Easing into the swim season ceased being an option for Episcopal Academy as soon as they saw Germantown Academy slotted into the first date on their calendar.
Instead for EA, the preparation turned to easily their toughest dual meet of the season last Tuesday and one of the premier collisions in the entire state straight out of the gate.
EA certainly didn’t shy away from the challenge, producing a pair of scores – a 95-90 setback on the girls side, and 96-87 for the boys – the came down to the final relay. For the girls meet, it’s the closest EA has been to topping GA’s vaunted program in a number of years.
Episcopal benefitted from a few factors, including a few points lost to DQs by Germantown Academy, swimming its first meet under coach Jeff Thompson, the replacement for the legendary Dick Shoulberg.
But that’s not to take away from the job done by the Churchwomen in battling up and down the lineup, a testament to the job of preparation done by the coaching staff and athletes.
“A good amount of our swimmers swim year round, but we as a school, we have a lot of those three-sport athletes,” coach Brian Kline said. “That’s a good thing and a bad thing. So we’re playing a little bit of catch-up with the majority of our swimmers. So it’s, how many weeks of training do they have in them? We’re at the point where we’re breaking them down to build them up.”
The front-half of the meet went about as well as EA could’ve hoped, setting them up to hold a 17-point edge after diving. The Churchwomen swept the first five events, a rather surprising haul of points.
It’s never a surprise that the EA medley relay, one that has owned its competition in dual and championship meets for the last half-decade, rolled to a win. The fact that Sarah Baturka, McKenzie Street, Nikki Cannon and Rachael Farmer triumphed by over six seconds – with the Churchwomen keeping their biggest bullet in the gun – was an indication of the meet ahead. (It also helped that the GA B team was disqualified, which allowed EA a four-point swing by jumping into third.)
That bullet, reigning swimmer of the year Emma Sieberlich, showed her ability in the 200 free, beating Madison Visco by four tenths of a second. Street followed it with a win in the 200 individual medley, then Baturka swam away with the 50 free (Farmer finishing third) to open up the cushion.
By the time Kara Madey (with an impressive 246.35) and Maia Golub put the finishing touches on a diving 1-2, the EA lead stood at 47-30.
GA, predictably, rallied in the back half, even if it started slowly with a disqualification to Lauren Henasey nullifying what would’ve been a 1-2 finish in the 100 butterfly. But as has been the hallmark of Shoulberg’s program for decades, the meet pivoted on the 500 free, which saw EA powerless to stop GA’ distance prowess from a 1-2-3 finish. That 13-3 point haul erased most of the deficit in one fell swoop, getting GA to within one at 63-62.
EA, though, was anything but done. They rallied with their stroke depth, Sieberlich taking home the 100 backstroke and Sarah Baturka reaching to the outer reaches of her specialty by winning the 100 breaststroke in a 1-3-5 finish with Cannon and Anna Jarvis that surged EA back ahead.
Baturka’s swim was an example of the chess match the coaches were trying to play on the deck.
“We put together a pretty good lineup,” Kline said. “We were not so sure what they were going to do. (Assistant coach) Quincy (Hyson) and I were trying to think what they would do. With Dick coaching, it was a little easier because we’ve been swimming against him for the last 20 years.”
Aiding the girls’ pursuit for the elusive win over GA was a boys meet that was almost as exciting, fostering a raucous atmosphere. Diving again gave EA big boost with three-time All-Delco Josh Owsiany (with a ridiculous score of 338.35), Andrew Owsiany (a none-to-shabby 302.55) and Gossen Yang assembling a 1-2-3 finish.
Ben Baturka led the back-half charge, winning the 100 free and 100 back, adding to the win he started in the 200 medley relay along with Waylon Jin, Ivan Puskovitch and Jakob Phillips. The real push was made in the 100 breast, a 1-2-4 finish led by George Maltby and Cullen McShane to give the Churchmen an 85-84 edge going into the final relay.
On both counts, though, it wasn’t to be. The EA girls team of Seiberlich, Emma Vadot, Maddie O’Reilly and Baturka could only managed a second-place finish, trailing GA’s winning relay by six seconds. The boys’ hopes were similarly dashed, GA going 1-2 despite Jin’s stellar anchor leg of 49.90.
While it wasn’t the result Kline and company were necessarily hoping for, it is one he believes sets the teams up to accomplish bigger goals down the road.
“We told them that this is a really special team, that it can be really solid across the board,” Kline said. “When we’re able to compete against a team like that that’s pretty powerful, it’s great. To go into GA’s place is really difficult, and to go in there and give them a run, it’s amazing.”