Heading into the final race of the 2013 state meet, the western Albemarle girls held only a slight lead, and needed a strong finish in the 400 free relay to clinch their three-peat.
Senior Elsa Strickland swam the second leg, but her work to help secure the win started before any of the Warriors jumped in the pool.
"I try to get everybody fired up and ready to race. I want everybody to swim their best always," she said.
Western Albemarle swim coach DIana Bowen says Strickland has become a reliable leader, who always knows what to say before a race.
"She knows going into that final relay we need safe starts, we need to go out and swim our fastest, and she always is a great leader in that regard."
The Warriors finished second in the relay, enough to clinch their third title in a row.
"We knew it was going to be hard, but we tried as hard as we could, we worked hard in practice and wanted to get it done," said Strickland. "It's just a relief to have won."
Strickland isn't just a leader and motivator on her swim team, she's a self-motivated student, as well. This year, she is taking four college level classes, including AP Calculus, where Bowen is her teacher.
"I'm fortunate enough to have Elsa in my class this year, so I do get to see that athleticism and academic side of her all at once," said Bowen. "I know for Elsa, that she goes beyond expectations in all her classes."
"I always like to challenge myself, in the pool and at school," says Strickland, who maintains a 4.1 GPA. "I know life next year will be hard in college so I'm trying to prepare myself. I always want to swim fast, but I also want to get good grades. So I just keep that in the back of my mind, and I just keep doing my work."
Strickland has consistently been a top student at Western, making the honor roll every semester of high school. Bowen says she's also shown that same consistency and dedication to her team.
"If we've said, 'we need somebody to step up and lead-off and give us a big lead-off leg,' Elsa's said, 'I'll do it.' If we've said we needed a closer, Elsa's said 'I'll do it.' Knowing that we have somebody on the team that's willing to do whatever the team needs is something really special and irreplaceable."