Experienced hands they are, Grafton boys coach Wendy Reifler and Jamestown girls coach Molly Sandling knew from reading the heat sheets that their teams were favored to win state titles in the inaugural Group 4A swim and dive championships Saturday at the Christiansburg Aquatic Center.
The Clippers' boys and Eagles' girls lived up to the billing, with each bringing home state championship trophies for the first time in more than a decade. So it wasn't the surprise element that pleased the coaches as much as their swimmers performing even better than predicted on the big stage.
"Everyone knew who we were," Reifler said of the Grafton boys, who finished second in the former AA state meet two years ago. "When we walked into the hotel Friday, people were saying, 'There goes the fast team.'
"But to win the championship by more than 70 points, everyone had to step up and do what they needed to do."
The Clippers won the boys crown with 295 points, outdistancing a pair of Bay Rivers District foes: second-place Tabb (224 points) — the 2012 AA state champ — and third-place Jamestown (175). Jamestown's girls scored 354 points in also leading a Bay Rivers sweep of the top three places, as Grafton (209) and Tabb (208) snagged the next two spots.
"They totally exceeded everything we expected," Sandling said of Jamestown's girls. "They swam like they were fighting for the win every minute, instead of like they were way ahead.
"They swam better than their seeding, swam personal bests and shattered school records."
Jamestown's girls swam to six gold medals en route to a first state title since 2002, and Sandling said that each broke a school record by at least three seconds. Freshman Joelle Vereb's victories came in the 50 freestyle and 100 butterfly, while sophomore Margaret Williams won the 100 and 200 freestyle.
Both girls teamed with junior Taylor Vitaletti on the victorious 200 and 400 freestyle relay teams. Junior Kylie Roerhle was the fourth member of the 200 free relay team and senior Sarah Niewola rounded out the 400 free relay quartet.
Niewola is one of only two seniors on the team. With Vereb expected to swim for the Eagles for three more years, Williams only a sophomore and lots of talented eighth- and ninth-graders in the pipeline, the Eagles might eclipse the string of three consecutive state titles the program won from 2000-02.
"The goal is a three-peat if not more," Sandling said. "These girls swim in big (club) meets all the time, but they've still been turning in personal bests for us."
Grafton, likewise, was led by a small core of mostly underclassmen in winning the program's first state title since the 1997 and '98 AA Invitational wins. Sophomore Jonathan Spires led the way with gold medals in the 100 and 200 freestyle races. Juniors Tyler Titsch and Nathan Kimbel joined them on the winning relays.
Senior Andrew Ferguson won the 50 free and teamed with Spires on the 200 and 400 free relay teams that finished first.
Reifler said the frustration of the second-place finish to Tabb two years ago motivated the boys to build up to this year's title. As excited as she was about that, the girls second-place finish produced her biggest display of emotion.
"When they announced that the girls were in second halfway through the meet, it was kind of unexpected and I let out a squeal," she said.
The Grafton girls lone first place came from the medley relay quartet of Maddy Rymer, Mackenzie Katzer, Rachel Rymer and Cait Horner. James Kegelman led Tabb to its second-place finish in the boys meet by winning the 100 breastroke.
The Virginia High School League's insistence on scoring the barely contested diving event as part of the meet cost Lafayette's boys a state championship for the second consecutive year. Though only seven divers entered the Group 3A boys 1 meter competition — significantly fewer than in any swimming event — a Hidden Valley diver's 15 points for a fourth-place finish was more than the margin it used to beat Lafayette 233-222 for the state title.
Lafayette's swimmers also outscored Hidden Valley in the AA meet a year ago, but lost the title to the Roanoke school on diving points. Bay Rivers District schools are among many in the state who do not have diving because of issues ranging from expense, a lack of facilities and the event's general lack of connection to a high school swim team.
