Amid an aquatic center swarming with veteran competitors from larger AA schools, the George Mason High School varsity swim team did not miss a beat in making a name for themselves, as numerous Mustangs cemented themselves among the best and the fastest in the entire state.
In a field of 39 schools at last weekend’s state tournament, the boys team finished 25th, putting the cap on the outstanding careers of seniors Andrew Breen, Colin Lauer, Kyle Nette and Jeff Williams. These four have been with the Mason swim team since its inaugural year, when it was just a club sport. Since it was given varsity status last year, these seniors have turned the Mustangs into the top single A team in the state.
Scattered throughout the three relay teams that have dominated over the course of the regular season, the aforementioned graduating swimmers teamed up with junior Carlos Clark, sophomore Sam Parker and a pair of freshman in Will Doty and Sam Butler to form the majority of the point-scorers for the Mustangs.
The 200-yard medley relay, the 200-yard freestyle relay, and the 400-yard freestyle relay teams were the only three finalists for the boys, all of which vastly exceeded their seed placement.
On Friday morning, 16 swimmers braved the early morning cold, journeying over to George Mason University’s Freedom Aquatic Center in Manassas for the preliminary rounds of the state tournament, with the top swimmers in each event moving on to the finals. The boys 200-yard medley relay of Williams, Parker, Nette and Butler, seeded 19th before the meet, finished 12th in the final rounds on Saturday.
Breen, Butler, Lauer and Nette showed the grit that has come to embody Mason throughout the season in the 200-yard freestyle relay, as they were seeded 23rd before the meet. However, over the course of two days, the group ended up 10th.
“It was bittersweet,” Breen said about his last race in a Mason swim cap. “You get so pumped up for everything and just go out there trying to finish as fast as you can, but then again you wish it would take longer so you can experience the rush of competition some more.”
Rounding out the day, the 400 freestyle relay team of Doty, Clark, Nette and Williams moved up six places from their 20th preliminary seeding, as the Mustangs settled into 25th place for the meet, besting the other two single A schools at the meet — Virginia High and Clarke County High — to win the unofficial single A state championship.
“I’ve been swimming with the same guys since I was six or seven,” said Breen. “We've practically always been on each other’s relays. I’ve built some great friendships through swimming and I’m really going to miss that.”
“I’ll miss swimming with this group of people,” echoed Williams, a captain on the team along with Breen. “But it’s time to go. I’m just glad we had this opportunity and that other swimmers will have this opportunity for us.”
Other swimmers who reached the preliminary round for the boys included Clark in the 200-yard freestyle (37th), Parker in the 200-yard individual medley (37th), Breen and Butler in the 50-yard freestyle (T-31st and 34th), Nette and Doty in the 100-yard butterfly (22nd and 26th), Williams in the 100-yard freestyle (23rd), Clark in the 500-yard freestyle (34th), Doty in the 100-yard backstroke (27th) and Parker in the 100-yard breaststroke (28th).
On the girls side, a pair of sophomores in Kelley Frank and Karen Hamill carried their squad to a 20th place finish, the only single A school in the finals. Thus, unofficially, both sides proved the Mustangs to be the top small-school program in Virginia.
Frank and Hamill, best friends and teammates in soccer and cross country, brought the Mustangs into elite status in the state meet, headed by Frank’s third-place finish in the 50 freestyle.
Frank, who improved on last year’s tie for fourth place in the same event, medaled for the second year in a row, while Hamill and senior Krisie Southern finished 13th and 45th in the 50 freestyle, respectively.
Other finalists for the Lady Mustangs included Frank in the 100-yard freestyle (16th) as well as the 200-yard freestyle relay team of Hamill, Frank, Southern and senior Jourdan Frankovich.
Despite the fact that they had struggled to win the event in dual meets throughout the year, the ladies entered the state meet ecstatic with their 29th place seeding, and dropped an incredible four seconds from their overall best time en route to a 12th place finish. The same four ladies finished 29th in the 200-yard individual medley relay.
In addition, Hamill finished 43rd in the 100-yard backstroke, while freshmen Mollie Breen, Katie Breen, Rachel Hassan and senior Sushmita Gorhandas teamed up to form the 31st-place 400-yard freestyle relay squad.
While the Mustangs boys will graduate the backbone of their squad, coach Jon-Michael Lemon will turn to such standouts as Butler, Doty, Parker and Clark to lead Mason next year. The girls, moreover, look to continue their success, with Hamill and Frank returning, as well as a few rising eighth graders who will contribute to the squad.
For now, though, the overwhelming and still lingering sensation of their impressive finish at states was best summed up by Frank, who called the entire experience simply “wild.”