As Janet Hu strode toward the starting blocks for the final individual swim of her high school career, at Saturday night’s 6A state championship meet in Richmond, the PA system blasted The Who’s classic “Who Are You?” It was a clever play on Hu’s surname, with a touch of irony, since she has had one of the most remarkable prep careers of any Virginia swimmer – ever.
She entered the meet undefeated in individual high school competition. And her streak remained intact Saturday night, with wins in the 50 free (22.40) and the 100 fly (52.46). She also led off Oakton’s 200 medley relay with 24.3 backstroke leg and then closed out the meet by anchoring the 400 free relay – giving a big assist to Oakton as they won both races.
While Hu narrowly missed out on the national high school records in her individual events (Olivia Smoglia’s 21.99 and Jasmine Tosky’s 51.92, respectively), she could nonetheless revel in Oakton winning the team title – for the third year in a row. (Hu already holds the 17-18 national age group record for the 50 yard free: 21.82.) Oakton also got a boost from junior Laura Branton, who anchored the 200 free relay, delivering a come-from-behind victory with a 23.23 split, while also placing second in the 100 free (51.46).
Repeating as champion on the boys’ side was Robinson of Fairfax. They were carried by two swimmers in particular – James Jones and James Murphy. Both sophomores, Jones won the 50 (20.75) and 100 (46.13), while Murphy won the 200 (1:39.21) and the 500 (4:31.09). And no surprise, Robinson easily won the 200 free relay (1:26.45) and the 400 free relay (3:06.48).
Jones and Murphy were just two of the cadre of underclassmen who dominated the meet. Isabella Rongione, a freshman at Langley and the 11-12 national age group record holder in the 800 and 1500 meter free, won the 200 free (1:49.17) and the 500 free (4:44.69), narrowly defeating an Oakton sophomore, Megan Byrnes, in both races. Other freshmen winners included Chantilly’s Lea Gwennap in the 200 IM (2:02.47) and Herndon’s Emily Melius in the 100 back (55.40). A sophomore, Hannah Baker of Robinson, won the girls 100 free (50.81), while a junior, John Shebat of Oakton, notched victories in both the 200 IM (1:50.27) and the 100 back (48.92).
The meet pool has a storied history – it was used for the U.S. Olympics Trials in 2008 and then disassembled and eventually shipped in pieces to Richmond. Alas, the history did not translate to the kind of record-setting times that have been the norm at Virginia state meets in recent years. While Andrew Seliskar, swimming in prelims of the 5A meet, set a national high school record in the 100 breast, many of the winners who spoke to SwimSwam said they weren’t enamored with their performances. That may be a function of many of them maintaining their rigorous practice regimen with their club teams and not tapering for the meet. Against that backdrop, one “B” final swimmer stood out: Maggie Howell, of Stafford, who was seeded seventh in the 100 back with a 59.41 prelims time. But she pulled off an outside smoke from lane 1, winning her heat with a 58.25.
But the freshman and sophomore sensations, complemented by junior phenom Seliskar, ensure that Virginia will continue to be a high school swimming hotbed for the foreseeable future. As for Hu, the departing senior, she will take her considerable talents to Stanford in the fall. In an interview with SwimSwam during Saturday night’s meet, she revealed that one of her non-pool activities in the coming months will be skydiving. She can add to her repertoire another classic Who title: “I Can See for Miles.”
Full meet results available on Meet Mobile.