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Pioneer swim team goes deep

Sometimes, Lisa Bussian plays around with her swim team's lineup the way some people fiddle with their fantasy football lineup.

Not because she has to, but -- with 36 male swimmers and 37 female -- because she can.

"We're incredibly deep. I am so fortunate to have the number of quality swimmers that we do," said the head swimming coach of Patriot High School in Nokesville, a school and a program that started in 2011.

"It makes doing lineups really easy, because I can change it around so much."

Despite the Pioneers' relatively recent entry into the Virginia High School League, Bussian's teams have consistently been among the strongest in Conference 8 and beyond.

That trend continued Jan. 23 in Patriot's dual meet versus Osbourn Park at the Freedom Aquatic Center in Manassas.

The Pioneer boys triumphed 187-99 and the girls won with a 181.5-132.5 decision, all to the coach's relief.

"[Osbourn Park] was our challenge meet for this season," said Bussian, whose boys and girls are a combined 12-0 in duals.

"Teams are going through their cyclical up-and-downs, so at the moment they're our most competitive rival."

She called the sweep of the Yellow Jackets "gratifying."

"We worked hard all season to make sure we were in the right place to succeed at that meet."

The compliment is especially resonant considering the rigorous schedule many high school swimmers already endured, with club championships in December preceding the ramped-up high school campaign in January -- a period Bussian called "the dog days."

"The year-round coaches are working the guys and girls pretty hard, so they're very tired when they come to our meets," said Bussian, who herself was a year-round coach before taking the Patriot job.

"Right now times aren't dropping the way we'd like them to, but we hope to see that as we get into our postseason meets."

Bussian and assistant coach Kristin Weber are set to see a plethora of individual Pioneers racing in the postseason.

Will Cumberland, younger brother of senior captain Luke Cumberland, has already punched not one, but four tickets to the state meet Feb. 19-21 at Collegiate School Aquatic Center in Richmond.

The sophomore, deemed by Bussian "one of our top performers for the boys," recorded state-qualifying times in the 100- and 200-yard freestyle, the 100-yard backstroke and the 200-yard individual medley.

He belongs to a family of swimmers, as older brother Ben was a major part of Brentsville District's state titles in 2010 and 2011.

Senior Andrew Proper and sophomore Spencer Rowe are likewise contributing strong seasons for the Pioneers. Proper, said Bussian, is reliable for a first- or second-place finish almost anywhere she puts him.

Rowe qualified for states in the breaststroke and individual medley events, just as he did last year as a freshman.

Freshman Michael Blake earned the right to swim the 500-yard freestyle at the 6A North region meet, set for Feb. 3-7 at Oak Marr Recreation Center in Fairfax.

First-time Pioneer Cole Cooper, a sophomore new to the area, earned his state bid in the butterfly and will race several more events at the regional meet.

"We're really looking forward to having him on the team for the next couple years," Bussian said.

She'll need those re-enforcements, she noted, as "top-quality" seniors like Proper, Cumberland, Jeffrey Pfannenstein, Coulter Morrill and Thomas Hall are due to graduate in June.

Before that though, they have some swimming to do.

"Our boys team is incredibly powerful," Bussian boasted.

The Pioneers girls' team skews younger, as the roster is heavy with sophomores and freshmen. There will be at least one senior leaving this summer though in top-talent Samantha Baird.

"We'll definitely be sad to see her go," said the coach.

Baird, owner of a handful of school records, is punctuating a strong career with a strong senior season. She earned region-qualifying times in three events and expects to qualify in her favorite event: the backstroke.

"We expect her to succeed at regionals and move on to states," said Bussian of Baird.

Mary Claire Tansill, a junior who last year placed fourth in the region for the 100-yard breaststroke, now has a state-qualifying mark in that event this year.

She also has a regional cut in the 200-yard individual medley.

Bussian said she anticipates sophomore Kelly Morgan and freshman Megan Roloff will grow into their potentials.

Morgan made states in the butterfly.

"I see our girls' team building in strength," Bussian assessed.

In recent history, Group 6A North Region teams like Robinson, Oakton, Madison and Westfield have dominated the Group 6A state swim championships.

However, Bussian is not shy about putting her Pioneers out of Conference 8 into the same pool with such stalwarts.

"We had quite a strong, deep team last year, but I think we're even stronger and deeper this year," she stated.

"I think we're going to be one of the teams everyone else is looking at."
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