Carter Kale of Lafayette won the 500 free and joined Brett Huckstep, Conor Flannery and Deke Lueker on the Rams' winning 200 medley relay team. York's team of Dean Johnson, Brian Lee, Brendan Klein and Kevin Mastracci won the 400 free relay. Erin Morrow won the 200 free for the Bruton girls team that finished third in the girls 2A state meet.
Team scoring: 1, Grafton 295. 2, Tabb 224. 3, Jamestown 175. Others: 12, Smithfield 53. 25, Denbigh 22.
200 medley: 1, Heritage 1:40.24. 2. Tabb 1:41.20. 3, Grafton 1:42.65. 7, Jamestown 1:47.57.
200 freestyle: 1, Spires, Grafton, 1:42.62. 3, Titsch, Grafton, 1:46.81.
200IM: 1, Nowakowski, Jefferson Forest, 1:54.99. 2, Kimbell, Grafton, 1:58.18. 3, Jones, Tabb, 1:59.13. 7, Peterson, Smithfield, 2:04.13. 8, Young, Tabb, 2:10.19.
50 free: 1, Ferguson, Grafton, 21.83.
100 fly: Bonilla-Vasquez, King George, 52.56. 4, McCormick, Tabb, 54.15. 5, Uniskiewicz, Grafton, 54.39.
100 free: 1, Spires, Grafton, 46.86. 3, Titsch, Grafton, 48.67.
500 free: 1, van Krimpen, Eastern View, 4:42.15. 2, Jones, Tabb, 4:51.77. 5, Tinney, Grafton, 5:02.75. 7, Shideler, Jamestown, 5:08.18.
200 free relay: 1, Grafton 1:27.22. 5, Tabb 1:35.10. 8, Denbigh 1:36.71.
100 back: 1, Eubanks, Nansemond River.
100 breast: 1, Kegelman, Tabb, 58.61. 3, Kimbel, Grafton, 1:00.07. 5, McCormick, Tabb, 1:01.52.
400 free relay: 1, Grafton 3:14.17. 2. Tabb 3:21.76. 4, Jamestown 3:23.18.
Team scoring: 1. Jamestown 354. 2, Grafton 209. 3, Tabb 208. Others: 20, Smithfield 5.
200 medley: 1, Grafton 1:51.61. 2, Tabb 1:53.73. 4, Jamestown 1:56.59.
200 freestyle: 1, Williams, Jamestown, 1:53.69. 2, Roehrle, Jamestown, 1:57.48. 3, Rymer, Grafton, 1:57.56. 8, Brewer, Tabb, 2:04.76.
200 IM: 1, Boone, Eastern View, 2:05.76. 3, Maw, Tabb, 2:10.66. 7, M. Rymer, Grafton, 2:17.27. 8, Zhu, Tabb, 2:17.97.
50 free: 1, Vereb, Jamestown, 23.89. 2, Horner, Grafton, 24.16. 3, Vitaletti, Jamestown, 24.89.
100 fly: 1, Vereb, Jamestown, 55.83. 2, Zhu, Tabb, 58.53. 3. R. Rymer, Grafton, 59.65.
100 free: 1, Williams, Jamestown, 52.35. 2, Horner, Grafton, 52.54. 3, Vitaletti, Jamestown, 54.97. 5, Niewola, Jamestown, 55.96.
500 free: 1, Browning, Hanover, 5:10.16. 5, Brewer, Tabb, 5:33.58. \
200 free relay: 1, Jamestown 1:38.78. 8, Tabb 1:48.64.
100 back: 1, Boone, Eastern View, 54.54. 3, Maw, Tabb, 1:00.10. 4. M. Rymer, Grafton, 1:00.49. 6, Niewola, Jamestown, 1:02.38.
100 breast: 1, Skorcz, E.C. Glass, 1:09.78. 4, Roherle, Jamestown, 1:12.39. 5, Stover, Tabb, 1:12.93.
400 free relay: 1, Jamestown 3:38.27. 2, Grafton 3:42.13. 5, Tabb 3:53.06.
O'Brien can be reached by phone at 757-247-4963.