Demanding Wins: Western swim squads deliver at state meet

Photo by Bart Isley

Western Albemarle swimming’s Tyce Winter and Noah Hargrove had demands.


Winter first wanted the team banner cut down before the last relay race. Then he wanted the trophy despite results not being official yet because of a scheduling issue with diving behind held Saturday. Then he wanted one of the artificial bushes that surrounded the awards podium to hoist in victory. 


Hargrove just wanted cookies. 


All their demands were met Friday night at Swim RVA in Richmond.


But most importantly, both of Western’s senior stars got what they wanted as Western’s boys mathematically guaranteed themselves a third-straight Class 3 state title. Meanwhile, the girls moved close to victory that would complete another sweep of the state titles that required holding off the most impressive performance in Monticello swim history in a meet that had a distinctly Central Virginia flavor. 


After snow moved diving to Saturday from Thursday, the Western boys needed to outpace whoever was in second place by a little more than 50 points to be assured of clinching a state title. The squad delivered by crushing the field with a 346-200 lead over second place Independence that prompted the boys to take possession of the physical trophy and celebrate. 


Winter and Hargrove were a huge part of the victory, with Winter dominating the sprint events with wins in the 50 and 100 free as well as a leg of the first place 200 free relay squad. Hargrove matched the effort with wins in the 200 IM and 100 butterfly and a leg of that 200 free relay. 


While both had those demands post meet, they also sounded more like philosopher kings than swimmers in the post meet scrum as their Western swimming careers came to a fitting close as champions once again. 


“Swimming is one of those sports where from the outside it can look incredibly individual with your swim being your swim,” Winter said. “But once you’re playing for everybody it’s hard not to be energetic. Watching them give their everything for a team, for a cause and for our school? There’s no way not to swim fast.”


After getting his traditional post tapering season cookies from his parents, Hargrove didn’t want the moment or his prep career to end and for him, it won’t. 


“You can’t really ask for a better end to it — I was there wasn’t an end to it,” Hargrove said. “But in a way it’s not going to end –I’m going to know these guys for the rest of my life. Hopefully I find a lovely wife but some of them will probably be at my wedding. As much as it ends, it doesn’t”


Sophomore Sam Johnson also had a massive day for the Warriors, with an individual championship in the 200 free, a fifth place in the 200 medley relay, a fourth place in the 100 fly and a leg of that championship-winning 200 free relay. Andrew Holzwarth piled up points too with a seventh in the 100 free, an eighth in the 100 back and a leg on the first place 200 free relay. He was also on the fourth place 400 free relay that Western chose to swim with four seniors, getting Joey Paulson in the pool for the first time in the finals session. 


“It was special, going into freshman year we weren’t the closest of friends but coming out we’re all pretty close,” Holzwarth said. “It was really special finishing that final relay with them.”


Freshman Anthony Garono also struck big with a seventh in the 200 free, a sixth in the 500 free. Peyton Wray helped Western take fifth in the 200 medley relay, snagged fourth in the 100 back and seventh in the 500 free to complete a big day. Freshman Jack Smith took seventh in the 100 breaststroke and 10th in the 200 IM while also swimming on that 200 medley squad. Matthew Heilman and Noah Johnson both also scored for the Warriors.


“We lost an amazing senior class last year, plus we lost (Stephane Karp) to injury so you’re talking about another all-state kid,” said Western coach Dan Bledsoe. “To come back and do what we did to an incredibly talented field today is a testament to the level of swimmer and athlete we have but also the competitiveness and leadership our senior boys have. They just would not fail.”


Western’s approach is often to use the regional meet as a way to flood the state meet with Warrior swimmers. It works well and in the boys case, when it’s combined with top end talent, it can lead to absurdly dominant victory margins. Winter, for instance, didn’t even swim in the region meet.


On the girls side, Western didn’t have the top end talent (Monticello did) but they followed the same playbook and flooded the B heats in finals, putting them just 10.5 points behind the Mustangs with diving to come Saturday. Western has several divers in the event, Monticello does not, so the Warriors are poised to overtake them. 


“It’s exciting, the feeling never gets old,” said Western senior Sophie O’Donnell. “I was getting really emotional after the last relay but the team is just so strong — everyone is just a team player. Everyone counts, even if we’re not coming away with a lot of (heat) A final swims, there are just so many people and together we pull through.”


Kathryn Burr led the Warriors with a host of strong finishes, taking seventh in the 50 free and 100 free while swimming legs of the fifth-place 200-free relay and fourth-place 200 medley relay. Maya Chatterson stepped up big too, taking eighth in the 200 free and 10th in the 100 fly while swimming on the 200 free relay squad and the fourth-place 400 free relay team. O’Donnell was on the 400 free relay and also took ninth in the 200 free and 10th in the 500 free. Freshman Julie Addison swam on the 200 medley and 200 free relays while also snagging seventh in the 200 IM and 100 back. Virginia Smith chipped in an 11th place finish in the 500 free and 14th in the 200 free. Casey Phillips, Sydney Dutton, Libby Addison and Elke Beaumont also scored for the Warriors.  


“We don’t necessarily have those top eight girls, but we have those girls nine through 16 who are just scrapping all the way through,” said Western coach Dan Bledsoe. “I think we only had maybe six swims in the top eight, everything else was put together through relays and through the 9 through 16 route where the points aren’t as easy so you’ve got to fight for each one.”


Western will await the dive results before likely clinching the title on the girls side.