The curtain rises on the championship season this weekend with the Central League championships, the first stepping stone toward districts and states for many of the county’s elite swimmers.
The District One picture will come into clearer focus on an individual basis once the league championship meets play out and we get a glimpse of what events some of the big names will choose. But one thing we can look at at this early juncture is the relay situation. After all, it’s an easy way to get four kids and an alternate to take the trip to Bucknell in early March.
So over the next couple of days, I’ll take a look at how things shape up for each team, where their relay strengths lie and postulate just which relay lineups you’re likely to see at Centrals this weekend and perhaps down the road.
First up, the girls.
(Notes: I’ll confine the discussion to those teams that have had squads make at least District One consideration cuts. More of those might be made this weekend, but we’ll discuss that down the road; A denotes automatic District One cut; B denotes consideration cut.)
Top Times: 200 free (Smolyansky, Mainardi, McShea, Packer) 1:43.92 B; 200 medley (Smolyansky, Cai, McShea, Packer) 1:53.87 A; 400 free (Smolyansky, Cai, McShea, Packer) 3:53.33 B.
The Skinny: Since each swimmer can swim only two relays, decisions obviously have to be made. The bulk of last year’s medley squad – Tatyana Smolyansky, Evie Cai and Heather McShea, though swimming free – that finished 13th at states and set a school record returns. With a backstroker (Smolyansky) and breaststroker (Cai) knocking on the door of states individually, that seems a no-brainer for a squad to load up on. There’s an old adage in swimming that says it’s harder to fudge a 400 free relay. That means if you have the swimmers for both, go with the latter, because it’s easier to have a couple of freak swims in the 200 free that shift the balance. The 400 is more predictable. Smolyansky and Laura Packer both have DI cuts in the 50; only Packer has a cut in the 100 free. But Smolyansky and McShea aren’t far off, and there will be heated competition for the role of the fourth swimmer on that team, Cai with the inside edge.
The Verdict: Strong on the medley and 400 free.
Top Times: 200 free (Verzella, Brown, Wolfe, Hart) 1:43.80 B; 200 medley (Hart, Shaw, Wolfe, Brown) 1:52.50 A; 400 free (Wolfe, Brown, Verzella, Hart) 3:49.38 B.
The Skinny: In the debate over the medley relay, the breaststroker makes the difference. The Fords have two in Annie O’Brien and Devon Shaw to battle for the spot. Similarly, they have Kelly Devlin and Emily Wolfe in contention for the fly spot. (Between that and Elizabeth Verzella in backstroke, Haverford has arguably the best B medley relay in the area, but that’s a non-issue.) It’ll be interesting to see how Verzella and Maddie Hart’s contributions are balanced. In the free relays, the Fords have three sub-26.2 50 times and three sub-57.30 100 times. All other things being equal between those two, the advantage goes to the 400 free. In the end, the medley relay that is fastest in the Central League by almost a second over Conestoga has to get the green light.
The Verdict: Strong on the medley and 400 free.
Top Times: 200 free (A.McDonough, Leitz, Fimple, Campbell) 1:43.64 B; 200 medley (A.McDonough, Walters, Leitz, Campbell) 1:56.56 B; 400 free (Leitz, A.McDonough, Fimple, Campbell) 3:52.92 B.
The Skinny: The good news is that the Royals have the talent to chase the medley relay, with strong stroke specialists in Alison McDonough, Alex Walters and Meggie Leitz. The down side is that their fastest time this season is almost three seconds slower than Radnor and four seconds behind Haverford. Similar faces promise to make whatever the A freestyle relay happens to be (I’d bet on McDonough, Leitz, Samantha Campbell and Erika Fimple). I’d lean toward them loading up the 200 free at this point.
The Verdict: Strong on the medley and 200 free.
Strath Haven holds the fastest time in the Central League in the 200 free relay, a District A cut in 1:43.12, thanks in large part to the development of Kate Willis as a strong anchor leg. … Garnet Valley is one of three teams with a B cut in only the medley relay. With Lauren Minford and Skyler Berrardi on the end, I’m surprised they’ve yet to acquire a district consideration cut in the 200 free relay, which could happen this weekend. They’re close in the 400 as well, but the 200 suits them better. … Ridley’s B cut in the 200 medley relay dates to December and came with Kiera Wadsworth swimming fly and Allison Cardow swimming free. You wonder if the former’s A cut in the 50 free (25.22) might change that arrangement. … Penncrest’s medley relay is the final relay with a district cut. The speed shown by Mary Kate Boylan off the front and Lauren Woznicki in free makes them dangerous.