STRASBURG -- Ina Rae Crisman has seen her program blossom right in front of her eyes.
Strasburg's swim program struggled for a number of years, but has grown and grown and this year made history. The Rams won the Region 2B boys and girls team swim titles for the first time in school history. They also both finished in the top five at the Class 2 Swimming State Championships.
"The future of swim at Strasburg I think has jumped leaps and bounds this year," Crisman said. "I think that people, recognize us now. I know that sounds kind of awful to say. I remember my first year I saw someone on a post (on a message board) they said 'oh Strasburg has a swim team?' And I'm thinking 'oh my gosh, where have you been? Under a rock?' But now they know, with the success we've had."
Crisman, The Northern Virginia Daily's 2019-20 Coach of the Year, said the success of this year's team starts with the dedication of the swimmers and the year-round program the athletes have. Most of the team is part of Valley Swim Team Phoenix, based out of Strasburg.
Crisman said the 11 seniors were also special and a big part of the success.
"There were a core of seniors that I've had for three or four years, most of them four, but a couple of them joined in their sophomore year," Crisman said. "They're just a very special, special group of young men and women. Tessa Hockman and Baylee (Hodson), Katie (Bromley), Tyler (Zimbro), they've been through it with me. They've seen the highs and the lows and some of the struggles that we've had over the years. I'm thankful that it's gotten better every year. ...They're going to be missed. It's going to be a difficult start to my season next year not seeing them here."
This year was the first year that the Rams won the Shenandoah County, Bull Run District and Region 2B titles in both the boys and girls.
She said that one of the things that made the team as a whole special is the bond that the athletes share.
"It's very humbling to know that you have a group of student athletes that you enjoy being around, and that makes practice enjoyable to go to and fun," Crisman said. "It wasn't without trials and tribulations from time to time as with anything. But this was a really special group this year. Not just their ability in the water, but they were very close, a close group. It made my job a lot easier when you don't have to deal with a lot of issues on your team. I'm very fortunate with that. I'm very proud of them."
Crisman said that sweeping the Region 2B titles was definitely a special moment of the season.
"I knew the region meet was going to be really tough," she said. "As a coach you look at all the times (from other schools) and you try to adding it up in your mind. I knew it was going to be very close, but it went in our favor and I'm thankful for that."
The girls team finished fifth in the state meet and Crisman said they worked hard and she was proud of what they accomplished this season.
"This group of girls got along very well," Crisman said. "They pull for each other. Baylee Hodson had a shoulder injury. It's her senior year and I think she hurt it during volleyball. All she wanted to do was butterfly and this year would have been an opportunity for her to advance. So I was heartbroken for her but she was there at the meets and she cheered everyone on -- and that's what a team does. That's what these girls do. They're right there for each other. They're a really, really good group of mature hard-working girls, and they're willing to put in the work -- and that's how I describe them."
The boys team finished tied for fourth in the state and Crisman said one of the highlights was the second-place finish by the 400 free relay squad. Crisman made some changes in the lineup heading into states and it paid off as the team of Tyler Zimbro, Donovan Varley, Mathis Kohen and Sebastian Keefe finished second.
"I went up to them and said this is who I want in the 200 free, this is who I want in the 400 free," Crisman said. "And they looked at me and kind of questioned my thought, and I said 'trust me guys, this is going to work' -- and it kind of did. They performed better than I could have ever imagined in that 400 free. They all did well in all those relays and individually. But the 400 free is one of those relays that you have to be under a minute (individually) in order to be competitive at all. And we've lacked that in the past for a couple of years. So I put that together and to see it come to fruition was unbelievable.
"I was so excited. I was just jumping up and down. I couldn't believe what they had accomplished. I mean all-state for four guys that had worked hard and together -- that was pretty cool."
Crisman said with the success the team had this year, she believes the program will just continue to grow and grow.
"It's grown a little bit, grown a little bit and this year it's jumped off the map," she said. "And I think kids will come and say 'I think swim is something that I want to try in the winter time. They won't be sitting and not doing a sport. Maybe not everyone is a basketball player, where you have cuts or wrestling. But they can give swim a try. That's what I'm hoping. I think just from the buzz that I've heard at the school I think that we're going in the right direction and the future is bright. From the kids that I know from my summer league coming up, it's pretty bright. I think we're going in the right direction, and I think we'll continue to go upwards."