The fun starts early at a Jamestown High swim meet. Depending on the depth of the pool, a dozen Eagles will form an inner circle and three or four dozen more an outer circle, everyone swaying back and forth chanting “Ooh, aah.”
As they do, swimmers pop up and down from the bottom of the pool in the middle of the inner circle as if bouncing on a trampoline. Another pre-meet tradition is for the underclassmen, who comprise most of the 63 swimmers on this year’s team, to chant “Yo baby, yo baby, yo” to the lead of an upperclassman.
“We feel a lot of pressure to live up to our reputation as the top dog, but high school swimming is a little more of a stress-free zone than club swimming,” Eagles senior Nikki Tyler says. “It’s fun to be able swim fast and still win as a team while relaxing.
“We have a lot of fun.”
Jamestown’s swimmers also win a lot. The girls team has won Group 4A state titles the past three seasons and, with the return of Daily Press Swimmers of the Year Joelle Vereb and Abby Larson, again will be title contenders.
The Eagles lost 48-46 to Tabb on Thursday — their first dual-meet loss in three or four seasons — but primarily because Vereb, Larson and nine other standouts were away at a club meet. Jamestown’s boys lost, too, 49-45, but while some boys swimmers were also at the club meet, beating Tabb’s boys — third in Group 3A a year ago — would’ve been difficult with a full roster.
Like the Eagles’ girls, the boys have targets on their backs. The boys won their 4A state meet in impressive fashion a year ago, nearly doubling runner-up Hanover’s score. It’s the first time in 15 years that the five-time champion Jamestown boys and the six-time champion girls have won state titles together.
“That meant a lot to us,” Corey Shideler, who swam on Jamestown’s winning 200 and 400 freestyle relays in the 4A state meet, said of the boys state title. “It was our dream to win the state title, and to see our hard work pay off for the seniors was cool.”
The Eagles lost several seniors from that team, including Division I recruits Colin Wright (William and Mary) and Ryan Boll (Maine). The cupboard is far from bare, however, with Shideler, Taylor Watson and Nicky Zhang returning.
Even with the loss of multiple state champions Hannah Clymer and Margaret Williams, the quality of the returners puts the Eagles’ girls high on the list of 4A state contenders. All-around standout Vereb and freestyle specialist Larson maxed out with two individual and two relay state titles each last season, breaking meet records in all of their events.
Tyler, Carter Catherine Roehrle and Carissa Hardy add to something the Eagles possess in abundance: depth. So many swimmers (78) tried out for the team that Eagles coach Molly Sandling had to cut 15 so that the 63 remaining would have ample space to practice.
Those practices begin at 5 a.m., but the swimmers don’t mind. Whether it’s team dinners, dancing at team parties, practices, meets or all of the cheering the Eagles do, everyone on the defending state championship teams is having fun.
“High school swimming is about family,” Zhang says.
Shideler says, “It’s more about having a good time than winning titles.”
Tyler added, “High school swimming is about being together, being happy and doing it with friends, but we don’t want to give up the state title.”
O'Brien can be reached by phone at 757-247-4963.