Girls' Swimmer of the Year: James Wood's Lauren Masters

62391ae3ce00e.imageWINCHESTER — When Lauren Masters was introduced to swimming at age 6 as a requirement from her mother, she hated it so much that she quit.

The James Wood junior is now 11 years into her swimming career, and there might not be anyone in the area who enjoys the sport more. And it’s not because no one in the area — and only a select group in the state — can cut through the water in a sprint freestyle event like she can.

Masters is The Winchester Star Girls’ Swimmer of the Year as a result of a state meet performance for the ages.

Masters placed second in both the 50-yard freestyle (24.38 seconds) and the 100 freestyle (51.67) at the Class 4 meet at SwimRVA in Richmond to become the first girl in Frederick County or Winchester to place as high as second in an individual state event meet since Sherando’s Allie Smith did so in 2005. Masters recorded school and personal records in the championship finals.

Since The Winchester Star initiated its Swimmer of the Year award in 2001, Masters is the only Frederick County/Winchester girl to have two runner-up state finishes in one meet. James Wood coach Jessica Barr believes Masters is the first person in program history to finish as high as second in state competition.

Masters was certainly happy with her state performances — it was her goal to compete in at least one championship final in Richmond — but she was also glad she got to know her fellow competitors in those races. If she doesn’t do that, she hasn’t done her job.

“I didn’t have too crazy expectations [coming into the year],” Masters said. “I set three goals for myself — have fun, swim fast, and then at every meet, I tried to make a new friend. I think I successfully did all those.

“[At the state meet], I talked to a lot of new girls behind the blocks, and we all got excited in the ready room and we all just hugged each other. So that was fun.”

Masters could be seen doing some light side-to-side dance moves while hanging out with a couple of her teammates during some downtime at the Class 4 Northwestern District meet in Warrenton. Barr said Masters’ energy means a lot to James Wood.

“She had a lot of fun this season,” Barr said. “When she was on the deck or in the practices or when we were just listening to music, she was very bubbly and comical with her teammates.

“At the same time, when it was time for her to get up there on the block and dive in and race, then she flipped her switch and turned right into the natural competitor that she is.”

“Competitor” is the word that Barr has used to describe Masters after both of her Class 4 Northwestern District performances during her career.

Masters — who didn’t take too long to return to the pool as a 6-year-old — has competed for Winchester Swim Team throughout most of her career. She’s competed at the state age group championships yearly and has competed in national swimming competitions in Florida since she was in middle school. This March, Masters qualified to swim at both the NCSA and ISCA national meets in Florida, though she’ll only compete in the ISCA meet that started this week.

The sprint freestyles have always been her strongest events.

“I just love to get up and go fast,” Masters said. “It’s just fun for me to just kind of race and see what happens. And it’s always close at the end, so it’s kind of thrilling, too.”

Masters provides plenty of thrills in the other strokes as well.

For example, Masters was the second-fastest area swimmer in the 100 butterfly this year (59.26), behind only Sherando’s Taylor Smith (eighth in Class 4 this year) and ahead of Sherando’s Chelsey Jones (13th in Class 4).

Masters didn’t swim either the 50 free or 100 free at the district meet because it was the best thing for the team as far as maximizing points and creating opportunities for her teammates, and Masters took second in the 100 fly and second in the 200 IM. As a freshman, Masters won the district 200 IM title and placed second in the 200 free.

“I’m fine with swimming pretty much anything Jessica puts me in,” Masters said. “I trust her. She knows what’s best for the team. Whatever I can do to help out James Wood, I’m going to do my best and try to have fun with it.”

As a freshman in 2020, Masters also won the 50 free (24.81) and 100 free (53.70) at regionals. She improved on her 50 time (24.77) to take seventh and earn All-State honors in Class 4 that year, but she had to settle for the “B” final and took 11th with a top time of 54.30 in the 100 free. Frederick County did not compete in the 2021 VHSL postseason.

After helping James Wood place ninth in the 200 medley relay to start the 2022 state meet, the fourth-seeded Masters proceded to take second in the 50 free in 24.09 behind only Jamestown junior Wyllo Hanson, who set a Class 4 record with a time of 22.95.

The 100 free was where Masters had a stronger chance at winning a state title. She came into the meet with the top seed time (52.51), and she then recorded the fastest time in the preliminaries (52.61).

But in the finals, Monacan freshman Raegan Canada turned out to be just a little better. Seeded fifth coming into the meet, Canada dropped 1.67 seconds off her seed time and tied a Class 4 state record in the finals (51.67) to top Masters’ school record of 52.14. Masters said she hadn’t competed against Canada before. Barr said she could tell Canada might be tough to beat based on what she did earlier in the meet in the 200 free, where she took second.

Given that Masters swam faster than she ever had before, she couldn’t complain about placing second.

“It was crazy,” Masters said. “I remember Jessica congratulating me afterward, and the James Wood kids were giving me high fives and stuff. We had alternates who were there, and people who weren’t swimming who watched finals. It was great to have them all there.”

Barr was impressed.

“When we got the psych sheet and she was so seeded so highly, she put a little more pressure on herself, but I think she definitely rose up to the occasion,” Barr said. “Swimming so fast the week before at regionals, I think that motivated her, and she knew she could swim even faster.”

And of course, Masters was pleased to help her team. She ended the Class 4 meet helping James Wood place 11th in the 200 freestyle relay.

Sherando’s girls had one of the best seasons ever produced by a Winchester/Frederick County school this year, but Masters was one of the leaders for an impressive Colonels season. James Wood took third behind the Warriors and Kettle Run in both the district and the region, and James Wood had the second-best finish among Region 4C teams at the state meet behind Sherando, taking 10th.

Masters enjoyed every minute of it.

“I had so much fun,” Masters said. “It was definitely an unforgettable season.”

— Contact Robert Niedzwiecki at
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