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WAHS girls, AHS boys win Ben Hair titles

WAHS girls, AHS boys win Ben Hair titles

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The Ben Hair Memorial Swim and Dive meet is the real kickoff of the high school swim season. Sure teams have engaged in dual and tri-meets during December, but with the Ben Hair meet’s recent expansion to include teams like Orange County, Fluvanna and William Monroe, the meet has become a showcase for what the season holds.

Western's Natalie Cronk swims during her victory in the 500-yard freestyle Wednesday night.

If the battle between Albemarle and Western Albemarle’s girls team Wednesday night is any indication, it’s going to be a special year.

Despite facing a large deficit due to Western’s dominant performance in the dive portion of the meet on Monday, Albemarle’s girls managed to take the defending Group AA champion Warriors down to the wire, with Western pulling out a 19-point victory in large part due to the strength of their relay squads sweeping all three relay race titles. The Warriors won the 200-medley and took third with the squad’s second relay unit while Albemarle grabbed second and fifth in the event. The Warriors then took the 200-free championship as well as fourth while Albemarle took second and third. Western then capped the meet with a title in the 400-free, holding off, predictably, Albemarle, with a nearly 11-second win by a team of Elsa Strickland, Keller Whitlock, Anna Corley and Seana Acker.

“We have some little bumps in the road (early) this season which has made it tough up to this point,” said Western’s Natalie Cronk. “So we were all kind of nervous about how it would play out but we stuck together and it all came out in the end.”

Cronk was one of a trio of individual performances that also played a big role in lifting the Warriors to the title. Cronk won the 500-freestyle and 100-breaststroke while also swimming on two of the first place relay squads. Freshman Remedy Rule, in a breakout performance everyone knew was coming with the young star’s pedigree, won the 200-freestyle and the 100-butterfly for the Warriors while also swimming on two relay winners. Seana Acker won the 200-individual medley and the 100-freestyle while also swimming a leg on two relay teams. Those three mirror-image outings helped Western overcome Albemarle’s own incredible depth.

“We just have such great senior leadership who’ve been through the state championship and knew what to do when the meet was tight,” said Western co-head coach Dan Bledsoe. “Both teams got fired up and it was fun.”

But Albemarle found a way to make it interesting, with Holly and Hannah Harper leading the way and Corie Morton bolstering the effort. Holly Harper won the 50-freestyle and the 100-backstroke individual titles while younger sister Hannah Harper finished second in the 200-IM to Acker and second in the 100-fly to Rule. Morton, a sophomore, put together a solid day finishing as the runner-up in the 200-freestyle and third in the 100-free while swimming on a pair of relays. Albemarle’s freshman class handled its business in the swimmers’ first big high school meet. Madison Noga, Katie Pajewski, Madison Haise and Abby Wuensch all scored points for the Patriots with top five finishes in various events.

“Last year, at this meet, we lost by over 100 points, it wasn’t even close,” said Holly Harper. “We were hoping we’d win, but they (Western) just have such great swimmers. We can definitely improve — our freshmen are just going to improve and get more awesome as they go through.”

Charlottesville’s Emily Keeley also had a strong night, finishing third in the 50-free behind Western’s Katie Lesemann and Holly Harper and sixth in the 100-free. Charlotte Keeley took fourth in the 100-back for the Black Knights.

Elsa Strickland for Western took second in the 100-free and third in the 200-free to pick up critical points.

Lockman sparks Albemarle boys to easy win

By Betsy Haugh / contributor

With just two years as the Ben Hair Memorial Swim and Dive Meet in the books, the meet formerly known as the City/County Challenge only has a single champion in its new format. The Albemarle boys rolled to a second-straight championship Wednesday night, and fifth-straight dating back to the City/County days.

Junior Matt Lockman powered Albemarle to the top of the leaderboard, holding off Orange County talents Alex Montes De Oca and Justin Barden, who led their team to a second-place finish.

“I just tried to move my arms and legs as fast as I can,” Lockman said. “I’ve been training hard, so it’s good to see that it’s paying off, especially in a meet where I’m not in a suit or shaved or tapered or anything.”

Lockman took first place in the 50-yard freestyle with a time of 21.82, before going on to win the 100-yard freestyle, finishing in 48.19. Lockman’s biggest performance of the night may have come as the anchor in the 200-yard freestyle relay, however, where he held off Montes De Oca to secure the win for Albemarle by .58 seconds.

“Alex is a good swimmer, and it’s just good to race him. I always get my best times when I swim him,” Lockman said.

Montes De Oca won two individual events as well, capturing first in the 200 yard freestyle and the 100 yard butterfly. He was also the anchor of the first relay of the night, the 200 yard medley relay, in which Orange County defeated Albemarle by 2/10 of a second.

Barden, a member of that relay team and another multi-event winner, picked up first place in the 200 yard individual medley and the 100 yard backstroke.

Despite the strong performances and event wins for Orange, Albemarle’s depth proved too much to handle, as Patriot swimmers had a multitude of point-earning performances, propelling the team to its second straight title.


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