‘Well-rounded’ Dragons compete at D10 swim meet

When the Dragons compete in the District 10 Class AAA Swimming Championships this weekend at Penn State Behrend’s Junker Center, they’ll be hoping to earn their first D10 title in five years.

They’ll be facing some stiff competition, as is the case every year, from Erie swimming powerhouses McDowell and Cathedral Prep. The Trojans have won 17 straight girls titles, while the Ramblers have captured 10 consecutive boys titles.

Despite Erie’s domination, Warren coach Jeff Walters feels good about his team heading into the weekend.

“We’ve got a pretty strong district team going, and there’s always a chance – whether you’re the first, second or third seed – to take first and go to states,” Walters said. “The kids have been working really hard on good discipline and fast starts and fast finishes. I expect a real good, competitive weekend.”

Sophomore Elin Smith is Warren’s lone top seed after posting a time of 1:02.84 in the 100-yard backstroke. Smith also earned the fourth seed in the 200 IM with a time of 2:25.73.

Senior Ellis Beardsley is seeded second in both the 100 and 200 freestyles with times of 58.28 and 2:05.59, respectively.

Logan Gearhart, a junior, is the highest seeded Dragon on the boys team, after finishing second in the 200-yard freestyle with a time of 1:51.64. Gearhart also captured the fifth seeding in the 100-yard backstroke at 56.99.

Bennett Steber is seeded fourth in the 100 breaststroke while Cameron Daniels is fifth in the 100 freestyle.

Both the boys’ and girls’ 200 medley relay teams are seeded third. The boys team – Gearhart, Bradley Walters, Sean McGuinness and Bob McAvoy-finished with a seeding time of 1:47.68. The girls – Smith, Mandy Fehlman, Allie Sedon and Claudia Olson – came in at 2:02.88.

The Lady Dragons are also seeded third in the 200 freestyle relay, with the team of Smith, Fehlman, Sedon and Christine Kuzminski posting a time of 1:49.81. The boys are seeded fourth in the event.

Over the past two weeks or so, the Dragons swimmers have been “tapering,” meaning they’ve eased up on hard practicing in hopes of shaving a few seconds off of their best season times. Still, the season has been a long journey to this point, and it may only be able to continue with a D10 championship; Only District 10 champions automatically advance, but the swimmers with the 16 remaining fastest times in each event will also advance to the PIAA Class AAA Championships at Bucknell University in Lewistown in two weeks.

“This season has probably been the most challenging,” Walters said. “We’ve had to overcome missed practices and a lack of pool time because of all the two-hour delays (in school start time due to weather) we’ve had this year, we’ve had some kids very ill with the flu, and two kids have had emergency surgeries.

“It’s been a balancing act, but these kids are awesome,” he said. “They’ve got great attitudes. They’re gonna come out swinging.”

Five years ago, the Warren girls 200 free relay team of Linda Betts, Jessica Nuhfer, Kelsey Nuhfer and Elizabeth Evans captured the D10 Class AAA title. Betts also won the 200 freestyle title that same year.

The Dragons haven’t had a champion since, as they look to reverse their fortunes over the weekend.

Prep will lead the Class AAA boys with six number-one seeds, as well as three two-seeds. McDowell captured five number-one seeds on the girls side in addition to six number-two seeds.

“I’m real proud of the kids, going up against teams who do nothing but swim 12 months a year,” Walters said. “We’ve got kids that are football, soccer, and softball players, track and field, the list goes on and on. And they still compete with these (Erie) kids. It’s a well-rounded group of kids and there’s no way I’d trade them in for full-time swimmers.”

Events begin at 1:30 p.m. Friday, and continue at 9:30 a.m. Saturday.

Complete Class AAA psych sheets are available at piaadistrict10.org/2013aaapsychsheet.pdf