By Jeff Nations - email@example.com
WINCHESTER -- Sherando swim coach Joe Knight had a feeling -- call it a premonition -- as he watched Warriors sophomore Kelsey Dingman prepare for the Group AA state meet.
"I noticed right away the very morning of preliminaries, I thought she was just going to swim a super championship meet that weekend based on how she was paying attention to all the little things that are important, especially in her events," Knight said. "Specifically, she had a warmup in mind that she wanted to stick to, and she completed that. Then we started working on her starts and right away, her very first dive off the starting blocks, I noticed how far and how fast she had traveled -- about halfway down the pool.
"She got out and came back and walked by me and I said, 'So how did that feel?' She said it felt a little slow. I said, 'Kelsey, it was very fast and you exploded out halfway down the pool.'"
That explosiveness did indeed carry through to the state prelims at the Christiansburg Aquatic Center. Dingman sliced through the water in the 50-yard freestyle for a fourth-place finish in a personal-best time of 25.04 seconds. She ripped through the 100 free preliminary, again posting a season-best time of 55.94.
As Sherando's lone state meet participant, Dingman racked up 16 points on her own with her final sixth-place finish in the 50 free (25.10) and 14th-place finish in the 100 free (56.05).
"In states I was the only person going, and I did a lot better than I was expecting to," Dingman said. "I was expecting to get in top eight, but I wasn't expecting to get fourth in prelims. I wanted to do that well in finals, but I didn't do so well -- I got sixth, which is still really good."
Knight was struck by Dingman's calm and collected approach to the state meet despite being the only Sherando swimmer competing there. Dingman did have experience, though -- she finished 26th in the 50 free as a freshman.
"Kelsey, down at the state championship, after she had gone through her warmup and after she had gone through the starting routine that she normally does, she had some spare time in the pool," Knight said. "I got busy talking to a couple other coaches down there, and I turned around and there she was just systematically going through a very specific turning drill that we use that's very, very basic.
"There we had a state-level swimmer who recognized that she needed to get back to basics to excel in her events."
Dingman put in the work all season, systematically working on her turns and tempo to shave time off her sprint events. Listen to her talk, though, and Dingman never really seems satisfied with her results. Always, it seems, there is room for improvement in her technique, in her strength, in her endurance.
"I don't have very good endurance," Dingman said. "My tempo is slow for being a sprinter, but I'm working on fixing that and it's just making me faster. I need to start my tempo a lot faster. I'm pretty good at the end of the race because that's when I have to pull in front of everybody. My competition just pushes me to the end."
Throughout the season, James Wood senior Alex Lew served as the primary competition for Dingman. Lew had beaten her out for the 50-meter championship in last year's Northwestern District meet, and Dingman knew she'd have to contend with her once more if she wanted to break through for a title of her own.
Dingman got that district title with a 28.62, beating Lew by 0.05 of a second. Both had state-qualifying times in that race.
"I don't think I could've done it without having Alex to push me," Dingman said. "We swam right next to each other at regionals, too."
Back in a yard pool at regionals after competing for the district crown at Jim Barnett Park's indoor meter pool, Dingman again used that rivalry with Lew to excel. She won the 50 free in 25.40, with Lew finishing second in 25.58.
"I was shocked that I found out that I was Sherando's first-ever regional champion," Dingman said. "I really didn't think I was the first ever; it's hard to believe. When I went into regionals I knew I was [0.10 seconds] away from the girl that was ahead of me and I was really determined to beat her."
Then came states, and one last impressive performance. One thing lacking, though, was a Warriors relay. Dingman was disappointed Sherando's 200 free relay didn't quite make the state cut.
"I like swimming in relays because a relay start makes you faster, and I think they're fun," Dingman said. "I like being part of the relay team and getting pumped up with the other girls, and I'm good friends with the other girls on the relay teams."
It was on a relay where Dingman swam her fastest 50 time, a sub-25 second leg. That's where she hopes to be next year, as well.
"Next year I hope to get a 24 in my 50, or around there," Dingman said. "In my 100, I'm hoping to keep my 55. It's been hard to do that. I've been swimming 56s ever since I got my 55. I'm working on breath control and tempo."
That's Dingman, always working, always perfecting her technique.
"We had seen Kelsey just demonstrate throughout the entire season, time and time again, how valuable she was both in the individual events and certainly as an anchor on our relay teams," Knight said. "But to have her wrap up her season in the fashion that she did was just really exciting for us."