Let’s get one thing straight off the bat: Episcopal Academy has the fastest girls team in Delco, featuring six to 10 swimmers who are among the upper echelon in the county.
But even the best have something to chase, and Monday presents the rabbit for the EA program in the form of Germantown Academy.
So in the interest of full disclosure, let’s mention something else: Germantown Academy is crazy fast. Last season, Episcopal Academy boasted the eighth-fastest medley relay in the nation, according to Swimming World Magazine; GA had the 10th-fastest 200 freestyle relay and fifth-fastest 400 free relay. Oh yeah, none of those girls on the 400 free graduated last year.
Leading the way for GA is a girl you’ll hear of soon enough, Georgia commit Rachel Zilinskas, who among other accomplishments, swam the third-fastest 500 freestyle in high-school competition last year. One line above her: Olympic 800 freestyle champion Katie Ledecky.
So here’s a breakdown of how I see Monday’s meet shaping up, event by event. (Note: This is based on my speculations only. The best gauge from GA is their meet against New Jersey boarding school and perennial national power Peddie School, which they waxed 125-55 last week with essentially an “A” lineup.)
There’s little doubting that the EA medley relay is as good as it gets. The bulk of last year’s Delco record-setting squad is back, and a team of Sarah Baturka, Rachel Repke, Emily Rhodes and Tara O’Prey is likely better than anything GA could throw at it. Expect GA to split their squads to minimize damage by going for second and third. EA up 8-6 after an event.
The 200 free is the first problematic event for the Churchmen. Zilinskas doesn’t even hold the fastest time on the team this year; that belongs to Shannon McKernan. It’s possible that even with Emma Seiberlich, who holds one of the fastest times in Delco, the Churchmen are staring down the barrel of a 1-2-3 GA finish.
EA’s much deeper in the stroke events, so the 200 individual medley should be a battle. If GA opts to enter Madison Visco, there’s little EA can do to stop her winning; Visco has clocked in at 2:06.63 this season, over five seconds faster than the best posted by EA’s top IMer McKenzie Street and a second faster than Street’s best time from last postseason. Street likely will end up in a battle for second with fellow 2:12er Emily Erwin, while Baturka and fellow 2:16er Julia Pacitti could battle for third. Best-case scenario, GA leads 28-18 after that event.
Parity returns for EA in the 50, where anything goes. O’Prey has the fastest time on paper at 24.28 seconds, but GA has a pair of sub-25. We’ll see how many points EA can carve out with Bernadette Tankle (25.10; she’s so versatile that it’s hard to pin down her events) and/or Repke (25.49). EA has the edge in diving, thanks to Kara Madey, who’s been over 200 points this season. If EA can claim first and third in diving, EA could trail by just four points, 41-37, after diving.
After that, things get dicey for EA. The 100 fly has the potential to feature up to five swimmers with times between 58.20 and 59.96 this season, with GA having four options to choose from. Hayli Randolph leads the way at 58.20, and she figures to battle with teammate Natalie Dowzicky (59.39) and Rhodes (58.73) for the win. Someone like Street (59.47) could be an option.
Managing the freestyle events in the middle of the meet could be EA’s waterloo. It’s possible that the Patriots’ advantage over the two events could be as pronounced as 25-7; under the best of conditions, I can’t see EA grabbing more than 10 of 32 points. McKernan and Meagan Dollard give GA two swimmers with sub-52.5-second times; Seiberlich’s best this season is 54.27. GA also has a slew of depth swimmers in the 56-second range. It’ll take something special for EA to get one much less two swimmers up there.
The 500 is the cornerstone of coach Dick Shoulberg’s program. Where Tankle’s best time this season 5:11, EA boasts four swimmers under 5:10, and that doesn’t count Zilinskas. It’s possible Zilinskas steers clear of the event (she’s more valuable in a closer race than winning a landslide over a teammate), and the veteran Tankle may be sent out in the 500 and tasked with doing what she can to break up an EA sweep. Best-case scenario by my reckoning, GA would lead 72-54 after the 500.
EA will need something special out of its relays to prevent GA from going 1-3 in the 200 free and 1-2 in the 400, especially because the final two stroke events could be a boon to the Churchmen. Baturka’s fastest time this season (58.78) is quicker than Zilinskas’ (59.03), a perfect opportunity for the Georgia-bound senior to flat-out race the freshman. Rhodes will be competitive with whomever GA posts as a “B” swimmer, and the fifth spot is a crap shoot. Repke and O’Prey are stellar breaststrokers, with Repke’s fastest time this season of 1:06.79 two seconds better than the GA contingent, but that group includes three swimmers between 1:08.83 and 1:09.87. GA may opt for damage limitation with the points bonanza of the 400 free relay next, and it’s possible the meet may be wrapped up by then.
By my best reckoning –making educated guesses as to swimmers involved (for instance, I don’t forecast any swimmers participating in three relays, a card EA coach Brian Kline could play) plus reasonable assumptions as to possible time drops by the EA girls – I have GA claiming a 102-84 win under the best-case scenarios. I’m not saying an EA win is out of the question; I’m just illustrating what a major task it would be for them to spring an upset.
It’s not one of the fastest dual meets in the country for nothing.