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Nestled in a new location much closer to home, the Greater Richmond Aquatic League held its annual Champs Weekend in Chesterfield at the new Collegiate School Aquatics Center, as swimmers from 13 county swim teams dove into the competition, and a historic pool.
Doing laps in the same pool used for practice by Michael Phelps and the 2008 U.S. Olympic Team, 22 GRAL records were broken, one swimmer left everything in the pool, and two county teams landed in the top four in team standings.
Friday featured 18 events for ages 8 and under, while Saturday’s spotlight was on ages 9 to 12 with 36 races. Sunday saw 48 competitions as the teenagers took over the center. When the final tally was in, the Ashcreek Crocodiles claimed the title of top team in Hanover County, finishing third overall with 958.5 points. Canterbury Swim Club won the team championship with 1,276 points with Wyndham finishing second at 1,015. Just behind Ashcreek in fourth was Kings Charter at 865 points.
But at a competition featuring 1,274 athletes over three days, victories are counted in many ways. Savannah Shaver of Pebble Creek became the first county swimmer to break a GRAL Champs record Saturday morning, swimming the 9-10-year-old girls 50-yard freestyle in 28.47 seconds. About 15 minutes later, Sara Gaston of Mechanicsville Recreational Association broke the 11-12-year-old girls 50-yard freestyle record, racing in at a time of 26.17. Not to be outdone, Shaver returned in the afternoon and broke the 9-10 girls 100-yard freestyle mark with a time of 1:02.23. A half-hour later, Gaston returned the favor, setting a new mark in the 11-12 girls 100 freestyle at 55.49.
On Sunday, one race stole the show. Atlee graduate, George Mason-bound Jesse Burnley, swimming for Kings Charter, seemed a man among boys in the 100-yard freestyle final, besting his seed time by 2.5 seconds, setting a new GRAL Champs record time of 46.44, more than five seconds faster than the runner-up, Rockville’s Justin Edwards.
What makes it more amazing is Edwards was coming off an Olympic Trials qualifying performance earlier in the week at the NCSA Summer Swimming Championships in Indianapolis. Burnley’s recollection of the race, ironically, is as blurry as his figure in the pool.
“Being it was my last race, it went so fast, I don’t really remember,” Burnley said. “I just get in and go.”
The next thing he knew, he was back at the block, the new record-holder. It was his second Champs record of the day, as he won the 50-yard backstroke in a time of just 24.18.
If Burnley gets the nod for most awe inspiring performance, former Lee-Davis teammates Melissa Davis and Jennifer Vieni ran away with best finish. Stride for stride they matched each other in the 15-18-year-old 100-yard freestyle final, Davis for Pebble Creek, Vieni for Old Church. They finished in a tie, both at 55.55. Just behind in third at 55.95 was Brittany Wilkerson of Kings Charter.
Earlier in the day, Davis grabbed a Champs record, winning the 15-18-year-old 50-yard backstroke in 28.33 and Vieni set the record in the 50-yard freestyle in 25.41.
Matt Elliott of Atlee Recreation also set two Champs records, in the 15-18 boys 50- and 100-yard butterfly in 23.81 and 51.87 respectively.
For Hanover Country Club, a team who only brought 30 swimmers to Champs, the future was now. On Friday, HCC won and set records in both the mixed 8 and under 100-yard medley relay in 1:21.10 (Caroline Cox, Logan Nuckols, Sydney McAdoo, and Manning Leachman) and the 100-yard freestyle relay in 1:09.35 (Leachman, McAdoo, Nuckols and Jackson Herbert).
“At the end of Friday night, we were in fifth place [overall], amazing for us being so small,” noted HCC head coach Leslie Nuckols.
Now, keeping that momentum into future seasons with such young talent becomes a priority, and Nuckols has a program in place to make it happen.
“We have a lot fun. Obviously, they are practicing, but you’ve got to make summer swimming fun,” Nuckols said. “The kids who swim year-round, they’re going to do it, but the others who play other sports, we work with them. Weekly, we honor swimmers as they improve their personal best.”
As for the top finishing team for the county, Ashcreek? They are set for the future, too, highlighted by Cere Duplissey and Haley Lambert finishing one-two in the girls 8 and under 100-yard IM, separated by three one-hundredths of a second (1:31.79 to 1:31.82), then reversing their order in the 25-yard backstroke. Lambert won at 19.48 followed by Duplissey at 20.57.
As the meet ended and teams filed out of the Collegiate School Aquatics Center, GRAL President Joel Hagman was all smiles with the success of the first Champs event to be held there after years of having to travel to George Mason University in Fairfax to hold the postseason affair.
“The facility is wonderful, the pool is just immaculate, and have you seen gas prices?”