Jamestown's Larson, Lafayette's Kostelni take top swimming honors

Of the 11 swimming events up for grabs in the Group 4A girls swimming and diving championships in February, seven first places went to swimmers from Jamestown or Lafayette. Six of those went to Jamestown as Abby Larson and Joelle Vereb each accounted for four gold medals, two individual and two relay, for consecutive seasons as the Eagles won their fourth team title in a row.

Vereb, a senior Virginia Tech recruit, and Larson, a junior, were equally important to Jamestown's overall success.

For setting two state meet individual records and contributing to a third on the 200 medley relay with Vereb, Ashley Adams and Carter Roehrle, Larson is the 2016-17 Virginia Gazette Girls Swimmer of the Year.

Larson claimed the 50 freestyle title for the third consecutive season in 23.47 and won the 100 free for the second year in a row in 50.69. Each record broken was Larson's own, set the previous year, and she also swam the 200 free relay that won a title with Vereb, Roehrle and Kaitlyn Pegram.

There are a lot of significant digits there that Larson did not worry about under the bright lights in the SwimRVA Aquatic Center, on the biggest stage of the high school season.

"I think when I'm swimming, I don't focus on breaking the record," Larson said. "I just focus on the team and how badly I want to help them win. When I finish and see that I broke the record, it feels great because I feel like all my hard work has paid off finally."

Naturally, Larson is being recruited to sprint in college and aims to make a school choice by the fall after going on some official visits.

She has not shown signs of letting up on the club side for 757swim, clocking a sub-23-second time in the 50 free last month to go along with a 50.36 in the 100.

After the state meet, Jamestown coach Molly Sandling said the leadership of Larson and Vereb were vital as the duo helped instill confidence on a team with a large number of freshmen, many of whom were contributors and gained valuable experience for a potential run at five consecutive state team titles next season.

"Without (Joelle) next year, it's definitely going to make a difference," Larson said, "but hopefully we can still pull out another win, which is our goal."

Boys

Vereb and Lafayette sophomore Chris Kostelni were two of many local students battling the flu around state championships time.

Illness may have kept them from having their best nights, but their performances were still impressive.

The best individual showing for Kostelni, the 2016-17 Virginia Gazette Boys Swimmer of the Year, was a fourth place in the 200 free (1:44.73). He added an eighth in the 500 free (4:44.79) and contributed to a sixth-place finish for the 200 medley relay team with Flynn Crisci, Sam Long and Henry Gaston that swam 1:39.75.

"He comes to practice every day ready to work hard every day," Lafayette coach Harold Baker said of Kostelni. "His drive has resulted in him going from a solid middle-of-the-pack swimmer to someone that dominates at the local level. He has the ability to go hard all of the time and to train hard even when no one else in practice can keep up."

Kostelni, who won the 4A East Region title in the 500 free, had aimed to challenge for state titles in each of his individual events. But one day before the big race, he had already put his season into perspective before diving into Williamsburg Aquatic Club practice. "But if I don't, fine," Kostelni said. "I still have two more years."

Holtzman can be reached by phone at 757-298-5830.

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