Falcons’ Neri makes impression

Bethany Neri

Central’s girls swim team saw a side of senior Bethany Neri that the Falcons hadn’t really seen before during last week’s Shenandoah County championship.

Neri, whose Falcons were swept by rival Strasburg in all three relay events last season as the Rams went on to claim the county title, wanted redemption last Wednesday. So when Falcons head coach Steve Shaffer made the rare move of plugging Neri into the 200-yard medley relay lineup, the senior made sure to let her teammates know just how badly she wanted the win.

“Our relays are completely new this year – for the most part, completely new. I think I was fueling the girls by telling them I needed these two [relays],” Neri said Tuesday. “I guess I came back with kind of this, ‘Let’s get these relays. Let’s get this meet and get this title.’ And so I kind of tried to instill that in the other girls in my relay who weren’t here last year or didn’t swim the relays last year.”

Neri’s pre-race speech made an impression on the young Falcons.

“Each of those girls came back and had comments to me, never really seeing that side of Bethany,” Shaffer said. “And consequently all four girls stepped it up and they dropped three or four seconds off the best time they’ve had all year in that event.”

Central’s girls 200 medley relay team, which included junior Lexi Keller, sophomore Sydney Crosser, freshman Ashley Funkhouser and the veteran Neri as the anchor, began the county meet in a positive fashion by winning with a time of 2:16.92.

That success proved to be just the start for Neri, The Northern Virginia Daily’s Female Athlete of the Week for Jan. 18-24. The senior went on to win three more events – the 100-yard free, 200 free and 200 free relay – and helped Central’s girls reclaim the Shenandoah County championship trophy.

“It was definitely an exciting meet,” Neri said. “Because of the way that the systems are with sports with the 3A versus 2A [VHSL classifications], we don’t get to swim [against] Strasburg and Stonewall. … It’s just really exciting to have people from your own county, people that you swim against when you’re in summer league. Some of them are friends from other schools so, I don’t know, it’s just a fun meet to have, to be able to compete against them.”

Neri, last year’s Conference 28 champion in the 100 free, won that same event at the county meet last Wednesday with a time of 1:03.69. She also topped the field in the 200 free with a time of 2:27.58 and anchored the Falcons’ winning 200 free relay team.

But it was Central’s victory in the 200 medley relay – an event that Neri rarely competes in – that stood out the most to the senior.

“That was really nerve-racking for me because I knew it was going to be really close and I was anchoring that relay. I knew that it might be up to me and one other girl at the very end,” Neri said.

“But going in I talked to the girls and tried to get pretty excited for the relay, and it ended up that the rest of the team did so well that when I jumped in it wasn’t super close or anything like that. The whole team pulled through on that one event and that was really exciting. I was really proud of all of them.”

Neri’s next shot at a first-place medal will be at this Saturday’s Conference 28 meet at Claude Moore Recreation Center in Sterling. Though Neri will be trying to defend her conference title in the 100 free, that event has taken a back seat to the 200 free, which has gradually become her stronger event this season.

Neri’s career-best time of 2:20.48 in the 200 free – which she set earlier this season – is less than three seconds behind the school record set by former teammate Danielle Barr (2:17.97).

“I think the 200, it’s a very strange event in that it’s long enough that it’s not a sprint but it’s not long enough to be long distance. It’s kind of like the 800 in track, which is an event I do in the spring,” said Neri. “It’s definitely the type of event where you have to figure it out and you have to figure out how to race it. It’s a lot about race strategy and I think being my senior year and being a seasoned swimmer, I’m finally starting to get that strategy down.”

Shaffer said Neri has hit a “plateau” since the end of last season, as her individual race times haven’t deviated much since the start of the 2014-15 campaign. But he added that he’s looking forward to a breakthrough performance from her over the next few weeks in the Conference 28 and Region 3A East meets.

Shaffer noted that Neri has a “very good shot” at making a deep postseason run individually this winter but he added that her best chance to qualify for the state meet might just be in the relay races, where her leadership has already shined this season.

“She certainly has grown into that role and it’s something I talk to the kids all the time about … the seniors taking a leadership role,” Shaffer said. “They have to find their own way. I don’t necessarily have a formula that they fit into but they’ve got to find their own way, and Bethany very much found her way.”

Contact staff writer Brad Fauber at 540-465-5137 ext. 161, or bfauber@nvdaily.com