WILKES-BARRE — After two unforgettable regionals the past two years, the Hazleton Area girls swimming team wanted a championship to itself.
Last year’s team tied with Abington Heights for a District 2-4 regional championship on the final 400 free relay. The year before, during the same race, Wyoming Valley West came from behind to catch up and defeat Hazleton Area by a mere second.
The horrors of the dreaded 400 free relay were unnecessary as Hazleton Area coasted to a regional championship Saturday at the Wyoming Valley Catholic Youth Center. The Cougars won with 308 points as a team, well ahead of second-place Delaware Valley.
“It is wonderful,” said Hazleton Area senior Hailey Kendall, who placed third in the 100 back. “Considering last year we tied, it feels good to have it ourselves. It’s hard work that paid off. I’m so happy.”
The Warriors won the boys championship over Williamsport.
Hazleton Area’s championship cause benefited from performances like Alexandra Podlesny’s incredible win in the 500 free. Podlesny, a 14.76-second underdog going into the race, overpowered Erin Kazmierczak of Scranton to a 5:22.13 time — 18.74 seconds faster than her seed time.
“Well our coach has an amazing taper so I just kept to that,” Podlesny said. “I just trained hard all season, and that’s the only way I’d be able to do what I did.”
On the men’s side, Hazleton Area’s Ryan Paisley took down the 100 backstroke record in a time of 52.68 seconds by a blink of an eye. Paisley upended Abington Heights grad Bill Roehls’ 1997 record by one-hundreth of a second.
“I didn’t think I’d pull off as good of a time as this,” Paisley said. “I didn’t think I had it at first. It wasn’t until my coach told me I got it. It’s unbelievable. It seems like the record was untouchable.”
On the other end of the spectrum, Wyoming Valley West came short of a boys record by the slimmest of margins. Sophomore speedster Ed Zawatski’s 46.66-second win in the 100 free was a tenth of a second off of Delaware Valley’s Jamie Grennan’s 2008 mark. Zawatski joked about ways he could have swam anymore faster.
“Before the race by buddy Collin told me that I better shave because that little chest hair might cost you — and it did,” Zawatski said. “It’s disappointing when you look up at the scoreboard and realize ‘that’s my best time’ and then you missed that record by so much. One-tenth of a second!
“I usually overthink about the race afterwards, but you can’t think back on that stuff.”
A day away from capturing a 50 free record, Wyoming Valley West’s Morgan Hanadel provided theatrics in the 400 free relay for the third consecutive race. Hanadel, who shook up the team standings after winning the event on the final leg the past two regionals, was at it again as the anchor.
Hanadel took over trailing Hazleton Area by 1.78 seconds and outraced her opponent on the final 50 yards for a win by 0.53 seconds. Her team of Desiree Holena, Alexandria Plant and Lydia Ellsworth swam to a 3:44.89 finish.
“There’s nothing more I want than to beat Hazleton in the 400 relay,” Hanadel said. “Those girls (on my relay) work too hard, and I couldn’t let them down. That’s my signature thing. This is the third year I’ve done this.”
Hanadel also picked up a win in the 100 free in a time of 54.18 seconds.
Other notable performances from Saturday were Hazleton Area’s Shelby Sanko (second, 100 free), Jeff Hicks (third, 100 free), Morgan O’Hara (second, 100 back), Felicia Grego (second, 100 breast), Tyler Farley (second, 100 breast); and Wyoming Valley West’s Andrew Greenwald (second, 500 free) and Cory Himlin (second, 100 back).