by Megan Dierolf
The score sheet read, Hidden Valley High School 179, Western Albemarle High School 177, and there was one event left, the girls 400 free relay. Whoever won the race would win the title of State Champions. The Western Albemarle Girls swim and dive team’s energy built up as they waited for the relay team to step out of the ready room.
The team was neck and neck with the reigning state champions because of a strong effort from the entire team during the three-day championship in Blacksburg. The meet began on Thursday evening with the diving event. There were 27 girls in the state who qualified. Twenty girls continued into the semi-finals that evening, including Hannah Chiarella, Meredith Higgins, and Katie Sheppard, the three divers representing Western. In the semi-finals, Higgins’ dive was incorrectly read by the announcer. Although it was correctly recorded on her diving sheet, she was given low scores for “doing the dive in the wrong position.” This mistake made by the meet officials cost her a spot in the finals. Sheppard continued on for the team.
On Friday, swimmers competed for spots in either the final or consolation heat in the championship events. Six girls qualified individually for finals, four for the consolations, and all three of the relays made it to finals. It was a great first day for the team. Friday evening, Sheppard was back on the board to compete in the final girls diving competition. Sheppard took fourth in the competition during her first season.
Saturday the team was pumped. The team scores kept going back and forth, but the Western girls were always in the top few teams. When the scores were posted, the girls came together to cheer on Elsa Strickland, Emma McKinley, Natalie Cronk, and Seana Acker in a chant of “Warriors” as the relay walked to the blocks. The relay team gave it everything they had to claim the first gold medal in Western swimming history and secure the first swimming state title. The team went crazy. Captains Acker and Higgins received the trophy. The rest of the team joined them, squeezing on the podium with huge smiles.
Coach Dan Bledsoe thanked the team for such a great season. He summed up his pride in an email to the team, saying, “This goes to show you what hard work, determination, and belief can do. The little team from Crozet is now the best team in the state.”