Reclassification made it a lot easier for Hazleton Area and little bit harder for Holy Redeemer in girls swimming and diving this season.
PIAA biannual shuffling dropped Abington Heights (and Coughlin) to the Class 2A level, leaving District 2 with just five schools in the upper level. Williamsport, as always, joins from District 4 to form a six-team region.
For Hazleton Area, this comes as a pleasant surprise. The Cougars tied – yes, even after 12 events and 144 point-scoring competitors, ties are statistically possible in swimming – with Abington Heights for a District 2-4 Class 3A co-regional championship.
For Holy Redeemer, the move muddies their three-year string of District 2 Class 2A championships. The Royals' main competition for the past year has been Scranton Prep – a team that features several of the states' fastest swimmers but lacks the numbers to make it successful on a dual or district stage.
Even with the potential move, both the Cougars and the Royals bring deep, experienced, Lewisburg-tested teams that should make their Jan. 10 date a deciding event for the Wyoming Valley Conference South Division championship.
The Cougars bring a speedy competitor in nearly every race. Alex Podlesny will need to fill in the role that Shana Grego fit in the distance races, and the duo of Hailey Kendal and Shelby Sanko make Hazleton Area dangerous in sprint events. Felicia Grego adds to the Cougars' threat in the medley relay.
Like recent years, Holy Redeemer boasts the deepest team in the conference. The Royals' ability to gain second- and third-place finishes from seasoned swimmers like Kellan Katra, Mallory Kusakavitch and Nell Adams makes it difficult to top during conference action. Holy Redeemer won six straight conference championships since the school's formation.
Wyoming Valley West is always talented in girls swimming. With Alex Plant and Desiree Holena's all-around contributions and experience, the Spartans are viable of upsetting some opponents and qualifying several relay teams to states.
We have some real quality kids who train hard, Wyoming Valley West coach Frank Tribendis said. The coaches are enthusiastic.
Hanover Area is a team on the rise, and the Hawkeyes are capable of qualifying several athletes to states. Dallas returns talented swimmers in Kaylin Augustine and Abby Berger.
We have some girls that have promise and help us grow as a team, Dallas coach Romayne Mosier said. That'll be helpful for the underclassmen.
Lake-Lehman made great progress last year and cemented its name in the diving community. After missing out on districts last year, Brinley Williams will get her chance on the springboard the Black Knights. Wyoming Seminary can revive its program with sophomores Mackenzie Gagliardi and Bailey Disler.
Pittston Area and Wyoming Area have traded the Division 3 championship honors for the past decade. With a big win over Coughlin on Wednesday, Meyers features several hardworking swimmers and divers, and is the favorite to unseat the Patriots and Warriors this season.
The Patriots graduated 25 swimmers, and the Warriors have a new coach in Lauren Shovlin – former coach Maureen Pikas' sister.
Bethany Chmil, Redeemer: Chmil is the top returner in the 100 breast, where she finished second behind eventual state champion Rebekah Campo of Scranton Prep at districts. The Royal senior qualified for states in two relay events and is the vocal leader of the defending district champions.
Melissa Cruz, Redeemer: The Royals senior's 400 free relay team took home a district title and placed 22nd at states. She medaled in the 200 free relay at the PIAA Class 2A championships with a sixth-place finish. She will compete in a crowded field in her individual events.
Rachel Finnegan, Redeemer: Finnegan eyes a district title after four second-place finishes at districts last year. She is the top returner in the 100 fly, and will vie with Holy Cross' Megan Carey as the district's the top 100 free swimmer. The junior led off the state-medal winning 200 free relay team.
Ashlynn Heller, Hanover Area: Dallas' Sarah Zerfoss' graduation paves the way for Heller as the district's top returning diver. The Hawkeye junior finished second the past two years at districts and scored a 356 at last year's meet.
Eilish Hoban, Meyers: The Mohawks depend on their senior distance swimmer to propel them in the Division 3 title race. Hoban finished fifth at districts in the 200 free last year.
Kayla Keating, Hanover Area: The Hawkeyes senior is the district's fastest returning 50-free swimmer from a year ago with a 26.55-second time.
Julie Ann Mahle, Redeemer: Last season's Times Leader Swimmer of the Year won two relay medals and took 14th in the 100 back at states. Finishing second in four district races last year, the Royals senior again faces stiff competition from North Division swimmers as she aims for an individual district championship.
Mia Nardone, Pittston Area: Arguably the strongest freshman last year, Nardone looks to carry a Pittston Area team that graduated over 20 swimmers. The sophomore Patriot became one of the area's three individual medal winners at states with a 13th-place showing in the 100 butterfly. Her 100 fly time of 1:01.39 was just one-tenth behind Mahle at districts.
Lucy Reilly, Redeemer: Reilly, a junior, enters with the second-fastest 200-free time. She competed last year in a crowded 100 back field, and will factor in on the Royals' relay teams.
Sam Sabol, Lake-Lehman: The Black Knights senior surpassed expectations last year, carrying a relatively small team on her shoulders. She is among the fastest backstrokers with a 1:03.43 mark.
Kandis Venn, Tunkhannock: The Tigers rely on their senior to produce in the backstroke and the butterfly. Her time of 1:03.67 in the 100 back is among the fastest in the district.
Felicia Grego, Hazleton Area: Grego made an impression in her first year with a regional championship in the 200 IM with a time of 2:15.19.
Morgan Hanadel, WVW: The Spartans senior won two individual regional championships last year in the 100 butterfly and 100 back. She must outlast a dangerous Baileigh Vanderhoof of Wallenpaupack in the 100 fly.
Hailey Kendall, Hazleton Area: Hazleton's senior sprinter recorded the fastest returning 50 free time (25.41).
Alex Podlesny, Hazleton Area: Podlesny looks to fill teammate Shaina Grego's spot in the lineup as the top distance swimmer in the region. She sports a returning time of 2:03.58 in the 200 free and 5:24.64 in the 500 free.
Shelby Sanko, Hazleton Area: Sprints are her specialty, and the sophomore is the region's top performer in the 100 free (56.47) from a year ago.
Rebecca Yannes, Hazleton Area: The Cougars junior is among the region's outstanding backstrokers with a 2011-12 mark of 1:03.3.
Karina Zabresky, WVW: Narrowly lost a regional championship by 4.95 points with a championship score of 373.9. The Spartans senior will again contend with Delaware Valley's Kristiana Brush for the title.
Matthew Shutt contributed to this report.