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Runner-up no longer

By Taylor Knight

The Langley girls and a partially submerged Coach Jackson celebrate the Saxons' Northern Region title (Photo by Mark Overend)

The Langley girls and a partially submerged Coach Jackson celebrate the Saxons' Northern Region title (Photo by Mark Overend)

Achieving success has never been a problem for the Langley girls’ team, and the same can certainly be said for this year’s team.

But for the Langley seniors, their greatest goals have always been just slightly out of reach.

Prior to this season, the girls’ most recently won a district title in 2007; this year’s seniors were in eighth grade.

Then last year, the girls thrice earned the unenviable honor of runner-up, taking second place at the district, regional, and state meets.

The story for Langley head coach Ryan Jackson is a similar one. In 2001, the Langley girls won their fourth consecutive state title. Jackson arrived three seasons later and the girls haven’t captured a state crown since.

But this looks to be the year the Saxons finally realize their goals.

They began by taking back the Liberty District title, which belonged to Madison for each of the past three seasons. Sophomore Abi Speers paced the Langley girls in individual scoring, contributing 40 points with wins in both the 50 (24.22) and 100 (52.73) yard freestyles. Jayme Katis pitched in 37 points of her own, finishing first in the 200 freestyle (1:56.23) and second to Speers in the 100 free (54.23). Most demonstrative of Langley’s pedigree and depth, however, was its winning all three relays by significant margins.

After three years, the Langley girls finally took back the Liberty District title from Madison (Photo by Mark Overend)

After three years, the Langley girls finally took back the Liberty District title from Madison (Photo by Mark Overend)

Next, the girls dominated the Northern Region championships, burying the ghosts of Robinson, Yorktown, and Fairfax that have long haunted their title aspirations. Speers and Katis once again carried much of the weight for Langley. Speers captured an individual title in the 100 freestyle (51.99) and, despite earning All-American consideration, took second place in the 50 freestyle (23.83). For Katis, the result was a repeat performance of Districts, winning the 200 freestyle (1:52.05) and grabbing second in the 100 freestyle (52.38). Megan Howard and Meghan Overend, although not among the meet’s top-ten scorers, were invaluable components in the title run, scoring important points and contributing on relays.

Regardless of Langley’s success to date, the final piece of the equation still hangs in the balance. This weekend, the Saxon girls are favored to win the 2011 VHSL AAA State Swim and Dive Championships and finally fulfill their title hopes.

Jackson knows that few teams in the state can match the depth and talent of his girls and was ready to predict a meet dominated by Northern Region programs. But after a look at results from the Northwest Region, Jackson was forced to reevaluate his stance.

“My girls certainly have some strong competition coming from Osbourn Park,” said the seventh-year head coach.

Still, Jackson likes his team’s chances, especially with Katis, Howard, Overend, and Speers leading the way.

Katis, a senior bound for Virginia Tech, will play a vital role as a member of the 200 freestyle and 400 freestyle relays. Likely swimming the second leg of both relays, she will need to bring her best swims of the season, especially Langley is to catch Oakton in the 400 free relay.

“I know at Regionals [Oakton] pulled ahead of us with their first and last legs; Kaitlin Pawlowicz is such a strong anchor on that relay,” said Katis. “I’m hoping that the change in distance will give us a little bit of an advantage, but I know it is just going to be pretty close like it was two weeks ago.”

Certainly no outcome is predetermined heading into this weekend, but barring a false start the 200 freestyle relay is all but decided.

“We have three seniors on that team, so it’s almost like our baby,” Katis said. “We want to try to keep it as long as we can and go after the national record again, which we hold.”

Jayme Katis after winning the Northern Region 200 freestyle crown in a time of 1:52.05 (Photo by Mark Overend)

Jayme Katis after winning the Northern Region 200 freestyle crown in a time of 1:52.05 (Photo by Mark Overend)

Although just in her second year at Langley, Speers, the girls’ top sprinter, may represent the Saxons’ best chance for an individual crown. She will likely be the top seed in the 100 freestyle after winning the event at Regionals; however, the only path to a 50 free title will be straight through Oakton freshman Janet Hu.

“I try not to think too much about the competition, especially in the short sprints, because I tend to be a headcase and psyche myself out,” said Speers. “I just try to focus on the positives, prepare myself and go out and do what I know how to do.”

Rounding out the Langley quartet are seniors Howard and Overend. Each posted a state cut in the 100 butterfly at Regionals and will look to make the final heat at States.

“I’m hoping that I do really well in the 100 fly,” said Overend. “I placed top-eight in the region, so I’m hoping I can place top-eight in the prelims for States so that I can get as many points as possible.”

For Howard, the season has already been a more than rewarding end to her Langley career.

“For the past couple of years, the girls team would always come in second and we would just watch the boys team win,” commented Howard. “We would just be on the sidelines and we couldn’t jump in the pool with Jackson and the guys.”

“It was fun to finally throw [Coach] Jackson in the pool.”

Coach Jackson, a piece of advice: you might want to pack an extra towel this weekend – just in case.


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