By Jeff Nations
The goal is simple for all the swimmers converging on the Christiansburg Aquatic Center for this year's Group AA/A state championship meet.
Somehow, some way -- make it to Saturday. Accomplish that daunting task, and there's a chance of cracking the top eight in the state.
Sherando's Kelsey Dingman knows that feeling, has that experience. Last year as a sophomore, Dingman came through with personal-best times in both of her individual events to earn a coveted Saturday swim. She scored a sixth-place finish in the 50-yard freestyle and a 14th-place finish in the 100 free to score all 16 points the Warriors garnered at that meet -- but then, Dingman was Sherando's only representative last year.
That won't be the case this year, as Dingman will have some company on her return visit to Christiansburg. Sherando qualified four girls swimmers for this year's meet, including a 200 freestyle relay.
Dingman will swim a leg in that relay, joining teammates Christina Lee, Laura Ferguson and Brenna Sharp. Lee, a senior, also qualified individually for the 100 butterfly.
"She's real close to that top 16 cutline," Sherando coach Joe Knight said of Lee. "She's been swimming really well the last couple of weeks. She's just a pure competitor and has a lot of heart."
Knight also has high hopes that his relay can get through to Saturday's finals. The Warriors placed seventh in last week's Region II meet, and Knight thinks the group can still shed some time.
"I really challenged them all week long that they have to really drop some time if they want to make it to that top 16," he said.
Then there's Dingman, who appears to be peaking at just the right time. In the Region II meet, she posted a second-place effort in the 50-meter free (28.40 seconds) and was fifth in the 100 free (1:02.52). Dingman represents Sherando's best chance in making the championship heat, reserved for the top eight qualifiers on Friday.
"She's had another excellent year, just like she did last year," Knight said. "Right now I feel like she's kind of rounding into the form she's going to need to go down and compete well in her events."
Central will have more chances to land a swimmer in Saturday's finals, but as a Group A program competing against much bigger Group AA squads that goal may be a bit much for the Falcons. Central coach Steve Shaffer, who has eight swimmers headed to Christiansburg, is more concerned with coaxing the best possible times from his squad.
Central has six boys swimmers headed to states, headed by Trevor Wolf and Jonathan Feaster. Both qualified in two individual events each, and will swim various relay legs for Central. Feaster was the runner-up in the 100-yard breaststroke at last week's Region B meet, and also had a fourth-place finish in the 200 individual medley. Wolf was second in the 200 free and third in the 100 free at regionals.
Travis Hamilton (50 free) and Jacob Lineberry (100 free) also qualified for individual events, and Central got all three boys relays through to the state competition. Wolf, Hamilton and Feaster join John Paul Schechtel in the 200 free relay. Hamilton, Feaster, Lineberry and Schechtel will swim the 200 medley relay. In the 400 free relay, it's Wolf, Hamilton, Lineberry and Aaron Waller for the Falcons.
"Only one of our kids swims year-round," Shaffer said. "The rest are strictly high school-only swimmers. To make it to states, that's a real credit to the quality of the kids."
Central has two girls swimmers, and did everything it could to have more at last week's regional meet. In the 400 free relay, the Falcons lowered the school record -- set by last year's state qualifying group -- by five seconds, but still missed states with a third-place finish (only top two relays advance to states in Region B). Still, Central has Danielle Barr (200 IM, 100 free) and Bethany Neri (200 free, 100 free) set to race this weekend.
Strasburg and Stonewall Jackson had just one swimmer apiece qualify for state competition, but both have a chance to do well.
For the Rams, Josh Stickles finished second in the Region B 500 free and was also second in the 100 backstroke. Stonewall's Olivia Schutz posted a third-place effort in the 100 butterfly and was fourth in the 500 free at last week's regional meet to qualify for state competition.
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>