Manassas Journal Messenger 02-16-01


early risers: Raiders’ morning rush leads them to state meet


Randy Jones



Amy Rossetti/Staff Photographer

Stonewall Jackson swimmers (from left to right) Michael

Cartwright, Kelly Urso, Richard Packard, Ashley Razo and Kerry Urso routinely

get up at 3:45 a.m. for practice with their club team Occoquan at the Chinn

Center in Dale City.


MANASSAS – Kelly Urso gets jealous of her sister.

It’s not that the Stonewall Jackson junior has problems with freshman


Not at all, she says.

The reason is Kerry gets to sleep on the 45-minute trek to swim practice

at the Chinn Center every morning while Kelly has to drive.

The 4 o’clock in the morning drive.

“I’ll look over and see her and Ashley [Razo] sleeping and I’ll

want to sleep too,” Kelly said with a grimace. “It’s rough in

the morning.”

The Urso sisters, along with Razo, Michael Cartwright and Arlen Connally

make this trek most days of the week. Teammate Richard Packard has his own

license and car, thus he makes the trips to Occoquan practice himself.

This group will all be making a much shorter jaunt today and Saturday

to George Mason University’s Aquatics and Recreation Center in Manassas

for the Virginia High School League’s state championship meet with their

eyes on state titles. The meet is scheduled to begin at 3 p.m. today and

noon on Saturday.

It’s the special bond the group has forged over the years with early-morning

swims, breakfasts and swim meets which has allowed them to be so successful,

each swimmer says.

Most weekdays start with a 3:45 a.m. wakeup. Followed by the drive to

Dale City. After practicing from 4:45 to 6:15 the group rushes to the locker

room to get ready for school.

“If they don’t leave by 6:55 they’re late for school,” said

Mary Urso, mother of Kelly and Kerry. “The school is not forgiving

if they are tardy!”

Cartwright jokingly says most of the problems of being late are a new

thing – coinciding with the arrival of Kerry.

“Last year it was a lot easier,” he said laughing. “We

didn’t have Kerry. With her we always seem to be rushing. She’s definitely

the last one out of the locker room.”

“Kerry’s a little slow,” Kelly added.

Kerry defended herself saying it’s just hard to get going some days.

“I grew up this way. When I was younger, I played a bazillion sports.

If it wasn’t swimming it was something else,” she said. “It’s

hard I’ll admit that, but it’s fun to me.”

Most days meals are on the run, scarfing down food during the drive to


Once at school, the quintet takes full course loads, many in the International

Baccalaureate program.

Being in the same classes has its advantages, Kelly said.

With little time to read or study, many days Ashley will help Kelly during

their morning commutes.

“Don’t get me wrong, I like driving a lot,” Kelly says, “but

sometimes I want to study. We might have a test or an assignment and I’ll

see Ashley doing it. But she helps a lot. Many times she’ll read to me while

I drive.”

At Stonewall, the overwhelming response from fellow students to the grueling

morning grind is “Why?”

“They all think we are crazy,” Kelly said. “But it’s paying

my way through college.

“But seriously. I wouldn’t be doing this if I didn’t love it.”

Razo says the group has become tight. Something very natural considering

the time they spend together.

“A lot of times we have to give up social lives,” she said.

“This is our life. We swim with our friends and we spend the entire

day together.”

Packard matter-of-factly added: “You have to want to do it. No one

forces us to be there. It’s something we all want. … We have no social


After school is over, the group all trek three times a week to the Freedom

Center for yet another practice. This one ending around 6 p.m.

Home is next on the agenda, where dinner and homework await.

It doesn’t get easier there, Packard said.

“All the work during the day takes time away from staying up late,

doing homework, everything,” he said. “But we manage.”

Manage is definitely an understatement in the pool.

Kelly took home a Northwest Regional title in the 200 free style in a

regional record time of 1 minute 57.50 seconds. She also brought home a

second in the 100 backstroke (59.83).

“It’s the first time I’ve dropped time in the 200 free,” Kelly

said of the performance. “It was really nice.”

Sister Kerry qualified had high finishes as well, with a fourth in the

100 free (56.22) and 500 free (5:25.50). Razo took second in the 100 butterfly

(57.80) and third in the 500 free (5:13.03).

But more importantly for the trio is the relay teams. The group, along

with teammates Allison Behrle and Emily Slough will compete in the 400 free

and 200 medley relays.

During the season the Stonewall relay teams consistently beat school

records and eventually toppled the Cardinal District marks in the two events

on their way to two district titles. At regionals they finished second in


“We’ve really stepped it up,” Kerry said. “We shattered

the records this year.”

She added that one thing made it even more special.

“Being sisters it makes it soooo special,” she said.

Kelly said those relay teams show how much the team has improved.

In the past, Kelly and Ashley would dominate early or late, but had to

overcome shortcomings at the other spots.

This season that has not been an issue, she says.

“We weren’t that competitive in the relays before,” Kelly said.

“Ashley and I would be coming from behind last year. But this year

everyone’s trying to catch us.

“It’s nice to beat every one.”

Packard and Cartwright also have their sites set on lofty state goals.

Packard placed second in the 100 fly and fourth in the 100 breast at

regionals, while Cartwright took fourth in the 100 fly and fifth in the

100 back.

Cartwright said the accomplishment of making it this far isn’t lost on

him or his teammates.

“Many people at school I talk to say surprisingly “You made

it to states?’ So I know this is a big accomplishment,” he said. “It’s

as competitive as most of [big club meets] so it’s a big deal.”

Such a big deal, most of the Stonewall swimmers who didn’t qualify will

be there to cheer on the Raiders’ five.

Plus, it’s a chance to make a mark.

“I think we can all place in the top 16,” Kerry said.

“We’re not a huge number of [athletes] so we all want to get personal

bests,” Razo said. “Maybe we can get noticed by other schools.

Let them get ready for us next year.”



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