by Tom Utescher

The Villa Maria Hurricanes blew into town to square off against the swimmers of Mount St. Joseph Academy last Thursday evening, and the perennial AACA powerhouse dealt the Magic a 61-33 setback.

Mount St. Joe displayed decent depth by taking second place in eight races and garnering five thirds, but Villa, the defending PIAA Class AA  state champion, captured first place in 10 of the 11 events. The only obstacle in the path of a first-place sweep by the visitors was a victory in the 50-yard freestyle by Mount senior Katie O’Connell, who won in 26.90 seconds.

The Magic’s dual meet record leveled off at 2-2 for the season. Villa rose to 4-1; the only blemish on the Hurricanes’ record is a loss to Unionville High School on a day when some team members were competing at another event. Last Thursday things went better for Mount St. Joe in junior varsity competition, but the Hurricanes still prevailed, 50-44.

Neither team has a swimming pool of its own, and each holds “home” meets at a nearby boys school. Thursday’s contest was hosted by the Mount at La Salle High School, the Magic’s customary venue. Villa Maria practices and stages home events at all-male Malvern Prep, just a few minutes away.

Taking on Villa is always a tall order for the other AACA schools, and MSJ coach Janet Pudlinski remarked, “I just wanted our girls to get out of the water knowing they did everything they could to swim as fast as they could. When you have talent next to you, you want to use it to push yourself.”

The Magic’s last meet had been back on December 19, and the Mount’s mentor said, “We looked like we hadn’t raced in awhile. I hoped we might win more than one race, but we weren’t really crisp and sharp.”

Most of the top talent from VMA’s state championship squad has returned this winter, and last Thursday the ‘Canes jumped ahead at the outset and stayed there. Visitors Sarah Hitchens, Olivia Tierney, Lauren Law, and Julia Murphy opened with a victory in the medley relay (in 1:55.26), while the Magic were runners-up with Steph Elbe, Dana Zielinski, Christine Sipos, and Jen Lehman.

Mount sophomore Christina Formica finished second in both the 200 and 500-yard freestyle races. The 200 was won by Villa’s Molly O’Brien (2:01.60), who also won the 100 free (55.87 seconds). First in the 500 went to the visitors’ Lauren Law (5:23.86), netting her second win of the meet following a triumph in the 200 individual medley (2:17.13)

Mount junior Lexi Meister took third in the I.M., and she was a very close second in the butterfly, where she was out-touched by Alyssa Myers of the Hurricanes (1:04.50). Zielinski, a Mount senior tri-captain along with O’Connell and Taylor Held, was the runner-up in the 100 free, and sophomore Julia Sowa was third in the breast stroke, where the top spot went to the Hurricanes’ Tierney (1:12.87).

In the back stroke, the hosts collected second and third place thanks to a pair of freshmen, Elbe and Haley Sannem. The winner here was Hitchens of Villa Maria, in 1:01.23.

Hitchens is actually the defending state champ in the 100 free style, but in this meet she swam the back stroke and performed on all three winning relay teams. She led off the 200 free relay (1:43.84), followed by Murphy, Julie Dobson, and O’Brien, and she anchored the 400 free relay (3:48.07), where she was preceded by O’Brien, Law, and Claire Schumann.

The runner-up quartets for the Magic in those two races consisted of Elbe, Meister, Formica, and O’Connell in the 200, and Formica, Elbe, O’Connell, and Zielinski in the 400.

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