LEWISBURG — To Ed Zawatski, the finish to his state sprint was a tad bitter-sweet.
To everyone else, it was pretty neat.
The second-fastest swim of his life led Zawatski back to the state medal stand with a fourth-place finish in the 50 freestyle Wednesday as the PIAA Class 3A Swimming and Diving Championships opened at Bucknell University’s Kinney Natatorium.
“I feel really good,” said Zawatski, a Wyoming Valley West junior who finished with a time of 20.73 - which bettered the District 2 record-setting mark of 20.80 he set in the district’s 50 freestyle finals last month. “That is my second-best time of the season.”
And yet, it was difficult for Zawatski to celebrate the feat.
A fifth-place state finisher in the 2013 PIAA 50 freestyle championship race, he entered states as the favorite to win the event this year, based on his District 2 championship time of 20.80. Zawatski entered the eight-man championship field by finishing fourth in Wednesday morning’s preliminaries with a time of 20.88, then cut that time by .15 seconds in the finals.
But it didn’t help him move to the front of the pack.
“I’m a little disappointed with fourth place,” Zawatski said. “But like my dad always tells me, you’re always a fast swimmer and always going to be a fast swimmer.”
Bangor’s Zach Krantz, whose time of 20.81 was just a tick behind Zawatski’s in the seedings, captured the state gold medal with a time of 20.54. Council Rock’s Brandon McCredie finished second in 20.58, and Greg Brocato from La Salle took the bronze medal in 20.61 - just .08 ahead of Zawatski.
“First place was only nine-tenths of a second faster than him,” Wyoming Valley West coach Frank Tribendis said. “You can’t blink that fast.”
Zawatski was the only swimmer from the Wyoming Valley Conference to compete in a medal meet Wednesday. His 200 freestyle relay team finished 23rd with a time of 1:34.75 in the preliminary round, and Hazleton Area swimmer Felicia Grego ended up with a pair of 29th-place finishes in the girls Class 3A preliminaries. Her time of 2:12.99 put her in a tie for 29th place in the 200 IM, and she also finished the 100 butterfly in 1:00.83.
Zawatski’s preliminary run in the 50 freestyle was almost as strong as his district-winning performance.
“A lot of people really dog it in the morning and just want to make the finals, and then bring it at night,” Zawatski said. “My hope for the morning was do the best you can do in both. I brought it in preliminaries and then brought it again tonight.”
A strong start put Zawatski among the leaders at the event’s turn, and he gave them all a fight right to the finish.
“I thought my turn was really good,” Zawatski said. “I felt like I was ahead of the pack. Coming back, I don’t know … the 50, anybody can win it. It comes down to who wants it more, who wants it the most.
“I had a great swim.”
He’ll have a chance for another one today, when Zawatski enters the state’s 100 freestyle preliminaries seeded 13th.
“I’m really proud of what he did - second-best time, ever,” Tribendis said. “He’s a hard worker, trains hard, is a great athlete. He’s ready to do more.”