesses."

In the Northwestern District meet, De Jong picked the 100 butterfly along with her traditional 200 IM and promptly won both events to help the Warriors forge a slim one-point lead over Millbrook heading into the final event, the 400 free relay.

De Jong had the anchor leg covered for Sherando, as the Warriors surged to a comfortable victory in 4 minutes, 36.59 seconds to wrap up the district championship.

"I was kind of going to do a mini-taper, but that didn't happen because of all the snow and stuff," De Jong said of the district meet, which was moved up two days to stay ahead of a forecast snowstorm. "So I was kind of tired, but I did what I could. I did well. I didn't drop time but I placed high, so that was good."

That prodigious snow accumulation did catch up, as the Region II meet had to be canceled and forced swimmers to miss more than a week of practice. De Jong did what she could to stay sharp, getting in the pool with her club team (Strasburg-based Valley Swim Team) and putting in time in her neighbor's wave pool.

With her pick of individual events for the state meet at Old Dominion University, De Jong elected to swim the 500 free in addition to the 200 IM -- arguably, the two most physically demanding races.

And then, a day before the state competition, De Jong got sick.

"I was last year, too, so no surprise," De Jong said. "I got sick the day before we left. Once we got down there, I was feeling horrible. Friday was the worst day, probably, but Saturday luckily I was feeling fine. I was tired from being sick, but I wasn't feeling sick."

Knight said the illness, a sinus infection, was magnified when De Jong had an adverse reaction to medication.

"She wasn't coming into the meet feeling well, although Megan's a true competitor, and when we swam the preliminary rounds on [Feb. 19], she was really ready to go," Knight said. "She swam a personal-best time in the individual medley and she qualified in the top 16 [to reach the finals].

"We knew exactly the splits she needed to swim in the 500 to make it back. We thought a 5:30-flat would bring her back in the top 16. In that race, I think the effects of having a real tough week and the medication took it's toll. She went two seconds over. She knew it as soon as she got out."

Frustrated and still not feeling right, De Jong had to regroup and be ready to swim the 200 IM the next day after missing out on the 500 free by one spot with a 17th-place finish.

"Every year it's that week -- it sucks," De Jong said. "... I knew when I picked [my state events] in the middle of January that it was going to be hard. I knew that I was probably setting myself up for failure in one of them. I didn't know which one, but I knew I probably wouldn't be able to do well in both.

"When I got sick, I didn't know what to expect. I thought it would be the IM that went down, but it was the 500."

After qualifying 14th in the 200 IM with a 2:16.17, De Jong came back in the finals with a personal-best 2:15.48 to finish 12th in the state.

De Jong also helped a pair of Sherando relays post banner days at the state meet. She anchored the 200 free relay that also included Marina Baker, Christina Lee and Alexis English. The Warriors finished 18th in a school-record time of 1:47.98.

De Jong also swam the final leg on Sherando's 400 free relay that included Baker, Nell Garver and English. That team finished 20th in the state with another school-record time (4:02.36).

"We challenged them at states and they swam really well," Knight said. "They set a new school record again -- they cut four seconds off the [400 relay] record, which is a phenomenal amount of time."

Less than a week after her disappointing swim in the 500 free, De Jong shaved 11 seconds off her time in a U.S.S. club meet, leaving Knight wondering what could have been this year and confident about the next two for the sophomore. De Jong has already informed Knight of her plans for next year -- two top-eight individual finishes, and a top-16 relay.

Knight doesn't doubt that she can do just that.

"I think, quite frankly, she has the ability and the determination to next year and the year after finish in the top eight for us," Knight said. "She set her goals at the beginning of the year and she made sure she worked hard in practice and she achieved those goals.

"She's just a huge asset to the team."



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