Dominion sophomore Lauren Ritter has natural speed, technically sound swimming strokes and a work ethic that ensures she stays in peak physical condition.
But on Saturday, when she defends her 500-yard freestyle title at the Virginia AA meet in Charlottesville, less tangible qualities may make the difference between another title and a runner-up finish.
Ritter won Dominion's first state swimming title last year.
It's confidence. And planning. And a feel for the race. It's all of those things put together, and it was evident last season when Ritter won the first of her two consecutive Dulles District 500 freestyle titles. Ritter spent nearly the entire race in second place, but in the final lap she came back to win by less than a second.
"It's having confidence in knowing I swim faster than they do," Ritter said. "And if they go out faster, I'll have a lot in the end."
Ritter followed up last season's Dulles District title by becoming the school's first state swimming champion when she won the 500 freestyle at the Virginia AA meet. And this season, despite being the favorite, she has dominated the event.
"It's how she handles the pressure, because she's expected to win," said Dominion Coach Shannon Abel. "And that's really hard, being expected to win. Her mental toughness is not getting into that hype. It's doing what she needs to do how she needs to do it. If she falls behind, she doesn't panic."
Ritter will need to be at her best this weekend. In the 500, Broad Run's Danielle Mortensen, who has placed runner-up at the state meet the past three years, again will present a challenge. Ritter also will swim the 200 freestyle, which should be one of the meet's most competitive events with Loudoun Valley senior Emily Kelly, last year's All-Extra Girls' Performer of the Year, and Stone Bridge senior Megan Newell also slated to swim it. Ritter edged Kelly by about a half a second in the event at districts, but Kelly, who will swim for Duke next year, beat Ritter at states in the 200 freestyle last year.
Kelly and Newell also will swim the 100 butterfly. Kelly finished second in the event at states last season, and Newell won the 100 butterfly at districts this season.
Newell's teammate, freshman Suzanne Schwee, is a favorite in the 200 individual medley and 100 backstroke. Schwee and Newell also will key the Bulldogs' 200 medley relay, which broke the state record in the event earlier this year.
On the boys' side, the 200 and 500 freestyles should be among the best races. The Potomac Falls trio of Andy Mears, Matt McLean and John Mastapeter all will compete in both events. Mears won the 200 at districts in a district- and meet-record time of 1 minute 46.13 seconds, while McLean won the 500 in a district- and meet-record time of 4:42.1.
At districts, Mears swam the 50 free (instead of the 500), and McLean swam the 100 free (instead of the 200) to help Potomac Falls win the team title. But both, along with Mastapeter, decided to swim the same events at states.
"It was an interesting decision between them," said Potomac Falls Coach Holly Ward. "I leave states up to them. . . . But I wasn't expecting them all to choose the same events."
Potomac Falls and Stone Bridge should have the top-placing boys' and girls' teams, respectively, from the area at the state meet. But both teams will have trouble bringing home a title in large part because of the lack of diving programs at Dulles District schools.