When the Yorktown girls swimming team beat defending champion W.T. Woodson High in the Northern Regional finals last March, the Patriots celebrated by eating pizza.
At the restaurant, Coach Dorothy Dunbar sat at the head of the table. She was positioned like a queen, described then-freshman swimmer Christie Smith. The imagery smacked that of an upcoming dynasty.
However, dominance is not built in one season. While Woodson continues its winning ways, the Patriots are still a few steps behind: they have fewer swimmers and thus have to rely on quality. But, with a young team led by two sophomores, Olympic trial qualifier Smith and Senior Nationals entry Devon Hyde, the Patriots have been successful in overcoming the quantity factor.
Smith and Hyde have competed nationally for two years and were keys in Yorktown's upset over Woodson. Smith, a 15-year-old extrovert, went to the Olympic trials last June after placing 11th in the Senior Nationals in March in the 100-meter butterfly. She did so in 1:02.6, but in the trials the time dropped to 1:03.1. She placed 14th while the top two times made the team.
Smith rationalizes jokingly, saying she was young and inexperienced then.
"I missed by 12 places," she sighed as if acting out a dramatic role. "But I was 14 then."
"She was aaaaall upset," said Hyde, poking fun at her teammate while fiddling with a pendant from her neck.
"I did 1:03.1," Smith said solemnly.
And that's sooooo terrible," said Hyde, giggling. "Oh my God!"
Hyde has had her share of national exposure, too. At the Junior Nationals in August 1983, she won the 200-meter individual medley in 2:23.3. And last August she went to her first Senior Nationals in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., placing 16th in the same event.
Hyde and Smith reached the nationals through their year-round participation with United States Swimming clubs, but during the high school season, there are occasional conflicts when they are supposed to be two places at the same time. They have already missed two Yorktown meets this season because of the USS, something Hyde believes might cause resentment among some of her Yorktown teammates. The Patriots are 2-2-1.
"The real problem is that USS and high school don't work around each other," said Dunbar, referring to the time schedules. "(The swimmers) are sort of put in the middle."
But the excitement and relaxed atmosphere of high school swimming keep Hyde and Smith from competing solely for the USS.
"I like swimming on a team and hearing everybody scream for you and swimming for a cause other than yourself," said Hyde, who also swims the 400-yard IM (4:29.18) and the 100- (:59.76) and 200-yard (2:07.18) backstroke.
"You have a certain obligation to your school. And plus, it doesn't take that much time."
Smith said, "Sometimes high school swimming is a problem, but the USS is so individual. At a big meet you can't fool around. In high school, it is a sigh of relief. I never tighten up at a high school meet because of pressure."
Last season's victory over Woodson is a good example of why they enjoy high school swimming. It was a dream come true: Woodson qualified many good swimmers and was the favorite because of its reputation, but the undaunted Patriots proved that quality over quantity is valid.
"We had a lot of motivation," said Hyde. "When all you hear is Woodson, Woodson, Woodson swimming, it gets sort of boring after a while. So we figured we had to do something about it.
"They would blow us out of the water if we had a dual meet against them. They just have so many good swimmers. They can fill so many more lanes . . . but we just had good quality. People placed in the top six in every event."
Smith agrees that since the team did well last year, more is expected from it this season. There might even be a rivalry developing between the Patriots and Cavaliers.
However, she added, "(The rivalry) is not vindictive. It's good for the sport."
"I'm sure of it," said Hyde of a new rivalry. "If they have such a good swim team and go undefeated for so long and then all of a sudden a little dinky team you've never heard of (beats you) . . . I'm sure they had no idea going into the meet how strong we were."
With Hyde and Smith leading the Patriots, the stage is set for perhaps another showdown at the regional finals. Since swimmers with qualifying times represent their school in the district meet, the Patriots' present record has literally no bearing.
"We're still going to be strong," said Smith. "but it depends on how much we want it."
And, she said with optimism, "In the long run, we can start looking toward national records for high schools."
In the meantime, both girls will spend their time exausting USS and high school swimming, knowing they can't get enough.
"I'm totally dedicated," said Hyde. "I don't know what I would do if I didn't swim. I would have so much time. Like, when I'm on break, I get so bored. I'm like 'uhhhhhhh!' It gets so boring!"