Manassas Journal Messenger | Hayden rules the pool

MANASSAS — Taking care of business on Friday helped Zach Hayden do the same on Saturday.


The Stonewall Jackson junior marked off one weekend goal by setting a state 100-yard breast stroke record in Friday’s preliminaries. With that off his mind, he went out and earned state titles in the 200 individual medley and the breast stroke on Saturday, highlighting a huge day for Prince William County swimmers at the Group AAA championships at the Freedom Aquatics & Fitness Center.


“I actually planned on breaking the record in preliminaries,” said Hayden on Saturday, without a hint of cockiness. “If I broke it in prelims, then I was done with it. I could just worry about swimming my best [on Saturday] and trying to come in first.”


Hayden did that twice.


He entered the breast stroke, the meet’s second-to-last event, as the top seed, as he did last season, when he finished third. This time he was confident and loose, strolling to the blocks with goggles on, a yellow towel draped over his shoulder and bottled water in his hand, while Jock Jams’ ‘Let’s get ready to rumble’ boomed over the loudspeakers. His mother, with two stopwatches around her neck, and sister cheered from the corner of the pool deck.


Hayden led the event from the start, though Culpeper’s Russell Smyth, last year’s champion, pushed him in the last 25 yards. His time of 58.19 was short of the 57.81 that set the state record on Friday, but it was still good enough for the championship and automatic All-American recognition from the National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association.


“I saw him coming up on the last 25,” Hayden said of Smyth. “I didn’t ease up or anything. I went all out.”


Earlier in the meet, Hayden trailed Culpeper’s Ian DeToll and Lake Braddock’s Andy Brake for much of the 200 IM’s first leg, the butterfly. But he quickly surged to the lead in the backstroke, extended it with the breast stroke, and maintained a body-length lead over the field in the freestyle, bringing home a state championship.


“The fly is my weakest stroke out of the four,” Hayden said. “In the beginning, I just tried to keep up with Ian and Andy, because I knew they were good fliers.”


Hayden’s IM time of 1:53.99 was short of the 1:52.66 state record set in 2000, but it is also a NISCA All-American time.


Upon winning, Hayden took off his cap and turned to look at the scoreboard. He got a handshake from Brake, and gave one to DeToll, but otherwise didn’t celebrate.


There was plenty to celebrate for county swimmers. Including Hayden, Prince William swimmers made ‘A’ finals and finished top-eight in 10 events, while Stafford’s Nick Lloyd added a fourth in the 200 IM and a state championship in the 100 backstroke.


Hylton freshman Kali Gaskill finished third in the 100 freestyle and seventh in the 200 freestyle, while senior teammate Courtney White finished third in the breast stroke. The duo paired with senior Carly Keith and freshman Kasey Bushmire for a seventh-place finish in the 200 medley relay.


Those finishes helped the Bulldogs girls tie for 11th, better than any area team and tops among Northwest Region girls teams. Hayden’s 40 points put Stonewall Jackson 21st overall, tops among area boys teams.


Northern Region schools (from Fairfax County and the surrounding area) dominated the meet. Robinson’s boys took first in seven of 11 swimming events and the diving competition, outscoring second-place Lake Braddock by 111.5 points. Northern Region girls won all but one event, and accounted for 11 of the top 16 teams, led by champion South Lakes.


The individual high finishers from Prince William marked quite a youth movement. White was the only senior among them.


“I think in a couple years, our area will be well-represented,” said Osbourn sophomore Jacob Goodfellow, who went from not swimming in last year’s state meet to finishing sixth in the 200 freestyle and eighth in the 100 freestyle.


Battlefield sophomore Chelsea Geckler took fifth in the 100 butterfly, and Gar-Field freshman Brittany Fox was sixth in the 200 IM.


Like Goodfellow, Fox and Geckler, many of the county’s top swimmers will be back next season. But for Hylton’s girls, Saturday was bittersweet.


“We have on our medley relay two seniors and two freshman,” White said. “As the older girls, Carly and I just wanted to show the freshmen the ropes. Kali’s really awesome. She’s so into it, and Kasey is too.”


The foursome may have been parting ways after their final meet together, but they weren’t going out shedding tears.


“We were just in the gym dancing,” said Gaskill, who called the Bulldogs “one big family.”


If the county considers itself one big family as well, there was certainly plenty to dance about on Saturday.


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