STEPHENS CITY – Sherando’s girls swim team could be in for a banner year.

The Warriors not only return the bulk of last year’s squad that finished 16th in the Class 4 state championships but they’ve added a talented freshman class this year. Sherando swim coach Joe Knight said he is excited about the girls team this season.

“We have a great group of incoming freshmen and then were kind of balanced out here with the swimmers here on the sophomore side and the junior side and the senior side,” Knight said. “So I think from the incoming freshmen crop, which is very strong, to the sophomore and junior class and then headed up by our seniors, it’s a really good mix of inexperienced swimmers coming in, experienced swimmers coming in, plus the kids that have been here for all four years with us.”

The Warriors’ top returner is junior Emma DeJong. Last year, DeJong finished ninth in the 100 breaststroke and 14th in the 200 Individual Medley in the Class 4 state meet.

Knight said DeJong has improved in the offseason.

“She’s taken her training to a higher level,” Knight said of DeJong. “And by that I mean she’s gone outside the pool. She’s been in two times a week now with this group in Winchester at Pro Motion (Fitness Center). To me she looks bigger, she looks stronger and then it’s just a matter of equating that, transferring that to her performance in the pool.”

Leading the group of senior returners this season will be Jordyn Jones, Kyra Schultz and Gracie Twigg. Jones and Schultz were both part of Sherando’s three relay teams, which all qualified for the state meet last year. Jones finished ninth in the Region 4C meet in the backstroke and qualified for the state meet in the event.

Juniors Lindley Armel, Addy Gannon and Hannah Motley will also be factors on Sherando’s swim team. Knight said that Armel has also been working on her strength outside of school and has gotten stronger and shown real improvement.

Sophomore Natalee Tusing was on all three relays last year for the Warriors and Knight said she has continued to improve. Knight said sophomore Stella Wallin has also improved and has begun training in Strasburg with Valley Swim Team Phoenix, where many of Sherando’s swimmers train.

“She was a regional qualifier in the distance races, the 200 free, the 500 free,” Knight said of Wallin. “We’re probably counting on her to come back and kind of solidify those distance races for us.”

Knight said this year’s freshman class could be special to the program.

“This is by far the most talented group we’ve ever had come in,” Knight said.

Leading the way for the freshman class is Jordyn Jones’ sister Chelsey. Knight said that Chesley Jones has the chance to be special for the program. He said that Knight’s times in some of her (off-season) USA swim meets would be Class 4 state-qualifying times.

“As a freshman she’s going to have an immediate impact,” Knight said. “She’s going to have an immediate impact on our team score. She’s going to have an immediate impact on the speed of our relay teams. And based upon that I think the whole team is very optimistic in terms of what the season is going to look like for us.”

Knight said that freshmen Lexee Schellhammer and Taylor Smith will also have an impact on the girls team.

“Lexee (Schellhammer) is exceptionally fast in the sprints, the freestyles, the 50 and the 100,” Knight said. “She’s also an excellent backstroker. Taylor Smith is a lot like Chelsey Jones, she can do it all and swim it all. She’s a very well-rounded swimmer.”

While the girls program is strong, Knight said the boys program is inexperienced and will take a little time to reach their peak.

Juniors Peter Pham and Trevor Cram will lead the way. Pham finished fourth in the 100 freestyle and fifth in the 50 freestyle in the Region 4C meet last year and finished in the top 25 in both events at the state meet. Knight said that Pham and Cram have both have improved and looked strong.

Knight said sophomores Ashraf Ibrahim and Ben Jensen will be factors on the team this season.

“Ben Jensen was a real solid swimmer last year and qualified for the regional meet,” Knight said. “So we’re looking for him to have a good sophomore year. He’ll continue to grow and get stronger, and he’s looking pretty strong in the pool right now.”

Knight said senior Joshua Bauer is also looking strong and has a chance to have a good season.

Sherando opens its season today in a meet with Strasburg and Central at Manassas Park Community Center.

Knight said he wants the boys team to keep improving and get better with each meet. For the girls team is higher expectations. Last year the Warriors finished second in the Class 4 Northwestern District and fifth in Region 4C. He said this year he thinks they have a chance to win the district title and perform even better at the region and state level than they did last season.

“I really and truly think we can improve on fifth place in the region, hopefully fourth or third,” he said. “I’ve already expressed this to our kids, we haven’t really talked a lot about it, but as the season progresses, and we’ll see how our relay teams do and how healthy everybody remains, we’re shooting for top 10 in the state. And for our swim program out here in Stephens City, Virginia, it’s not No. 1 in the state, but to break in that top 10 group would be great. There’s pretty good teams in Class 4, so we’ll see.”

– Contact Tommy Keeler Jr. at tkeeler@nvdaily.com