If you’re looking for the first big surprise of the winter season, look no further than the Upper Darby boys swim team.
The Royals pulled a massive upset, delivering Conestoga its first loss in the Central League in three years with a 96-89 defeat. As far as the last time the Royals beat the Pioneers, well, no one really knows the answer to that, though coach Casey O’Hara reckons its before he started swimming at Upper Darby over a decade ago.
To be clear, Conestoga was weakened to a degree with 2012 District qualifiers Alex Schon, Michael Ashmead and Varun Kolluru all representing Upper Main Line YMCA at a meet this weekend. But for a team like Conestoga that has beaten so many teams by reputation alone for years, coming out and having the nerve to topple the giants is still a major accomplishment.
“We knew they were missing a few guys,” O’Hara said. “We knew it was possible, but I wasn’t ready to believe it. We knew (Conestoga) was very talented, but they are also very deep and that even with their top two or three guys out, we couldn’t count them out.”
A win like the Royals’ is hardly the product of just a couple of swims, so the winners only tell half the story. Senior captain John Mulholland, for example, won the 100 backstroke and led off the victorious 200 medley and freestyle relays, but O’Hara was also impressed by his second-place finish in the 200 individual medley, not to mention his leadership behind the scenes. Together with Greg Walters’ third-place finish in the 200 IM, the Royals scored an early and crucial event split.
Tom Brennan’s win in the 50 free was also crucial, as was the 1-2 finish in diving by Tim Durante and Alex Buchanan. But perhaps the most impressive event win was in the 500 free, a hallmark of the Conestoga and typically a boon for programs such as the Pioneers’ which boast vast stables of young talent. Though Stoga’s Chris Wang finished first, Andrew Karsh, Caleb Lehman and Darin Garner went 2-3-4 to take the total event score by two points.
The depth of the Royals was also apparent, as they managed to finish first and third in the 200 medley relay and 200 free relay.