Crisman guides undermanned Strasburg to success

Ina Rae Crisman

STRASBURG – When Strasburg High School’s swim team hit the pool for practice in preparation for the winter sports season, something about the boys team caught the eye of coach Ina Rae Crisman.

“We only had seven boys and when we first started out I thought we’ll do what we can with seven because that’s not enough even to put two relays together,” Crisman said recently.

“We had a couple new ones this year,” she then added, “but as the season progressed everyone was beginning to jell and come together.”

And when it did come together, the pieces fit quite nicely together for the Rams.

Under Crisman’s guidance, Strasburg sent that entire undermanned, seven-swimmer roster all the way to the Group 2A state meet in Christiansburg, where the Rams finished ninth in the 22-team field just over a week after claiming a fifth-place finish at the Region 2A East competition. For her efforts in leading Strasburg to a top 10 state finish, Crisman has been named the Northern Virginia Daily’s 2015 Boys Swimming Coach of the Year.

“I was very impressed with them, with the way they came through,” Crisman said of the Rams’ performance at the state meet. “And they were so excited.”

Of Strasburg’s seven boys swimmers, four qualified individually for the state tournament: junior Evan Davis (200-yard individual medley and 100 breast), sophomore Nathan Hershey (200 freestyle), junior Christian Neff (100 free) and junior Riley Daugherty (100 backstroke). The three others — Nathan McDonald, Brian Scholten and Ian Priest — qualified as members of the Rams’ 400 freestyle relay, one of three relay teams (along with the 200 medley and 200 free) that Strasburg sent to the state meet.

Neff, who placed seventh (55.19 seconds) in the 100 free, was the only individual to win a placement medal for the Rams in Christiansburg, but Strasburg did have two of its relay teams earn top-eight medal finishes.

The experienced quartet of Daugherty, Hershey, Davis and Neff — which also just missed medaling with a ninth-place finish in the 200 medley — placed fifth (1:41.41) in the 200 free relay, a feat Crisman called a “pleasant surprise.” But perhaps the biggest surprise for Crisman came in the 400 relay, an event Crisman hadn’t figured the Rams could compete in earlier in the season.

At the state meet, Hershey, McDonald, Scholten and Priest teamed up to place eighth (4:08.57) in the event.

“In hindsight looking back that was probably one of the biggest surprises because they took 22 seconds off. They were seeded last and they finished eighth in the state,” Crisman said.

“We talked about before each event, before the race, about their starts because I’m always preaching 40 percent is in starts, turns and finishes, not what you do in the middle. It’s how you begin and end, and completing it and finishing it to the wall. And they listened and really did well. I was really extremely proud of them.”

Strasburg’s performance at the state meet capped what Crisman called a “very successful” season, just her second as a formal high school swimming coach.

Crisman, who said she wasn’t a swimmer when she was in school, took up an interest in the sport 15 years ago when her daughter, Samantha, began swimming competitively at the age of 6.

When her daughter began swimming at Strasburg, Crisman began helping out former Rams swim coach Jeff Guenther during the winter high school season and during the summer months, often serving in an “official capacity like a referee but also the parent liaison.”

When Guenther stepped away as coach following the 2012-13 season, Crisman decided to apply for the position.

“I’m glad,” Crisman said of the decision. “I think you have to have a passion for anything that you do, it doesn’t matter what it is. And I have a passion for swimming. I enjoy it. I enjoy watching it, learning about it and seeing the success that it breeds.”

Crisman said she is always studying the finer aspects of the sport, whether it’s by watching videos on the internet or reading or picking the brain of another swim coach.

Crisman even invited a coach from the Strasburg-based USA Swimming program Valley Swim Team Phoenix to one of the Rams’ practices prior the regional meet to offer insight.

“We went through the workout that I laid out for them and he watched some things. I was able to learn from him. Of course sometimes I would look and say, ‘See, I told you that. I know more that you think I know,'” Crisman said with a laugh. “Actually I think that helped them, too, because they realized she’s just not someone that stepped into this and doesn’t know. So I think that helped in relationships as well.”

Crisman said this year’s group was challenging to coach — in a good way, she added — because of the youth that was prevalent throughout the group that included just one senior (Priest).

But that youth this season also means there is plenty to look forward to next year, particularly after what Crisman believes were school record marks set by Neff (100 free) and the 200 free relay team this winter.

“I’m also hoping that with the positive note that it’s ended on that more boys will be interested … and I don’t even care if it’s just to keep in shape for another sport,” Crisman said. “I’m really excited for next year because I think that group of boys can really do well.”

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