Falcons’ Neri hopes to build on experience

Bethany Neri

WOODSTOCK — Central High School senior Bethany Neri is no stranger to competitive swimming, but even she needed some time to adjust to the Virginia High School League’s new classification system during the Falcons’ 2013-14 swimming season.

Central, a former member of Group A in the VHSL’s old three-class system, found itself competing at the 3A level last season for the first time in the current six-class format. As a result, Neri and her Falcon teammates faced a caliber of competition that they hadn’t previously experienced.

“It was definitely a new adventure, and just new competition — much harder, tougher competition. But it definitely was a great experience and it pushed me,” Neri, who is about to start her fourth season as a member of Central’s swimming team, said Monday morning. “I think I didn’t really see a lot of that competition until the end of the year last year, so I guess I’m just kind of using that competitive momentum to push me through this season.”

With the start of the 2014-15 swimming season rapidly approaching, Neri is ready to apply all of that newfound experience she gained last season to helping the Falcons’ girls swim team rebound from what head coach Steve Shaffer called an “off year.”

Though Central’s girls struggled as a team a year ago, Neri remained the consistent performer that she’s been since she first plunged into a pool for the Falcons.

In the Bull Run District championships last season, which marked the unofficial start of the Falcons’ postseason, Neri placed third in both the 100- and 200-yard freestyle race. She followed that with a stellar outing in the Conference 28 meet the following week, as she edged out a win in the 100-meter free, a race Shaffer called one of Neri’s biggest highlights of the 2013-14 season.

Neri, who also anchored the Falcons’ 200 and 400 freestyle relay team throughout the season, closed her junior year by qualifying for the finals in both the 50 and 100 free at the Region 3A East championships, though her 18th and 14th place finishes, respectively, weren’t enough to advance her to the state meet.

“My times didn’t improve as much as I would’ve liked them to improve from the previous year, my freshman year,” said Neri, who set a new personal best in the 100-yard free with her time of 1:02.94 in the regional meet.

“I would love to improve my times this year, which would just be great. I guess that’s what I’m really focusing on. Not so much a place thing — you never know with the competition — but definitely improving my times.”

Neri maintained her usual offseason training routine this year to help ensure she would continue to shave precious seconds off of her best times.

Neri, who also competes for Central’s cross country and track and field teams, has perfected the art of balancing the responsibilities of all three sports, typically finding time to get in a pool on the weekends during the fall and spring athletic seasons. This past summer Neri competed in the Shenandoah County Parks and Recreation Department’s swimming league as a member of the Woodstock Dolphins, just as she has been since she was 5 years old.

Neri has also served as a coach to some of the younger members of the Dolphins for the last two summers, a role that she said has been rewarding in more ways than one.

“When they’re 5 years old they’re just literally trying to get to the other end. But when they’re around 10, 11, 12 and they’re trying to learn technique and I’m having to demonstrate, it definitely makes me refine my own skills,” Neri said.

That coaching experience could come in handy this season for Neri, who will be tasked with helping lead a Falcons squad that consists of six freshmen.

“The team that I’ve been a part of has definitely changed and molded,” Neri said. “Coming in as a freshman I was one of the younger ones and I was definitely the youngest one in my lane. I was a little bit out of place and timid. … It was all very new to me and now I feel seasoned and just prepared, excited to be able to be a leader on the team and to use that just to try to help the team as much as I can, with places and with the dynamics of the team.”

Neri, who was a member of the Falcons’ 200 and 400 relay teams that set school records during the 2012-13 campaign, also hopes to trim down her individual race times into school-record range during her senior season. Neri said she plans to continue to race in the 100 and 200 free in addition to the two relays, and she added that she’d like to compete at times in the 500 free, although doing so would likely require her to abandon the 100 free, her best event.

Danielle Barr, Neri’s former teammate, currently holds Central’s records for the 50 free (27.13 seconds), the 100 free (58.45 seconds) and the 200 free (2:17.97). And though Neri — who holds personal-best times of 28.23 seconds, 1:02.94 and 2:25.28 in those three events, respectively — has some work to do in order to reach Barr’s marks, Shaffer is confident Neri will have a shot at topping at least one of those marks by season’s end.

“Her drive has certainly raised the bar for the entire team. At the moment she’s not an individual record holder. I certainly hold hope out that she’ll be closing in on those numbers,” Shaffer said. “Whether she gets there or not, though, she, as much as any of the swimmers, has raised the bar for all of the younger swimmers coming out through her example, her leadership.”

Neri’s leadership extends behind the swimming pool, as well. The Virginia Governor’s School Program attendee boasted a 4.35 GPA heading into the fall semester, and Neri has her sights set on attending either the University of Virginia or the University of Pittsburgh next year, where she plans to pursue a pre-medical undergraduate degree.

Wherever Neri ends up, she said there’s a good chance she’ll continue swimming and running at the club level.

“I’ll swim forever. I’ll run forever. It just depends on what capacity, or how competitive. But I’ll take it,” Neri said.

<p id=’reporter_info’>Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or <a href=’mailto:bfauber@nvdaily.com’>bfauber@nvdaily.com</a></p>