In the decade-plus history of Central Region swimming, Atlee High School and Maggie Walker Governors School have both staked their claim at being the best in the region. So it was fitting that, on the final night of Central Region competition as we know it, the schools split team titles.
While the Green Dragons won the boys title Saturday night 179-142 over Atlee, the Lady Raiders’ larger margin of victory over Maggie Walker, 165-108, gave Atlee the final overall team championship. Patrick Henry finished fourth overall with 103 points, while Lee-Davis was fifth at 96 and Hanover sixth at 76.
“On the whole, everyone did a great job. I’m very proud of them,” said Karen Seeber, Atlee’s leader who was named Central Region Coach of the Year at the end of the meet held at NOVA Aquatics in Western Henrico. Some of Seeber’s biggest praise was saved for the Class of 2013.
“This is a special class. I’ve followed many of them since before high school. I’ve been around them such a long time, I’m teary-eyed. Every time I have a senior class, it gets harder,” Seeber said, noting she is fortunate to have been able to follow many of her former students through their college careers and into the rest of the lives, something even more gratifying than a championship.
As is always the case, races were close, results razor-thin, and Atlee did themselves no favors by being disqualified in the boys 200-yard freestyle relay due to an early start off the block by a team member. Atlee would have won the race. But the Raiders recovered quickly. Wyatt Grubb won the boys 200 individual medley, breaking the region record by .01 of a second finishing at 1:57.76. Jesse Burnley, part of that senior class, swept the 50 and 100 freestyle races for the second straight year in 22.61 and 48.92, respectively. Fellow senior Shane Condon finished second in the 100-yard backstroke, nipped by a quarter-second by Andrew Drummond of Maggie Walker.
The strongest county performances of the night were turned in by the girls, and not just from Atlee. Lee-Davis senior Jennifer Vieni, who placed second in the 50 and the 100 freestyle, second as the anchor leg in the 200 freestyle relay, and third as part of the 200 medley relay, was named Central Region Girls Swimmer of the Year.
“I felt like all my hard work paid off for the past four years. It’s a good feeling,” Vieni said, giving ample credit to rival and fellow freestyle competitor Elizabeth Magnusson of Colonial Heights, who narrowly defeated Vieni in the 50 and 100.
“I wanted to qualify for states for my last year and finish strong, and Elizabeth was a really good competitor for me. She kept me going fast and was really helpful.”
The future of Lee-Davis was also served when freshman Hannah Ikenberry captured the 100-yard breaststroke, fending off two Raider competitors in Molly Murphy and Emily Beaudin to win with a time of 1:01.86.
“I saw their arms and figured ‘this is my last chance as a freshman,’ so I’d better go out fast,” Ikenberry opined when asked of having the Atlee swimmers on either side of her during the race. She was humbled by the victory.
“It’s pretty cool. I try not to think about it too much. Those ahead of me are role models. It’s amazing to work with Jennifer [Vieni]. I’ve grown up with her and it’s really cool to see her get what she deserves.”
The Raider girls were led by the 200 medley relay team of Molly and Madalyn Murphy, Michele Mackey and Brittany Wilkerson as they won the first match of the night in 1:53.98. Madalyn Murphy, a commit to James Madison University, went on to the 200 individual medley in the best race of the night. Going stroke for stroke against Hanover standout Sarah Browning, Murphy pulled out the victory in 2:12.00, with Browning just .15 behind after a strong final leg fell just short of a comeback win for the Hawks.
“I had just finished my breaststroke race and I was really tired, so I was telling myself to just get to the wall,” Murphy said wryly. “The last 25 yards I saw her coming so I just put my head down to finish strong.”
Now the swimmers will look to do the same as they compete this weekend in the State Group AAA Championships at George Mason University. Among those will be Burnley, who will look for a state title at his future college home after placing fifth in the 100 freestyle in 2011 and seventh a year ago, and Vieni, looking to improve on her 13th place state finish a year ago in the 100 freestyle.