By Jeff Nations
WINCHESTER -- Sherando High School swim coach Joe Knight can't talk about James Williams for long without invariably coming around to the concept of sacrifice.
Williams, a senior for the Warriors this season, gave everything he had -- in energy and enthusiasm, even the events he swam -- to help Sherando succeed as a team.
When Sherando needed to shift Williams from his comfortable events from last year to maximize their scoring potential, Williams made the move.
When the Warriors needed a big effort to qualify two relays for states, Williams delivered both times at the Conference 21 meet.
And when one of those relays, the 400-yard freestyle, could have limped home with a conservative effort in a race it couldn't win at the Class 4A state meet, Williams wouldn't let it.
"He entered each and every event that we put him in this year with a lot of vigor and a lot of enthusiasm, and always gave us his best," Knight said.
Williams' best was pretty great. To cap his high school career, he posted a fifth-place finish in the 200-yard freestyle and added a ninth-place finish in the 100-yard free, plus swam legs on the Warriors' two state relay squads to help his team to an eighth-place finish -- the school's best-ever in boys state competition -- at the Christiansburg Aquatic Center.
For his effort, Williams is The Northern Virginia Daily's 2013-2014 Boys Swimmer of the Year.
"It's interesting how his season evolved, because his first three years on our swim team he was primarily a backstroker and I would say a middle distance to distance swimmer," Knight said. "My thought was this year, that's where we would continue with him because he really helped our team overall in those events."
It didn't turn out that way. As some of Williams' teammates began to show aptitude for Williams' top events from last year -- the 100 backstroke and 500 free -- Knight broached the topic of perhaps shifting him to an area of greater need to the team. Williams was willing, and it turned out well for all parties.
"I really just get in the water -- I'm kind of a jack-of-all-trades guy, master of none," Williams said. "I gave up the 500 free and the 100 back this year to get our relays to states. I'd rather have relays than the 500 and 100 back."
Williams shifted to the 100 and 200 free events, in addition to swimming two relays.
At the Conference 21 meet, Knight saw just how right that decision to move Williams was in his first event.
"His very first swim that night, in the 200 free at the conference meet, he got his state time," Knight said. "That set the tone for the rest of the meet because he was just a ball of energy, and he was fired up at that point."
Williams kept his momentum going with a strong effort in the 100 free, beating Northwestern District rival Brian Baker that night at Claude Moore Recreation Center in Sterling.
He also teamed with Tommy McVey, Ethan Medrano and Mark Restrepo to score a state qualifying time in the 200 free relay. To top it off, Williams anchored the Warriors' 400 free relay that also included Restrepo, Daniel Milburn and Medrano, which nailed down yet another state qualifying time and shattered the school record in the process. It was just the second time that group had ever competed together in the 400 free relay.
"For our boys team, that was just an incredible night," Knight said.
Williams added another solid effort at the Region 4A North meet, dropping more time as he geared up for state competition. All the while, he was dialing in for his new individual events.
"It's really how I pace the race," Williams said. "I didn't know that in the 100 free you have to go out stronger than you came back. A lot of it comes from putting the work in the pool, getting in there and working as hard as I can."
The state meet was a grueling affair, with preliminaries set for the morning and finals scheduled for later that afternoon. For Williams, that meant eight races in a single day.
Williams ticked them off one by one, reaching the championship heat (top eight) in the 200 free and just missing with a ninth in the 100 free, and also helping Sherando get in the championship finals in both of its relay events.
The work was just half done. Williams went back to work, taking fifth in the 200 free (1:50.71), then winning the 'B' heat with a ninth-place finish in the 100 free (50.05). He followed up with the opening leg on the Warriors' 200 free relay that finished fifth (1:35.11), then closed out his day with a furious rally as the anchor leg on Sherando's eighth-place 400 free relay (3:29.04), which reset the school record. Completely spent afterward, Williams' teammates had to help him out of the pool and he promptly collapsed on the deck.
"This was his eighth and last race of the day, and he just gave it his all," Knight said. "He was literally exhausted after that race. He closed about three, three and a half seconds on the seventh-place team. And if we had another five yards, he would've passed two other teams."
Williams, who has been accepted to four colleges that want him to swim there next year, had few regrets about this final high school season and the sacrifice of hours and hours of practice time in the pool.
"It is a grind, but I do like being in the water," Williams said. "I like getting better."
"It went pretty great. I dropped time all year, actually. I went from a 53.4 in the 100 free at the beginning of the season to a 50.05 at states, and I just had a senior championship meet and went 49.86."
Contact Sports Editor Jeff Nations at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or firstname.lastname@example.org>