by Tom Utescher
As usual, the Mount St. Joseph swim team faced Gwynedd Mercy Academy in the regular-season league finale, with this year’s meeting taking place last Wednesday evening at the La Salle High School pool, the home venue for both schools.
Each squad recorded first-place finishes in four out of the eight individual events and Gwynedd won two of the three relays, and it was the depth of the MSJ Magic that proved to be the deciding factor in the Mount’s 53-41 victory.
The Mounties produced five second-place performances and seven third-place efforts in the solo races, while securing second place in two of the relays and third place in all three of the group events. With one non-league dual meet left on the docket, Mount St. Joe owned an overall record of 4-2 and a league mark of 3-1.
Like the Mount, Gwynedd’s only league loss prior to Wednesday’s meet came against longtime champ Villa Maria, and after last week’s event the Monarchs were 5-3 overall.
This season, Gwynedd has been able to launch a pair of formidable weapons at their opponents, namely the superstar Szekely sisters. Allie, a sophomore, appeared at the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials before even starting high school, and her freshman sister, Stephanie, is not far behind.
Each of the siblings won two individual races on Wednesday, and they teamed up to form part of the Monarchs’ two victorious relay quartets. Alie triumphed in the 100-yard freestyle (52.63) and the 100 breaststroke (1:05.27), while Stephanie secured first place in the 200 individual medley (2:14.34) and the 100 backstroke (1:01.01).
On the pool deck, the focus was on the upperclassmen during a joint Senior Night celebration for the two schools. The Mount bid farewell to swimmers Jessie Dolan, Christina Formica, and Julie Sowa, and to manager Nadine Ghantous, while Gwynedd gave a sendoff to Katie Cassidy, Haley Cranch, Claire Lacon, Jamie Talecki, Lea Zaengle, and manager Maggie Gillespie.
The three departing Mounties who raced all scored in the meet. Formica, who will swim for Fairfield University, won the 100-yard butterfly (1:02.56), came in second in the 200 individual medley, and was part of two runner-up relay teams. In freestyle event, Dolan was second in the 50 and third in the 100, while Sowa snagged third in the 100 breast stroke.
Mount St. Joe’s junior class was well-represented by Steph Eble, who won freestyle events at the 200 (2:03.56) and 500-yard (5:27.77) distances, and by Haley Sannem, who took first in the 50 free and second in the 100 backstroke.
Another 11th-grader, Georgia Kelly, contributed a third-place finish in the 500 free, which proved to be an important race for the Magic in the middle of the meet program. The evening had opened with Gwynedd winning the 200 medley relay with the Szekely sisters and juniors Molly Riemenschneider and Kieragh McMenamin. Second went to MSJ’s Sannem, Sowa, Formica, and Dolan, and the Magic also picked up the third-place point thanks to sophomores Audrey Ezzo and Rachel Sandquist, and freshman Aly Carpenter and Katie Zimmerman. The Mount inched into the lead during the next few individual events, but Gwynedd remained close behind.
In a very close finish, particularly for the longest race of the meet, Eble edged GMA junior MaryKate Curley in the 500 free, and with Kelly touching up third, the Magic opened up a 10-point gap in the meet score, 34-24. They would keep their lead in double figures the rest of the way, following the 500 with their lone relay victory, putting up a time of 46.21 seconds in the 200 free thanks to sophomore Liz DeGroat, Zimmerman, Dolan, and the apparently indefatigable Eble.
Second in that event was the Gwynedd quartet of Cranch, junior Moira Nolan, sophomore Shannon Scott, and freshman Julia Loftus, while the Mount took third with Katherine Schafer, Carpenter and Sam Bauer (all freshmen), with Kelly as anchor.
Schafer also logged a pair of third-place finishes in the 200 free and 100 backstroke. DeGroat, a field hockey starter for the Magic in the fall season, took second in the 100 free and third in the 200 I.M. Classmate Julia Comerford was runner-up in the 100 breast stroke, and Sandquist, also a 10th-grader, placed third in the butterfly.
Gwynedd saw Curley capture second place in the aforementioned 500 free event and in the 200 free, as well. Riemenschneider was runner-up in the butterfly, and Monarchs sophomore Shannon Brown came in third in the 50 free.
As MSJ coach Janet Pudlinski pointed out, it was important for the Magic to win the races in which the Szekely sisters were not participating, and to try and pick up the second and third-place points in the contests that included the speedy siblings.
Allie Szekely had not been swimming the 100 breast stroke in regular season meets, but on Wednesday she entered and won that race, closing out the individual events for the evening. Her time of 1:05.27 qualified her for the PIAA District 1 championships; GMA mentor Heather Norman said the sophomore had previously qualified in the 50, 100, and 500 free, the backstroke, the breast stroke, and the butterfly.
Her anchor leg in the 400 free relay at the end of the night put the Monarchs into the lead for the victory (3:47.15). Racing before her in the order were Curley, McMenamin, and her sister, Stephanie. The Mount’s A team, Formica, DeGroat, Eble, and Sannem, built up a lead of almost half-a-length over the first half of the race.
The younger Szekely cut down the gap considerably on the third leg, then Allie delivered the coup-de-grace during the fourth stage.
Both from the starting block and off of her highly-efficient wall turns, the super soph spends a lot of time underwater at the beginning of each lap, utilizing the Dolphin kick where appropriate.
The Magic picked up second place in the final race, and also third, courtesy of Sandquist, Bauer, Carpenter, and Schafer.