Western Albemarle Sweeps State Swim & Dive Championships

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The WAHS girls swim and dive team celebrates after winning their first Virginia Class 3 championship since 2016. Left to right: Anna Livermon, Sophie O’Donnell, Kathryn Burr, Sara Randolph Warren, Sydney Dutton, Casey Phillips, Kayleigh Jumper, Teryn Ratcliffe, Katie Herndon, Clare O’Connell, Meredith Martin, Virginia Smith, Claudia James, Libby Addison, Maya Chatterson, Darrah Sheehan, Kimball Sheehan, Kira Martin (front with cape), Maeci Frank. Photo: Christine Martin.

The Western Albemarle swim and dive team made a big splash at the Virginia State Championship meet held on February 16 at the Collegiate Complex in Richmond by the Virginia High School League (VHSL). The boys team won their second straight Class 3 state title, its third in four years. The girls team won their first championship since 2016. As icing on the cake, head coach Dan Bledsoe was named 2017-2018 Central Virginia Coach of the Year. Congratulations to them all!

Over half of the 60 students on the WAHS swim and dive team qualified to compete in the state championship meet by meeting time standards and/or finishing in the top five at the Jefferson  Region 3C meet—which includes Lynchburg and the Shenandoah Valley in addition to Albemarle and Fluvanna counties. VHSL has six classes based on school size, with Class 6 comprising the largest schools (Albemarle HS competes in class 5). 

“Our large number of qualifying swimmers gave us the depth we needed to ace the championship,” explained Bledsoe. “This allowed us to create a championship lineup that maximized our team point totals.” The diving competition, held Feb. 14 at St. Catherine’s, contributed vital points to both teams’ winning totals.

Swimmers competed against about 30 other school teams in individual 50 to 400-yard freestyle, backstroke, breaststroke, and butterfly events, plus 200-to 400-yard relays involving teams of four swimmers each. 

Coach Dan Bledsoe was named 2017-18 Virginia Boys Coach of the Year. Photo: Zach Wajsgras/Daily Progress

The Warriors dominated in both the individual and team events. Junior Noah Hargrove was a standout, earning gold in the 200-yard individual medley as well as his second state title in 500-yard freestyle. “I call Noah my honey badger,” Bledsoe confirmed—an animal known for its strength, ferocity, and toughness. “His race in the 200 IM is a great example of this nickname. He was behind the #1 seed for almost the entire race, but he never gave up. He passed the leader and won the event in the last ten yards of the race. That heart and tenacity are what make him great.”

Senior August Lamb won the 200-yard freestyle and set a new record in the 100-yard freestyle, while Stephane Karl, Peyton Wray, Hargrove, and Lamb set a record in the 400 freestyle relay. On the girls side, Maya Chatterson, Sophie O’Donnell, Casey Phillips, and Kathryn Burr finished second in the 400-yard freestyle, edging out York High School—last year’s title winner—to seal the championship.

Besides taking home trophies, which will be proudly displayed in the WAHS gym lobby’s trophy case, the top eight scorers earn medals and the top three are named to the All-State team, a select group who will compete again in April. WAHS girls named Swim & Dive All-State include Libby Addison, Kathryn Burr, Maya Chatterson, Carey D’Atre, Sophie O’Donnell, and Casey Phillips. WAHS boys who made Swim & Dive All-State include Noah Hargrove, Jason Heilman, Stephane Karp, August Lamb, William Peritz, Max Tracey, Tyce Winter, and Peyton Wray. The full swim and dive team was honored at the end-of-year sports banquet March 6. In addition, team members are eligible to purchase a state championship ring from Herff-Jones.

The WAHS boys swim and dive team celebrate after winning their second straight Virginia Class 3 championship in Richmond on Feb. 16. Left to right: William Lambert, Josiah Walcott, Noah Hargrove, Peyton Wray, Jason Heilman, Zach Bowen, August Lamb (holding trophy), Liam Giuliano-Dunn, Andrew Holzwarth, Stephane Karp, Joey Paulson, Alex He, Mathew Heilman, Tyce Winter (front). Photo: Christine Martin.

The WAHS Swim & Dive team—both boys and girls swimmers and divers are considered one big team of 60 students—practices every morning from 6:30 to 8 a.m. at the Crozet Park YMCA pool. After showering there, they head to school. Before the pool dome went up in 2012, they had to drive all the way out to Fairview north of Charlottesville for practices. They also hold “dry land activities” twice a week after school on the WAHS fields or at the new Henley gym, such as push-ups and pull-ups, for overall conditioning and to build core and upper body strength.

“These activities allow the kids to get to know each other, and promotes team bonding that is hard to get in the pool,” said Bledsoe. Some team members also swim on a year-round YMCA club team, which practices at the Brooks Family Y in Charlottesville from 5:30-8 a.m. “It’s a big time commitment,” Bledsoe admitted. “But I tell them if it’s a priority, you learn to manage your time. You might have to give up some distractions like social media. Not having enough time is not an excuse. This is a good life lesson for kids. We have almost perfect attendance at practices.

“We create a culture of success,” Bledsoe continued. “A lot of the motivation comes from setting really high expectations. The kids feed off each other, with older kids setting the example and taking on a mentoring role. It’s an ingrained culture that gets passed on—our team has a history of excellence. Kids see how hard the coaching staff works, and that they care. We personalize their training.”

Bledsoe—known as Coach Dan to team members—has coached swimming at WAHS for ten years, becoming head coach after three. He works with two coaching assistants, Shannon Rauth and Tanner Kelson, plus dive coach Becca Corbett—all former competitive swimmers. He began swimming at age 5, when his mother put him in the Chicago area YMCA program, and progressed into competitive swimming in high school in Minnesota. “Swimming is big in the Midwest because it’s a great winter indoor sport,” he explained. After serving in the Navy for eleven years as a nuclear power plant operator and training instructor on an aircraft carrier, he earned his B.A. in history at the State University of New York-Albany. Moving to Charlottesville for his wife’s post-doctoral work, he taught and coached in Waynesboro for seven years before joining the WAHS faculty in 2009. He also teaches honors world history at WAHS. “I’ve taught the gamut of social studies courses—U.S. History, World I & II—everything except government.

Bledsoe also coaches in the summer league at the Boar’s Head Sports Club for ages 4 to 18. “That means I’ve known many of these kids their whole lives. During the off season, I miss this different kind of interaction.” Doing three jobs is definitely a challenge. “The grading, planning workouts, and running practices is never easy and not without sacrifice, especially from family,” Bledsoe allowed. “The only exercise I can fit in is to work out at five a.m. three days a week—which of course means less sleep. My only vacation is during spring break, because we practice all other times. The reward is seeing them develop, improve, and take home that trophy.” His own son, 12-year-old Sam, swims with the YMCA’s Charlottesville Y Aquatics Club (CYAC) program.

Bledsoe is a man of many talents. He also plans to compete in this year’s Wordplay trivia contest at the Paramount on April 24, with veteran teammates Lani Hoza and Jill Williams, to benefit Literacy Volunteers. The Best Western team won first place at Wordplay last year. “I love to compete, no matter what it is,” says Bledsoe with a grin. “That competitiveness—the kids thrive off of it. We work hard together.” 

Congratulations to the champion swimmers and divers. 

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