As the crowd began to file out of the lobby of the University of Virginia’s Aquatic and Fitness Center at the conclusion of Saturday’s Jefferson Swim League Championships, two of the league’s most accomplished coaches, JJ Bean and Dan Bledsoe, embraced.
“That was fun,” said Bean, the head coach of Fairview Swim Club, whose hairdo is one of the highlights of the annual event. This year, he went with a rainbow theme.
“That last session was crazy,” answered Bledsoe, head coach of Boar’s Head Swim Club. “I’ve never seen one where every event goes back and forth and we’re basically canceling each other out.”
Fairview held on to win its sixth-straight JSL title with 2,302.25 points, but it had to rally late to take the lead from Boar’s Head, which finished with 2,298.50 points. With a difference of just 3.75 points, it was the closest championship meets in recent memory.
“We swam better across the board than we were expected to on paper,” Bean said. “We knew we could be competitive, but it had to be everybody because every point counts. Every point the whole weekend, we had to fight for.”
It was the first time in at least five years that the Crozet Gators didn’t finish as one of the top two teams. They finished third with 2,199.50 points, followed by ACAC with 2,109.75
Heading into Saturday’s final session, Boar’s Head owned a 10-point lead over Fairview, and the championship came down to the 11 and 12 year olds.
“It’s fun to know it’s not just solely dominated by Fairview and Boar’s Head, and nobody is going into the season thinking they’re swimming for second place. Every team feels like it has a chance,” Bledsoe said. “We have quality swimmers at every level. It just wasn’t enough today.”
The Gators were paced by their senior boys. August Lamb posted the meet’s fastest butterfly time and tied for the age-group’s high-point award. Noah Hargrave also posted the meet’s fastest individual medley.
Grace McCardle and Lara Sikman led Boar’s Head’s 13- and-14-year-old girls, Miller Grimes (9-10) swept all of her events and LuLu Hitt celebrated her birthday with the high-point award in the 8-and-under division.
“Swimming in this area is getting a lot better,” Bledsoe said. “The depth of talent is there, and it’s fun watching it.”
Fairview was led by Jack Dofflemyer (13-14), who finished with four top-four finishes, including first in the 50-yard freestyle. Bracken Eddy (15-18) compiled 46.5 points for his team, and David Roberts (8 & under) added 52.5, including second-place finishes in the 50-yard freestyle and 100-yard medley relay.
On the girls’ side, Claire Moody (15-18) added a first-place medal in the 200-yard medley relay to four top-five finishes. Amelia Lynch (11-12) amassed 49.5 points, Margaret Killian (8&under) won the 25-yard butterfly and finished second in the 25-yard freestyle and 100-yard medley relay and Diana Ismailova (11-12) finished in the top two in four events, including first-place finishes in the 50-yard breaststroke and 100-yard freestyle.
Bean said his club struggled during the regular season and lost by wide margins to both Crozet and Boar’s Head, but he also said his Fairview club peaked at the right time.
“After each meet, the coaches and I went back to work, the swimmers wanted to get better and bit by bit we put it back together,” Bean said. “It’s only an eight-week season. It started a little rough, but we got a little better each week and put it all together in the end.”
Bledsoe has coached in the JSL for 17 years. Bean has done so since 1978. They also go head-to-head in the high school ranks, where Bledsoe leads the team at Western Albemarle and Bean is the head man at county rival Albemarle.
The high school season usually imitates the JSL with Albemarle and Western ending most winters not just as the best teams in Central Virginia but in the state ranks as well. Through what seems like an endless rivalry, mutual respect has been forged.
“JJ is really competitive, but in the end he wants what is best for the kids,” Bledsoe said. “When I go against him, I know he’s got all the angles figured out.”
“We’ve had a great rivalry for a long time, and it’s been a lot of fun,” Bean added. “I respect him as a coach. He’s a great leader and a visionary, and I’ve learned a lot from what he’s done.”