There was a noticeable buzz around the halls of Westfield on Monday morning.
“When I walked into school I got a lot of high fives and pats on the back,” said sophomore Brandon Fiala.
Nicknamed “The Fish” by friends, the congratulations were well-deserved — Fiala and his teammates of the Westfield boys’ swim and dive team were coming off one of the most significant victories in program history. On Saturday evening, the Bulldogs put on a clinic at the Northern Region Swim and Dive Championships, separating themselves from second-place W.T. Woodson by nearly 100 points and accounting for three of the meet’s top-ten scorers.
But the Northern Region title is only the latest in a series of program firsts this season for the Bulldogs.
Just a week ago, the Westfield boys were celebrating their first district title in school history, a sizeable accomplishment considering the level of talent housed in the Concorde District. For much of that meet, the lead was passed back and forth between Westfield and Oakton. The Bulldogs delivered the final blow, however, in the 400 freestyle relay while the Oakton boys could do no better than fourth. Westfield walked away – title in hand – with a two-point victory, the smallest such margin since South Lakes and Thomas Jefferson each scored 405 points at the 1998 Concorde District Championships.
But as much as the buzz surrounding Westfield concerns the Bulldogs’ accomplishments to date, equal discussion is being devoted to the team’s immediate future, namely states.
Set for Feb. 18-19 at the Princess Anne and Bayside Recreation Centers, the 2011 VHSL AAA State Swim and Dive Championships will define Westfield’s season. For some teams, to finish in the top 10 may be a momentous occasion. But the Bulldog boys are aiming higher.
In fact, plans for a Westfield state title in 2011 have been in the works for almost four years.
And, at least so far, things have been unfolding as planned.
These three seniors will headline the seven Westfield swimmers competing at the state championships. Although outstanding swims will be required of all seven Bulldogs to stave off challenges from the likes of Robinson, Oakton, Woodson, and Lake Braddock, much of load will be borne by Ratcliff and the Fiala brothers, each of whom has individual title aspirations.
Ratcliff has yet to lose an individual race this postseason, taking first place in the 500 freestyle and the 100 butterfly at both Districts and Regionals. Despite earning All-American consideration in each event, two state crowns are by no means guaranteed.
“The 100 fly is going to very tough against Josh Friedel from [Mountain View],” acknowledged Ratcliff. “In the 400 meter free, Greg Stoffa from Osbourn Park is going to be tough and so is Cyrus Hashemi from Marshall.”
For Brandon Fiala, the skills necessary to win an individual title this season may not be all there, but they certainly aren’t far off and he will be expected to score crucial points for Westfield. The district winner and regional runner-up in the 200 IM, Fiala should weigh heavily on the event’s outcome at States.
The younger Fiala should also be a factor in the 100 breaststroke finals, an event in which he finished fourth at the Northern Region championships.
But the individual with the greatest potential to tip the scales in Westfield’s favor at the state meet is its top sprinter and elder Fiala brother, CJ. After winning both the 50 and 100 freestyles at the Concorde District championships, CJ repeated for the 100 title at Regionals but was out-touched in the 50 for a third-place finish.
“In the 50 free, anybody can step up and have their day. You’ve got to be rolling; you’ve got to be ready for that race,” said CJ.
If CJ can take the 50 freestyle at States, Westfield’s title chances are greatly improved.
So while the Bulldogs have enjoyed the congratulations and acknowledgement from their friends and teammates thus far, they are hoping for at least one more celebration before the end of the season. And the way things have been going the past two weeks, they might just get it.