LEWISBURG – It was a nervous wait for Tatyana Smolyansky in the 100 backstroke Saturday morning.
The Radnor junior did what she needed, winning the first heat going away in a personal-best and school-record time of 58.03 seconds.
Three heats later, her patience was rewarded.
Smolyansky scraped into the final with the 16th and final position, meaning she’ll return for the evening session’s finals at the PIAA Championships at Bucknell University’s Kinney Natatorium.
“It’s just really cool to make it back,” Smolyansky said. “I was really happy with that, but I was more happy with the time.”
Smolyansky made states last year, taking 22nd place in 59.70. She’s been able to steadily improve her time at every step this postseason. So is a 57 next?
“Yeah, that’s definitely a goal,” Smolyansky said.
Garnet Valley’s Lauren Early may not have expected the second heat of four in the 100 breaststroke to be the fastest of the event.
But as has been a perplexing theme of the meet, it was. Luckily, Early was at her best.
The senior booked a place in the A final by finishing fourth in her heat and seventh overall in a time of 1:04.93, lowering her Delaware County record by a tenth of a second.
“I really wanted to stay with the top seed in my heat, Vivi (Tafuto of Hershey, who clocked a 1:02.79), and go out fast in a 30,” Early said. “Then whatever was left I would come back with. I really wanted to go 1:04 so bad.”
The seed puts Early in lane 1 for the final. It was from lane 8 at states last year that she improved to fifth in the A final. While Early is comfortable with an outside lane and the outer lanes at Kinney have been quick this week, it’s not the preferred one. Since Early plants her left arm on the wall on turns, it means she won’t be able to glimpse the field at the 25- and 75-yard walls.
Still, Early has been here before and goes into finals relaxed.
“Maybe I’ll have some outside smoke,” Early said. “I’m just so relieved. Tonight’s final is just to have fun. I already have a medal.”
Also advancing to the finals in the 100 back is Haverford’s Maddie Hart. Hart was second in the next-to-last heat in a time of 56.89, over a half second off her seed of 56.23. She’s seeded fifth tonight.
It’s her third A-final swim of the meet, joining the 100 fly and the 200 medley relay.
Her brother Connor used a fast last fifty in the 500 free to claw back into the top six of his heat and the 13th place in finals. Hart clocked in at 4:40.52, slower than his seed time of 4:39.74.
Near misses were the order of the day for the Delco boys contingent, which had eight swimmers participate Saturday with only Hart making finals.
The most heartbreaking were Penncrest’s Philip Nawn and Radnor’s Mitchell Gartland.
Nawn, who entered seeded 16th in the 500 free, stopped the clock in 4:42.02, a drop of .29 from his seed time. It was only good for the 17th seed, though, one agonizing spot from finals. The 16th spot went to Cody Wimmer of Emmaus, in the same heat as Nawn, in 4:41.57.
Easing the blow is a handful of factors. Only a sophomore, Nawn managed a personal-best time and did so on only three days’ rest as he’s preparing for YMCA States.
“It’s a little hard because obviously you want to make finals and missing by .5 isn’t easy,” Nawn said. “I’m not too mad because it is a best time. … I’m just pretty happy with the time, but finals would’ve been nice.”
Gartland is in a similar position. He entered the race seeded 26th without much expectation on his shoulders. The junior clocked a personal-best 58.89, finishing second in the first heat of four. Had he been able to get by first alternate, Harris Nagle in the lane next to him, and under Nagle’s time of 59.70, he may have gotten in. The 16th seed, Gateway’s Andrew Nosbisch, clocked in at 58.68.
“It’s disappointing to see I was 18th and wasn’t going to be back for finals,” Gartland said. “… I try not to think about (what-ifs). I try not to make it a numbers game.”
NOTES: Speaking of near misses, Radnor’s Evie Cai was just shy of a place in the finals of the 100 breast, finishing 18th in 1:06.75. The 16th seed went to Nicole Young of Methacton in 1:06.51, a beneficiary of Early’s fast heat. Cai’s seed time was 1:06.42. Cai’s first reaction after her swim? An ear-to-ear smile after hearing Smolyansky’s bubble hadn’t burst in the 100 back. … The Garnet Valley distance contingent took 23rd and 26th thanks to Ivan Michalovic and Anthony Richardson, respectively. Michalovic dropped a half second to 4:44.12 to bump up from the 26th seed. Richardson was over three seconds slower than at districts, finishing 4:45.98. … Haverford backstroker Brendan Ryan finished 22nd with a time of 52.73. He entered seeded 16th. He finished two spots behind Iago Dall’Orto of Penncrest, who bettered his school record with a 52.55, just two tenths out of the 16th place. … In the 100 breast, Upper Darby’s Greg Walters finished eighth in the final heat from an outside lane, clocking at 59.96 to finish 26th. He was seeded 22nd. … Cardinal O’Hara’s Hanna Blewett finished 30th in the 100 free in a time of 54.10. She was out strong and was second after the first 50 but faded late.