By Jeff Nations
Sherando High School swimming coach Joe Knight is convinced that Warriors junior Kelsey Dingman could swim -- and swim well -- in just about any event she wanted in the pool.
Maybe so, but Dingman would have a hard time giving up her events of choice, the 50- and 100-yard freestyle. As she puts it, "Sprinting's my thing."
That's a good thing for Sherando, as Dingman turned in another outstanding season in the water to earn The Northern Virginia Daily's 2012-2013 Girls Swimmer of the Year award. It is the second straight swimmer of the year honor for Dingman.
"She's done everything we've asked her to do over the years," Knight said of Dingman. "And that is to commit to her sport and work hard. It's really great to see her reap the benefits of all that hard work."
The benefits came during the a strong regular season, then continued right on into the Northwestern District meet where Dingman won individual championships in both of her sprint events. At the Region II meet, she shed considerable time in both events as she took second in the 50 free and fifth in the 100 free.
That trend of getting faster carried right over into the Group AA/A state meet at the Christiansburg Aquatic Center. Dingman was quicker than ever in both events, scoring personal bests in both events. One hitch, though -- while Dingman was faster than ever, so was the competition.
"It was a real eye-opener for her and for me," Knight said. "It seems like every year we go down there, the swimmers get faster and faster and that was certainly true this year. She swam faster than last year, but finished lower."
In the 50 free preliminaries, Dingman swam a blistering time of 24.95 seconds to reach the 'A' final reserved for the state's top eight. Dingman was nearly as fast in the championship heat, clocking a time of 24.96 to finish seventh in the state.
Dingman had much the same experience in the 100 free, scoring a personal best (55.27) in the preliminaries to reach the 'B' final. In the championship heat, she finished in 55.84 seconds to secure a 14th-place state finish.
"I was hoping to do better than I did last year at states, but the competition obviously got a lot faster, which was unexpected," Dingman said. "But I'm pretty proud of my times. I was hoping to get a 24 in my 50 free, which I did accomplish.
"In my 100 I only gained a hundredth of a second in finals (from prelims time), which was pretty good. I was about ready to fall over when I was done. Joe had to catch me at the end after I'd finished my race."
Dingman was glad to see her biggest area rival, Clarke County's Emily Deem, in Christiansburg for both events. Dingman had used Deem as a measuring stick all season, and the state meet was no exception. She's hoping to face Deem, just a sophomore, even more regularly next season.
"I didn't really have much competition this year in the district," Dingman said. "I know next year it's going to change and I have no idea what it's going to change to, but it would be nice to swim against Emily. She could push me, maybe even a little more than [former James Wood swimmer Alex Lew] did last year. It would be nice to have competition."
Dingman's competition is often herself, in terms of time. She broke her own school record in the 50 free this year, and nearly took down former Sherando standout Emily Creveling's school mark in the 100 free as well. Dingman also swam the anchor leg on Sherando's state-qualifying 200 free relay. Joining Laura Ferguson, Brenna Sharp and Christina Lee in that event, Dingman helped the Warriors set a new school mark of 1:45.00 and finish 15th in the state.
"We're glad that our relay team made it to states, and we actually did pretty well," Dingman said. "Our goal was to make it to finals and we did do that. And we didn't finish last ... we went up a place, and we were proud of ourselves."
After competing as Sherando's lone female swimmer at the state meet last year, Dingman was glad for the company of her teammates in Christiansburg.
"She's really a team swimmer," Knight said. "She enjoys her teammates and enjoys swimming with them."
Now about those sprint events ... next year, Knight might be calling on Dingman to expand her repertoire from time to time to help the Warriors' team scoring.
"She's a very talented swimmer," Knight said. "She can swim all four strokes. When I first met her at a very young age, swimming for the Sherando Sharks, she was a backstroker and a very good one. She's just evolved into a freestyler.
"She's done so much for our program the last three years, and here coming into her senior year I'm going to ask even more of her."
Dingman is willing to help out wherever needed, but straying too far from the pure rush of sprinting might be difficult.
"I would like to maybe become a little bit more of a distance swimmer, but I don't think now would be a good time to do that," Dingman said. "I would like to swim the 400 or a distance, but I have a hard time pacing myself. I'm a sprinter."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or email@example.com>