The obstacles piled up in front of Tabb High's quest for a Group AA/A Boys Swim and Dive state title with the very first final this past weekend in Christiansburg.
Instead of opening with the state record and 40 points they thought they had for finishing first in the 200-yard medley relay, the Tigers learned they'd been disqualified. Officials ruled that Tabb senior Charley Bowles remained under water longer than the 15 meters allowed to start the backstroke leg.
Then the Tigers had to sit back and watch their biggest challenger, Hidden Valley of Roanoke, chalk up 30 points in the 1-meter dive. Nothing they could do about that: York County does not have diving.
"One of my swimmers told me it was like we were starting in a 70-point hole," Tabb coach Mike Sinclair said. "We knew everybody had to step it up as the meet went along."
They did, and in dramatic fashion. Led by Bowles — who put the early adversity behind him to emerge as the hero — the Tigers rallied with stellar performances in the final two events to edge Hidden Valley 223-220 for the state title.
Bowles led a 1-2-3 Tabb finish in the 100 breaststroke in 59.63 seconds — edging Tigers underclassmen James Kegelman and Trevor Jones to the wall — for his first individual state title. The 63 points (Aidan McCormick added to the tally with an eighth-place finish) put the Tigers back in the hunt.
"I was really excited because winning an individual state title is definitely something I wanted to accomplish in high school," Bowles said. "It was even more exciting that we basically dominated the event and pulled in all of those points."
Bowles started the Tabb comeback by finishing second to Cave Spring's Jacob Siar in the 200 individual medley. He swam a season-best 1:53.58, evidence that he had left the disqualification in his wake.
"I definitely wasn't happy, but I knew I had to do well in my next events," Bowles said of the DQ. "In all of these years of swimming, I have learned to look at the big picture and not dwell on one thing."
Jeffrey Prichard gave the Tigers 18 big points with a second in the 50 freestyle. Tom Malone also got the Tigers a second, finishing just behind five-time state champion Ben Colley of Lafayette in the 100 butterfly.
So, by the time the final, the 400 freestyle relay, rolled around, the Tigers knew their objective. They had to finish in the top two of the event, at least five places ahead of Hidden Valley.
"We were all fired up, because we knew we still had the possibility of winning the state championship," Bowles said.
They finished exactly second, and for perhaps the only time in the history of the York County rivalry, it didn't even matter that the Tigers were second to Grafton: the relay winner by 1.5 seconds. John Matthews joined Bowles, Malone and Prichard on the relay, which clinched the state title for Tabb as Hidden Valley finished eighth.
"They all did awesome, and kept right up with Grafton," Sinclair said. "Winning the state championship was kind of surreal."
Said Bowles, "We wanted to get this championship banner for the school the whole season. We very happy about that, and there's no way to be unhappy about that relay, now."
Tabb's boys state title is its first since 2005 and fourth overall. Bay Rivers schools have 10 state crowns since the Virginia High School League began holding state swim meets on the AA level during the 1999-2000 school year: with Jamestown earning four and Lafayette two.
Other top BRD results
The Bay Rivers put four teams in the top five of the boys standings, with Lafayette third, Grafton fourth and Jamestown fifth.
The winning Grafton boys 400 freestyle relay team included Ryan Carter, Chris Prewitt, Andrew Ferguson and Bryce Hartman. Those four were the Clippers' winning 200 freestyle relay team as well.
Colley barely missed out on a sixth state title, finishing second to Siar in the 100 backstroke. Jamestown's Christian Shaner was second in the 500 free.
Tabb's fourth-place finish was tops among Bay Rivers District girls teams. MaryElizabeth Warhol of York gave the district its only girls individual state crown by winning the 100 backstroke in 55.93.
Bruton's Lauren Frizzell was the 500 free runnerup. Tabb's 200 free relay team of Kate Maw, Grace Beradini, Victoria Barley and Daniell Kimball was second.