The weekend of February 11 proved eventful for the CCHS Swimming Eagles. On Friday, February 10, the CCHS state swim team (comprised of seniors Ben Marshall and Conor Mettenberg, sophomore Marylee Gowdy and freshman Emily Deem) arrived at the Christiansburg Aquatic Center for morning warm-ups at 8:00 a.m. The four were excited, anticipating a day of fun and adventure. Of the four, only Marshall had previously participated in a state meet. Though all four are seasoned swimmers, the others had no grasp of the enormity of the meet. 81 schools were represented at the meet. The largest meet the other three had participated in previously consisted of no more than ten teams.
Going into the meet, head coach Carol Marshall had these words for her swimmers, “You are going to get in the pool today and, win or lose, I am proud of you. My only request is that each of you lowers your personal best time in your events today. That is all I want of you. Don’t leave anything on the deck. Use it all up in the pool and get out with nothing left to give.” Her swimmers took that sentiment to heart and every one of them accomplished that task.
First in the pool was Marshall’s own son, Ben, in the Men’s 50-yard Freestyle event. Only a week earlier he had broken the CCHS record for the event during the Region B meet. Competition at that level is based on hundredths of a second; a hundredth of a second determines whether you swim one day and go home or, stay to swim for day two. As the heats progressed, Marshall prepared for his race. Despite the speed of his seed time, he was still ranked only mid-pack with less than two seconds between him and first place. Marshall left nothing on the deck. He raced to a finish dropping his final time to 22.95 seconds. For two seasons he had swum at a consistent 23-second pace, and had finally broken through the door of 22 seconds. His final rank in the event was a tie for 23rd in the state. Only tenths of a second separated Marshall from the top eight swimmers.
As Marshall’s initial excitement subsided, freshman Emily Deem prepared for her first race in the Women’s 50-yard Freestyle event. The young swimmer, still a bit mesmerized by the pageantry of the event, stood behind the blocks, preparing herself mentally for the challenge. Also seeded mid-pack despite her record breaking (both region and CCHS records) swim the week before, Deem wasn’t sure what to expect, but, she knew she didn’t like to lose. She took the block with an air of concentration. Her coaches had been keeping track of times in the heats prior to hers. Her seed time had her ahead of the swimmers to that point, but to stay competitive, she would have to drop time. Up to that task, Deem’s time was 25.66 seconds.
As the final two heats completed, one of the CCHS coaches noted that another swimmer, in a faster heat, had achieved a time equal to that of Deem. The two coaches knew she was close to the finals but were uncertain whether she would end a finalist or an alternate. As the two coaches made their way off the bulkhead, they were approached by the meet referee. One of the Clarke swimmers had tied for 16th place—the magic number separating the finalists from the alternates. They knew in an instant that Deem was the swimmer in question and that a swim-off would be necessary. There was great excitement at the possibility of staying for Day Two.
As the pageantry continued, Marshall took the pool for the 100-yard Freestyle event. Though he shaved two seconds from his time, the elusive top sixteen spot escaped him. The rest of the day went in similar fashion. Gowdy swam in the 100-yard Butterfly, and then in the 500-yard Freestyle event. Mettenberg took the pool in the Men’s 100-yard Breaststroke event. Deem returned to the water in the Women’s 100-yard Backstroke event. All four lowered their times, as instructed by Coach Marshall. And as the day wore on, and remaining events lessened, all eyes turned to Deem who was still had a swim-off spot for the finals in the 50-yard Freestyle.
Deem’s competitor was a young lady from Double-A division Poquoson High School near Williamsburg, Virginia. An upper classman and surrounded by her teammates—the school is large enough to have sent a state swim team the size of Clarke County’s entire team—the time for the two person race neared. Deem was directed to lane five and the other young lady to lane 6. The entire Poquoson team found a spot at the end of the pool and began to cheer loudly for their swimmer. The members of the CCHS team, though considerably smaller in number, were equally boisterous in their support of Emily. In fact, some other Region B teams and swimmers noticed the need to bolster support for the “home” team and joined in the ruckus. But, as the swimmers took the block, the pool silenced for the start as proper etiquette requires.
At the sound of the start, Deem pushed from the block and as she emerged from beneath the water, she was in the lead, but barely. As the two neared the wall, one of the Clarke coaches shouted, “Use the wall, Em!” A poorly executed turn can be the difference in sprint races and often is the deciding factor. Deem did not disappoint. As she regained the surface of the water, she was still an arm’s length ahead of her competition. The race was over in less than 30 seconds and freshman, Emily Deem was the victor. She had claimed the 16th spot in the finals meet while also, lowering her personal best time (and the CCHS school record) to a new low of 23.58 seconds. The Clarke contingent was exuberant!
In speaking with Ms. Deem about her accomplishments, she was ever humble. She clearly knows that she is a talented athlete but she accepts it with grace. “I get so nervous before I swim my events, but then I get up on the block and I know it is going to be over in less than a minute. Then, it is just me and the water and I don’t really even pay attention to anything else.” She was obviously thrilled to be returning for the next day’s meet, though, and stopped several times to accept congratulations at the meet, and also from home as word quickly spread on Facebook and via the usual teenage mobile network of phones.
On Saturday, only Deem packed up her swimming gear as the team headed to the Christiansburg Aquatic Center. She took to the pool for morning warm-ups and very diligently swam through her paces. The 50-yard Freestyle event comes relatively early in a meet so it wouldn’t be long before she was called to the starting end. The festivities of the day before seemed almost dull in comparison to those of the Finals Meet. The announcer was playing music that was encouraging and crowd-pleasing. Songs such as the Macarena filled the airwaves as patrons, swimmers and coaches alike were all invited to join in the dancing. Swimmers participating in the stylized dances were televised on the jumbo-tron for all to see. Later, a group of officials were projected dancing to YMCA to the delight of all.
As the beginning of the races neared, Deem became increasingly quieter and more introspective. Her teammates were supportive and encouraging and refused to allow her to become worried or anxious. They bolstered her resolve and helped put smiles on her face. They walked with her to the pool and were able to secure spots near her lane at the pool’s edge. They were ready to cheer her on as she swam. She shook out her arms and jumped a bit on the bulkhead. The whistle blew and she stepped to the block. The crowd quieted as the starter signaled for swimmer’s to take their marks. Again, Deem sprang from the start. All the swimmers in the pool were separated in place by less than a body’s length. They stayed in a nearly straight line throughout the race. It was over fast and less than a half a second separated ninth place from 16th.
Clarke County’s own Emily Deem finished as the 15thfastest swimmer in the 50-yard Freestyle event in Double and Single A divisions of the Virginia High School League with a final time of 25.65. She earned the only two points of the meet for CCHS. Deem’s contribution of points places CCHS in the top third of all Double and Single A swim teams in the state.