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Eagle Swim’s Four Member Squad Claims Back-to-Back State Runner-Up Title at Championship Meet

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As the saying goes, big things often come in small packages, and they don’t get much smaller than WCA’s Girls State swim team. With just four athletes traveling to the VISAA Swim and Dive State Championship, the official meet program listed WCA Eagle Swim as the sixth smallest team in a fifty team field. But after 24 loud and crazy finals events, the team was second only to the Steward School among over 30 Division II teams and tenth among all teams of any size. The Runner up title is the second in two years for the Eagles, who finished second to Trinity Christian School last season. Trinity Christian would finish third this year behind the Eagles.

Looming Concerns Entering the Meet

“I was wondering how well we would swim at States,” remarked head coach Anne Anderson. “Our three year-round swimmers had been battling injuries and sickness in the weeks before the meet. But the incentive to swim well for the team was more than enough to overcome the potential setbacks.” The meet started on a good, but not great note as all four girls combined for a 200 yard medley time that just squeaked them into the 8th position of the Championship final, which is critical, as members of that heat can finish no worse than 8th in the final standings. Another race was a tough break for senior Lainey Flanagan, who, despite a season-best swim, was squeezed out of the Top 16 of the 50 Freestyle. But the Eagles would secure three swims at finals as Kaitlyn Sullivan qualified for the Top 8 Championship final in the 200 Individual Medley, and Delaney Gibbons nudged into the bottom of the 100-yard Butterfly.

Eagle Swim Builds Momentum in Finals

The boulder started rolling downhill in the evening’s finals session. To start, the group had a tremendous relay swim in which every leg dropped time, slashing a full 2.24championship seconds off the relay team’s season-best, and over 3.5 seconds better than the morning qualifying swim. It was the first-ever top 8 relay finish for the school and a new team record. “At the VISAA state meet, relays score double the points, and getting into that Top 8 (the championship final) is where the most points are,” explained Anderson. “We practiced our relay transitions over and over the two weeks before the meet, and it was a thrill to watch those relays make the top 8 after all that hard work.” Sullivan would follow with a career-best 200 IM performance, nailing down substantial points with a bronze medal swim in the event and earning her All-State Recognition in VISAA Swimming. In the final swim of the evening, freshman Delaney Gibbons had a monster 100 Butterfly swim, climbing from 14th place all the way up to 10th with a career-best performance, taking her below the 1:00 mark in the 100 Fly for the first time. By the end of the first day of swimming, the Eagles found themselves atop the points in Division II in a tie with 2019 champion Trinity Christian School. “It seemed when they moved up and cut so much time in that relay that they just started riding a wave of positivity,” said Sullivan. “If there is such a thing as getting on a hot streak in swimming, that was it right there.” Coach Sullivan gives a lot of credit to guest coach Brian Vereb, who provided some stunningly effective feedback to each swimmer after the prelim session. “Everything he told them, each executed on that feedback to near perfection, and the results spoke for themselves.”

Day 2: Riding the Wave

championshipThe start of the second day had Lainey Flanagan swimming the 100 Freestyle, her marquee event. Flanagan swam a very strong prelim, securing a spot in the consolation final as the 10th overall finisher with a season-best swim by over two seconds. The Freestyle relay was next, and the energy from the previous night’s events fueled a near 3-second improvement in the race from their season-best, vaulting them from their 13th seed into a 7th place finish and yet another appearance in the all too important top 8 final for the evening. And the hits just kept on coming. Gibbons would also move into the Top 8 championship final in the 100 Back, improving on her 10th seed with a time that bested her previous season-best by another two and a half seconds. The last prelim swim of the day was Kaitlyn Sullivan, who locked down another Top 8 finals appearance with a 3rd place finish in the 100-yard Breaststroke.

Final Day of Finals: Securing the Championship Runner-Up Title

Barring catastrophically poor swims or a disqualification, heading into finals WCA had a clear path to the D-II State Runner-up title. Provided they swam to their approximate seed position, the points that were accumulated by just making their respective finals would be too much for Trinity to overcome mathematically. But the Eagles continued to keep the press on. Flanagan would set the tone for the rest of the night by finishing at the top of the consolation final to score in 9th. The Freestyle relay would hold onto 7th place with another record-breaking swim, as did Gibbons, who swam another team record in the 100 Back for 7th in the championship final. That effort clinched at least a tie for 2nd place with Trinity, who had no finals swim races remaining. Kaitlyn Sullivan, who would score the 10th most points out of 354 female swimmers at the meet, locked down WCA’s back-to-back State runner-up titles with a 4th place finish in the 100 Breast.

