By Jeff Nations
Sherando High School swim coach Joe Knight was worried heading into last week's Conference 21 championship meet at the Claude Moore Recreation Center pool in Sterling.
Knight had good reason for that trepidation -- Sherando standout senior sprinter Kelsey Dingman had been battling a cold the entire week leading up to last Friday's meet, and Knight wasn't positive she'd be able to swim at all.
Dingman swam, all right, leading the Warriors to a fourth-place finish by winning both her signature events. Dingman scored a victory in the 50-yard freestyle, an event she entered as the No. 3 seed, with a season-best time of 25.27 seconds. Later she also picked up a win in the 100 free with another season-best time (56.30), both bettering state qualifying marks she'd already attained earlier in the year.
"It wasn't my lifetime fastest," said Dingman, The Northern Virginia Daily's Female Athlete of the Week for Jan. 26-Feb 1. "It was my fastest of this high school season, which was pretty good."
Dingman also pitched in to help a pair of Sherando relays post top-three finishes. In the 200 medley relay, she broke form by swimming the third leg -- a 50-yard butterfly -- to help the Warriors take third in 2:00.40.
"It was kind of exciting to swim something other than freestyle," Dingman said. "It was different. I really liked it. I liked doing something other than freestyle. I wouldn't be able to do more than 50."
Knight thinks Dingman could swim any number of different strokes if she chose to stray from the freestyle.
"People do tend to categorize her and put her in that pigeonhole, so to speak," Knight said. "But when I first met Kelsey and she started swimming in our summer program, her stroke was backstroke."
Dingman was back in her familiar role as anchor for the 200 free relay, and her closing leg helped the Warriors take second overall in 1:48.14. For someone not feeling so well heading into the competition, Dingman certainly looked strong when it counted for the Warriors.
"I actually felt really good," Dingman said. "I felt fast. I was ready to go, and having a warm-up pool at a high school meet was great. I feel like we all did a lot better."
Knight has grown to expect Dingman to rise to the occasion -- after all, he's seen it many times before. And Dingman contributes much more than merely points for the Warriors. She's serving as a team captain this year along with Brenna Sharp and Kathleen Lauer, tasked with helping a youthful squad improve from meet to meet. Before Friday's fourth-place finish in the conference meet, the Warriors were unbeaten this season.
As solid as Dingman performed at the conference meet, Knight thinks she'll have even better days in the pool before it's over. The Warriors will be back in action on Feb. 15 for the 4A North Region meet at George Mason University, and then it's on to state competition.
"They were fast times, but they're not her personal bests," Knight said. "Two years ago as a sophomore in the state preliminaries, she went 25.04 in the 50. Then in last year's state finals she went 55.8 in the 100, so there's still room to grow for her this year.
"Knowing Kelsey, the competitor that she is, I know that she's not satisfied yet."
Dingman is looking forward to scaling back just a bit to be at her best for a strong finish to her high school career. She's looking forward to swimming four events at the 4A state meet this year -- her individual races in the 50 and 100 free, plus her legs on the Warriors' 200 medley and 200 free relays.
"I'm not really as fast as I want to be right now, but hopefully after I taper I'll be where I want to be," Dingman said. "I'm ready to taper, definitely. It's been a rough two weeks of practice."