It took six personal lifetime best times, two season-best team relay times and eight team records broken, but the Williamsburg Christian Academy Eagle Swim team has accomplished the unthinkable when the team was assembled just a short four years ago: they have earned the title as Girl’s State Runner Up at the VISAA Championship Swim and Dive Meet in Division 2. And perhaps the most astonishing part of it all: they accomplished the feat with just four swimmers.
Yes, you read that correctly. In a division that is comprised of all private school teams in the entire state of Virginia with enrollments of no more than 160 girls, WCA’s small group of just four swimmers was able to battle and finish second of thirty-nine teams in the division to claim those honors, including defending champions Hampton Road Academy, and perennial powerhouse and 7 time girls division two champion Seton School, who they edged out by a mere two points. Many teams in the division came with almost a dozen swimmers. WCA was also 12th overall of teams in all divisions, besting enormous programs from DC area’s Bishop Ireton and Virginia Beach’s Bishop Sullivan.
“I was very proud of our girls’ performance at the VISAA State Championships. Three of our swimmers swim year round with a local club team, and the 4th swimmer juggles two winter sports of basketball and swimming. Given all their outside commitments, I wasn’t sure how well they would swim,” commented Head Coach Anne Anderson regarding the team’s accomplishment, “The year-round girls all swam lifetime bests in their individual events and our basketball/swimmer swam her fastest times of the year as part of our relays!”
The Eagle Swim super trio of junior Lainey Flanagan, sophomore Kaitlyn Sullivan, and 8th grader Delaney Gibbons scored in all of their individual events. Sullivan was the team’s top scorer as she powered into the championship final in both of her events en route to a 5th place finish in the 50-yd freestyle, and a 7th place in the 100-yd breaststroke. Gibbons swam a phenomenal 200 freestyle on her first day, slashing an unheard of 4.43 seconds off her season best to get into the consolation final where she finished 13th, and a spirited finals race in the 100 Back, where she won the consolation heat and a 9th place overall finish. Flanagan was instrumental to the win as well with her 14th place finish in the 50 free and 12th place personal best in the 100-yd free. But on those swims alone we are not writing about a championship runner up title. Without the final piece of the puzzle, WCA’s relay anchor leg, junior Isabell Comber, and the points those relays provided, WCA finishes with 47 points and a 5th place showing. Unlike her teammates (who all swim for Williamsburg-based 757swim), Comber does not currently participate on a year-round swim club. She did not qualify for an individual event, but her contributions to the team’s 13th place 200 Medley relay and 10th place 200 Freestyle relay were epic. In the medley relay, she bested her top time in her relay legs to that point by a full second. The next day, she dropped another second off that personal best in the free relay to help the team pick up valuable 10th place points, out-touching the 11th place team, Division 1’s Saint John Paul the Sixth by the slimmest of possible margins, 0.05 seconds. “I am so proud of our small but mighty varsity girls swim team. To go into the state meet and drop times across the board and end up in finals for every event they swam collectively is a huge accomplishment!” stated an elated Pam Gibbons, Athletic Director at WCA. “This is a great group of girls who are so very supportive and genuine with one another. It was a beautiful ending to a gradual build-up of these girls growing together as a dynamic foursome through the course of the season.”
The state runner up accomplishment was hard-earned and required a lot of dominos to fall into place. The two-point margin propelling the team to the runner up position came in a lot of places, and some outside of the swimmer’s control. Gibbons backstroke finish was a two-point improvement over prelims. Sullivan also improved from an 8th place seed time coming into the meet to take fifth, a three-point improvement. But probably the most stunning twist of fate came when Flanagan, who had moved up two spots from her 19th seed to place 17th in prelims in the first alternate spot, learned that there had been a scratch from a higher finisher. This immensely improbable scenario vaulted her into the consolation final’s last position. She then made the most of this opportunity by placing 14th, good for 3 points, a point more than the deciding margin!
“This was an incredible group effort,” explained Eagle Swim Program Director and Assistant Coach Jeff Sullivan. “The possibility of this finish was not an absolute surprise, though, after what we saw in the Division 2 meet a few weeks ago.” Just two weeks prior, the quartet earned eight medals in ten events in the VISAA Division-II Championships, a precursor event to the State Championship, including a first overall finish in the 200-yard freestyle relay event. In that meet, however, without the higher level of competition provided by the VISAA State meet, many lower tier swimmers on other teams were able to score points, and WCA settled to a 4th place finish due entirely by depth. It was clear that there would be some opportunities to move up with those lower finishers dropping out of the top 16 at the more competitive state meet.
Coach Anne also extolled the team cohesion that developed at the state meet, “The team environment at the meet is very exciting and very competitive so while swimming is an individual sport, the incentive to swim well to contribute to the team standing is very motivating. The girls wanted to swim fast for themselves but also for their teammates. Seeing them cheering for each swim was a validation of how close they are and how much they wanted success for each other. Its an honor to get to coach kids that respect each other, work hard and want to represent their school well.” The girls grew much closer as a result of the experience. “We started to see especially in that second day how good we had become together, and how hard we had worked for this and that we deserved that success,” Flanagan explained on the bond that had started to build at the prior week’s Division 2 meet. “And when the relay of the team that could outscore us was swimming, we all held hands watching. When they didn’t place high enough to pass us, we were so excited together…we almost cried.” Kaitlyn Sullivan pointed to the time the teammates spent together just before the last night of finals as the focal point when they truly gelled as a team. “On the last day of States, when we were supposed to be taking a nap, we actually just hung out in the room together and laughed for a couple of hours,” Sullivan shared, “that was the point, at that moment that we just felt like one unit…States was an experience that had just changed us and brought us together at that point. Coach isn’t going to read this, is she?”
“The best part of all of this may be the fact that we are capable of improving on this success,” added program coordinator Sullivan. “Not a single member of our team is graduating, and we have prospects coming up from lower grades that can provide us with some depth we lack. We are also hopeful that there are swim families out there that have been considering WCA that will want to come and join the start of this winning tradition again next year.” And what could that future look like for the Eagle Swim team next year? Sullivan had a quick response to that question. “Maybe we take that next step and become State Champs. Wouldn’t that be something?”
WCA’s Eagle Swim team is open to any WCA student who has the desire to swim and improve their swimming skills, from grade 5 where they start in our JV program, all the way to 12th grade as a part of Eagle Swim varsity. Families wanting to learn more about the swim program should contact firstname.lastname@example.org and can schedule a tour of WCA by contacting us at email@example.com.