By the time seniors Ashley Gunzelman and Courtney Dantone arrive at Eleanor Roosevelt High School most mornings, they have already been up for several hours.
Before the sun rises on Mondays, Wednesdays and Fridays, Gunzelman and Dantone get out of bed and head to a 75-minute swimming practice with the Annapolis Swim Club. Immediately after school each day, the girls head back to the club for their daily afternoon workout, a two-hour session in the water followed by an hour of "dry land" training.
It's a grueling schedule, but one that Gunzelman and Dantone have followed dutifully for years.
"It's extremely difficult, especially senior year when you're trying to apply to college," Dantone said. "But it's always been my schedule. I don't really know anything else. I always have swimming there."
The hard work has paid off, as both seniors likely will receive athletic scholarships for college next year. It also has provided Eleanor Roosevelt swimming and diving coach William Dunlap with an invaluable template for the younger members of his team.
"People are surprised when they go so fast, but when you see the amount of time they spend and the kind of work ethic they have, you understand," Dunlap said. "They lead by example."
Dantone started swimming at age 4 at Bel Air Bath and Tennis and began training seriously about four years later. Ken DeGruchy, the head coach at Annapolis Swim Club, calls Dantone a "jack of all trades," because she is proficient in all strokes, evidenced by her success in the individual medley.
Last year at the Prince George's County championships, Dantone won the 200 individual medley in 2 minutes 13.58 seconds. At the Speedo Total Team Wear Invitational in Fort Lauderdale, Fla., Dec. 11-16, Dantone captured the 200 butterfly title while competing with ASC.
"She's very versatile," DeGruchy said. "She can do just about any stroke and any distance."
Dantone is at her best over long distances, however, a specialty she started to craft in part due to her body. At 5 feet 3, she does not have the frame of a sprinter.
"I just kind of fell into [distance races]," Dantone said. "It's just kind of my forte. I was never that great at the shorter events."
Last winter, Dantone won the 500 freestyle county championship, and she holds the Annapolis Swim Club's 1,000-yard freestyle record (10:32.70).
"She's very strong, and she just has a willingness to compete," Dunlap said. "She always wants to win."
Gunzelman began swimming year-round at about age 8. She joined Annapolis Swim Club last year after training with several area clubs.
"It would have been really nice to keep her for a few more years," DeGruchy said. "She has a great feel for the water."
Unlike Dantone, Gunzelman is a sprinter. Last year at the county championships she won the 50 freestyle in a time of 25.86.
"She's very quick," Dunlap said. "She beats everybody off the block."
With Dantone and Gunzelman, Roosevelt is the favorite to win its fourth straight girls' county title. Second-team All-Met performer Kathryn Gold graduated, but the Raiders have a strong group of underclassmen.
"I'm pretty excited about the year," Dantone said. "We've always won events at counties, but we haven't always had seconds, thirds and fourths. This year we have a lot of depth. We've got a great freshman class."
One that will benefit, no doubt, from the examples of Dantone and Gunzelman.