Although the individual records came from WCA’s big trio of 757swim year-round swimmers (Sullivan, Flanagan, and Gibbons), all three were universally in agreement that lifting the Runner-up plaque and standing on the medal podium for those relays would not have been possible if not for 8th-grade newcomer swimmer SiSi Mileski. Mileski, who had not swum competitively since she was nine years old, was coaxed onto the team and became a tireless practice warrior. Her relentless pursuit to become a better swimmer paid out enormous dividends, as she swam high-pressure anchor relay legs to deafening crowds at the State meet within time standards usually reserved for seasoned club swimmers her age. Hoarse and tired from the weekend’s swimming, junior Kaitlyn Sullivan summed up Sisi’s contribution in the simplest but most accurate terms. “Sisi was huge.”

The team broke eight records in eight races on the weekend, and they hit several other untouched milestones as well. “This State meet was a series of firsts for WCA,” Anderson said regarding the string of substantial swims. “It was the first time the relays had finished in the top 8, our first all-state swimmer in Kaitlyn Sullivan, and our first graduating state swimmer in Lainey Flanagan”. The team may have picked up a fan or two along the way, as well. Coaches from both the Steward School, the eventual champion, and the rival Trinity Christian School both had glowing compliments for the small team. And Coach Brian Vereb (a former college head coach from the University of Akron and eventual part-time coach at local 757swim), who volunteered to help out all weekend, had high praise for the Eagle Swim Team as well. “The kids were so eager to swim and respectful,” passed along Vereb in a text after the meet. “If people had the opportunity to coach kids like that, no one would leave the (coaching) profession. You have created the type of program you can be very proud of.”

We couldn’t agree more.

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What’s Next?

Coming into this championship meet, there was a strong sense of urgency around finishing the reign of the ‘Big Three’ mentioned above on the highest note possible. With the impending loss of Flanagan to graduation, it appeared on the surface that another state title run was no longer a possibility. “You just don’t find swimmers the caliber of Lainey Flanagan just hanging around,” commented Coach Sullivan. “Losing her will be a definite blow to the team, especially in relays, where she was lights out during this state meet.” Coach Anne Anderson also chronicled Lainey’s rapid rise to becoming a vital cog in the Eagle Swim team’s success in recent years. “Lainey has been an Eagle swimmer since the team started five years ago, and she has improved tremendously each year. Her first year of varsity, Lainey did not qualify for the State Meet, and the second year she qualified and scored in one event. Her third year she scored in both her individual events and both relays. And finally this year, she won the consolation final of the 100 free with a lifetime personal best time,” shared Anderson. “Lainey also emerged as a strong leader, encouraging our younger swimmers, leading cheers, and setting an example of hard work in practice. Messiah College will be a great fit for her to continue her swimming career, but we will miss her so much!!”

So without Flanagan, is all hope lost to compete for a top-two finish in next year’s championship meet? Perhaps not. Both of the top teams that finished alongside WCA are losing critical pieces as well. Senior Allison Langenburg at Steward placed 2nd in both of her races, and senior Brooke Williams at Trinity finished 4th place in both of hers. The loss of that many points, and the impact it will have on their relays, will definitely be a story to watch next year.

As for the Eagles, Coach Sullivan hopes that swimmers around Williamsburg will take notice and decide this growing team and tradition is something they want to be a part of, in addition to attending a great school that helps develop high character graduates. “There is a lot of excitement around WCA right now,” Sullivan remarked. “Our team’s accomplishments are a part of that, but the energy in the school and the planned implementation of the International Baccalaureate Program at WCA are going to make a compelling case for many parents to send their children here.”

WCA is currently in its early enrollment period through February 29th. Families who enroll students on or before this date benefit by paying current year’s uninflated tuition rates, and have their new student fee ($300) waived. For more information on early enrollment, or to set up a tour of WCA, contact admissions at admissions@williamsburgchristian.org

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