The first snowfall of the year signals the start of the swimming season.
After a rare March blizzard pushed back last year’s state swimming championships, naturally, this season begins with Wyoming Valley Conference teams leaving their early morning practices to beat out the first winter storm.
Swimming fans can expect more than the weather complicating the schedule in 2018. After capturing its first individual state champion in a decade, the WVC is riding high on its recent success. Led by talented seniors and a blossoming sophomore class, the conference will likely be at one of its most competitive levels in years.
As expected, swimming coaches are notoriously tight-lipped about season outlooks, proclamations or hyperbole at the start of the season.
Winners of the past three District 2 Class 2A girls championships, Dallas will once again have a bull’s-eye on its back. The Mountaineers won the district crown in upset fashion over Scranton Prep, thanks in part to a now-graduated diving corps that gave them a 51-point boost off of the springboard.
Dallas welcomes a new wave of swimmers led by sophomore Melissa Leonard. She shaved four and 10 seconds in the 200 and 500 free, respectively, en route to a pair of third-place swims at districts.
“They’re working hard,” Dallas coach Romayne Mosier said. “They look pretty good so far. Our girls know what they have to do to get their goals accomplished.”
Expect big things from the Dallas senior class that has won a district team title in each of their three seasons. Abby Zolner was out-touched by one-hundredth of a second in the longest event (500 free) at districts, and she followed that up with a huge drop in time at states to take 10th in the 100 fly. Annalise Cheshire has won eight district gold medals in her career, including two in last year’s sprint events.
“I expect Annalise to do what she has always done,” Mosier said. “She got sick at states last year, and she still did OK. She is a tough competitor that puts the hard work in practice.”
Wyoming Seminary won the WVC title in girls swimming for the first time in four decades. The Blue Knights return five swimmers – Tara Kupsky, April Kupsky, Haley Thier, Ava Baur and Kylee Kolbicka –from the Times Leader first- and second-team all-stars. Tara Kupsky captured three medals at the state championships. The Blue Knights’ 400 free relay was third in the state.
Margaret Walting made an instant splash for Holy Redeemer as last season’s Girls Swimmer of the Year. She finished fourth at states in the 50 free. Walting helped the Royals to a pair of PIAA medals in the 200 medley and 200 free relays. Walting won two silver medals at districts.
“Margaret has a tremendous work ethic,” Holy Redeemer coach Jack Port said. “She has a lot of skill sets like starts and turns. She does not get too worked up or too down. She does a lot of things the right way.”
The Royals prove to be a difficult foe with four swimmers returning from its state medal-winning relays. Kayla Kruk, Emily Blaum and Corinne Smith will be back this season with high postseason aspirations. Joining them will be freshman Emily Mahler and sophomore Emily Duris, who have had success in the preseason.
“We talk about how success in March is reflective of the practice throughout the season,” Port said. “It’s an investment every day, and by the end of the year it pays off. That is our philosophy on that.”
Stacy Banyas’ Berwick team that will move into the frontrunners this season on the girls side. Sydney Lloyd was the fastest 200 swimmer in the conference last year as a freshman. Mia Doll and Emily Levan bring experience to the Bulldogs in what could be their most successful season this decade.
On the boys side, Wyoming Seminary won last year’s conference and district titles. The Blue Knights’ roster is depleted from graduation and foreign exchange. Marcos Rico, the reigning Swimmer of the Year and state champion, is back in Spain. Garrett Pall is back after setting a district record in the medley relay.
Josh Zawatski and Zac Rosencrans won five regional titles between themselves last season, and they will guide Wyoming Valley West in its first season under a new coach in 37 years. Both swimmers were a part of a medley relay team that placed 11th at the PIAA Class 3A championships.
Tunkhannock will have strong support from Alex Bushre and Sawyer Aitken during their senior campaigns. Bushre anchored a 200 free relay that was first in the district and fell just shy of a state medal. Aitken has taken 14th at states the past two seasons in diving.
Dallas shakes out to be one of the more competitive teams in the district behind Mikail Krochta. Krochta was second at districts in the 200 IM and 100 back. The Mountaineers will receive well-needed points from Ryan Spears and Shane Szczecinski.
Adam Mahler enters his junior campaign at Holy Redeemer after garnering his first state medal. He was seventh in the state in the 100 fly.
Two new coaches take the helm this season. Rob Panowicz places longtime head coach Frank Tribendis at Wyoming Valley West. Katie Snee will oversee a young Coughlin team.