Though only a sophomore, Joelle Vereb already has received a letter of interest from national swimming power UCLA. Like most in her sport, that interest came via her performances on the elite club level.
But for Vereb, and many others her age, high school swimming is no joke even if the competition is not nearly as difficult. That's because of the camaraderie and recognition that comes with competing for your high school.
"We're a whole team together, like a family," Vereb said. "We like representing our school and being recognized for it through high school swimming."
Vereb, who won four gold medals a year ago in leading Jamestown to the Group 4A state swim and dive title, could not compete for the Eagles on Monday in the 4A South Region meet at the Midtown Community Center because of an elbow injury. Nevertheless, the Eagles, stocked with plenty of other elite swimmers, defended their regional girls crown by a whopping 192 points.
Led by Margaret Williams and Abby Larson, who had four gold medals each, the Eagles scored 523 points to outdistance Tabb (331 points) and Grafton (287 points) for first place in the 14-team meet. Jamestown's boys scored 460 points to beat out defending champion Grafton (372) and Tabb (264).
Depth was a key for the Jamestown boys, who unseated Grafton as regional champs despite two gold medals to the Clippers' seven. Like the girls, the Eagles' boys are a close-knit group with a legion of swimmers from clubs such as Williamsburg Aquatic, and who likewise enjoy the closeness and recognition that come from high school swimming.
"We don't have any stars, but we do have a lot of extremely fast swimmers who can find a way to score points one way or another," Jamestown junior Ben VanTasel said. "We're proud to be teammates."
Jamestown senior Tyler Price, who was second in the 500-yard freestyle, added, "Going to states is deeper and more personal in high school because you're going with your friends."
Winners for Jamestown's boys were Colin Wright (50 freestyle) and Corey Shideler (500 freestyle). Grafton's Jonathan Spires won 100 and 200 freestyle races and joined 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke winner Nathan Kimbel, 100 butterfly winner Tyler Titsch and Kilian Nebe on a pair of victorious freestyle relays.
Tabb's 200 medley relay of Liam Young, James Kegelman, Aubrey Wroten and Sean Du earned the Bay Rivers District's other gold.
Williams won in the 100 and 200 freestyle races and Larson in the 50 free and 100 backstroke. Both were on winning freestyle relays that included Taylor Vitaletti. Hannah Clymer and 500 freestyle winner Kylie Roehrle each earned a freestyle relay gold for the Eagles, who had seven wins.
Tabb's Melissa Zhu won the 100 butterfly and swam on a winning medley relay with Kate Maw, Hailey Toledo and Julia Geskey. Grafton's Jaqueline Tinneny won the 100 breaststroke.
The top 10 finishers in each event — along with the top eight relays — will compete in the 4A state meet Feb. 19 at the Christiansburg Aquatic Center. Jamestown's girls will travel there as heavy favorites, while the Eagles' boys will try again to use numbers to overcome Grafton.
"This is a huge motivator for both sides to step it up going into states," Jamestown coach Molly Sandling said. "The boys dropped a lot of time and continued their growth.
"They should be fired up to go after the state championship, which I think they felt was out of their reach before, and the girls should be fired up to swim fast and keep their title."
O'Brien can be reached by phone at 757-247-4963.