WAHS’ Steber qualifies for PIAA meet with school-record time

Jeff Walters was checking online for PIAA swimming qualifiers every half hour on Sunday.

Bennett Steber still beat his swim coach to it.

When Walters called Steber to let him know the good news on Sunday, the Warren Area High School senior already knew. He was pumped.

It’s the icing on the cake in an amazing season.

On Feb. 13, Steber smashed a school record in the 100-meter breaststroke that has stood since 1989. Steber’s time of 1:09.60 bested his previous best of 1:12.60, and broke Curt Jablonowski’s 1989 record of 1:11.91.

Less than a week later, he was part of the 400-meter freestyle relay team that broke a record from 2006.

At the District 10 Class AAA Swimming Championships on Saturday at Penn State Behrend, “it was really the time I was aiming for,” said Steber. “I didn’t expect to go to states.”

The funny thing is, Steber actually didn’t accomplish his personal goal of swimming under a minute in the 100-yard breaststroke. He was third overall at districts in 1:00.08 – coming in with a seed time of 1:02.71. His personal-best time “crushed the 1998 (school, yard-pool) record held by Chris Kavanaugh,” said Walters on Saturday. “Bennett’s time would’ve been close to qualifying for the state championships last year. Only time will tell if it hold up this year.”

It did.

While only the district champions in Class AAA automatically qualify for states, the top 16 remaining times from throughout 16 districts in the state qualify for states this month at Bucknell University by time – 32 in all.

“He’s kind of like the kid that silently goes about his thing and does what he does,” said Walters. “He certainly led more by his actions than his words. You’ve got to be happy for him.”

He’s seeded 31st out of 32 in the PIAA event, but Walters said the final half or so are remarkably close.

Steber commended Walters and first-year assistant coach Danielle Wilson on a wonderful training program and taper schedule.

“My goal is still to drop below the one-minute mark,” said Steber. “I could move up 20 places just by dropping a second. It’s awesome, just the fact I get to compete at states is really surprising to me… out of a really tough district.”

With Warren being a Class AA-sized school swimming in a Class AAA district, Steber’s would have been among the top Class AA times in the state – in fact third best in the state.

“Although we did not have any first-place finishers, the times were great and even incredible at times,” said Walters.

Case in point:

Senior Logan Gearhart, who already has a school record in the 100-meter backstroke, broke a 2006 record held by Brian Collins (55.12) in the 100-yard backstroke in 54.24 seconds. Walters said it was the sixth school record of Gearhart’s career and fifth of the season, as he finished second at districts;

Defending District 10 champion Elin Smith, a junior, was second in the girls’ 100-yard backstroke, finishing in 1:02.15, or two seconds below her seed time. Meadville’s Mackenzie Weber won in 1:01.08;

Anna Falvo was third in the girls’ 100 breaststroke in 1:14.32 or nearly four seconds below her seed time of 1:18.02.

“She surprised everyone from the outside lane and gained some important team points,” said Walters, whose girls team finished third and boys fourth;

Valerie Latimer was fourth in the girls’ 100 free in her best time ever of 57.47 seconds;

Lacey Grinnen was fifth in the girls’ 500 free in 6:16.60; Paige McCollough sixth in the girls’ 100 breaststroke in 1:17.27;

Samara Steber seventh in the 100 breaststroke in 1:19.81;

Warren’s girls 400 free relay of Anna Fitzsimmons, Allie Sedon, Falvo and Mandy Fehlman was third in 4:11.72;

Cameron Daniels was eighth in the boys’ 100 free in 50.0 seconds, his best time ever;

Sean McGuinness was 11th in the boys’ 100 back in 1:03.08, and;

Warren’s boys’ 400 free relay of McGuinness, Darren Liu, John Kylander and Clark Eason was fourth in 3:48.44.

Clark’s 50 free split time was an amazing 29.92,” said Walters. “His 100 free split of 48.34 was not too bad, either. The 50 free split, even if you factor the quicker relay start, was the fastest 50 free split of any swimmer in any event all weekend.

“It’s fitting that this year’s senior leaders end their high school careers by passing the torch to so many talented underclassmen swimmers,” he said. “Despite six broken team records this year, the record boards at the Warren County YMCA are still shaking. Hopefully for years to come.”