Swimming in a family atmosphere

WOODBRIDGE — Scott Keith has vivid memories of watching his older brother, Chris, swim for Hylton. He can recall the Bulldogs swimming at a military academy, in one of those bubble-covered pools, and watching his normally reserved brother get out of the water and lead a wild cheer.

It’s a memory he conjures up often as a senior leader of this year’s small but close-knit Hylton team.

Nicole and Matt Martinez moved to town from the San Diego area this year. Having a sibling to lean on helped each get acclimated to a new high school.

Troy and Kyle Sattgast admit that they’re like typical brothers, sometimes bickering, sometimes supporting each other.

How Hylton does at Saturday’s Cardinal District Championships depends quite a bit on the Bulldogs’ three sibling tandems.

“Hylton has been a family-run team from the beginning,” said sixth-year head coach Kim Sterling. “My brothers swam at Hylton and that’s how I ended up coaching them. The swimming community is a small community, and Hylton has been blessed to have some great families be a part of our program.”

Troy Sattgast is probably the most celebrated swimmer at Hylton now, having participated in the state championships last year as a freshman. But the seeds for Troy’s success were laid long before he was a Bulldog. Ann Sattgast, now at William & Mary, was the first Sattgast to have success in the pool.

“She worked really hard and she got what she wanted,” said Kyle Sattgast, a senior who plans to attend Elon. “We saw her excel, and I think it had a lot of influence on us, especially my brother.”

Nicole Martinez, a former water polo player and junior at Hylton, got her start in the pool by being a little bit jealous of her younger brother Matt, a Bulldog freshman.

“I just started because I hated going to all of his swim meets,” she said. Matt began swimming at age five, and Nicole started swimming at 10.

“I think it’s nice for them to have one another,” said Sterling of the sibling tandems. “They help cheer for each other and they watch each other’s back in certain instances… It’s a comfortable, friendly feeling to have someone on the team to cheer for you or cry for you.”

“It really nice having [my brother] swim with me, because he usually goes right before me,” Nicole Martinez said. “Whenever we swim in the same lane, when he’s finished, he gets out and gives me a hug and wishes me luck.”

Of course, having a sibling around is sometimes just convenient.

“He’s my older brother,” says Troy Sattgast of Kyle. “I have to listen to him. He’s the one who drives.”

Sometimes, it might even be inconvenient.

“I’m the loud, obnoxious one at meets,” says Scott Keith, a senior captain whose sister Carly is a Hylton freshman. “She may be trying to hide.”

Hylton senior Carey Scoval also has a sibling swimmer. His brother Tom is a freshman at Forest Park.

Sterling says that similar traits — athletic and otherwise — usually run in the family.

She describes the Martinez siblings, whose common events are middle distance races, as ambitious and driven.

“Every practice, they’ll be the first two to jump in the water,” she said.

Scott and Carly Keith are great team cheerleaders and excel in sprints.

“A lot of times in practice it’ll help me to look over and see my sister cheering for me,” Scott said.

The Sattgasts are “blessed” with swimming talent, said Sterling.

“You see that across other sports,” says Sterling. “If there’s a fast runner or a great football player or a great pitcher, you usually have another in the family.”

The Bulldogs are just 37 swimmers deep, including only 12 boys. But the team, with the help of the sibling tandems, should still finish high at the district championships.

Gar-Field coach Rob Knoeppel says the race for the boys title should be tight. Sattgast, junior Stephen Holt and Russell Wood, a co-captain, combined for five regional qualifying times last week, and the Bulldogs’ relays are competitive.

Woodbridge is an overwhelming favorite to win the girls title, but Hylton’s girls will likely battle Gar-Field for second.

However the Bulldogs finish on Saturday, they’ll do it as a family. With the number of sibling tandems on the Hylton swim team, the family concept wasn’t a hard one for Sterling to teach.

“Having a small team makes it more of a family atmosphere,” said Kyle Sattgast. “I think [so many of us being related] does help.”

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