Mount St. Joe junior Steph Eble is shown on her way to victory in the 500-yard freestyle event in last Thursday’s home meet. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

Mount St. Joe junior Steph Eble is shown on her way to victory in the 500-yard freestyle event in last Thursday’s home meet. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

In their first home meet of the new year, Mount St. Joseph Academy swimmers encountered tough going last Thursday against seemingly perpetual Catholic Academies champion Villa Maria.

Through the first nine events, Villa churned out eight first-place and five second-place finishes to take a 55-21 lead over the host Magic. The Hurricanes, three-time defending state champions in Class AA, then swam the last two races on an exhibition basis (scoring no team points), and the final reckoning worked out to 55-39.

This setback against a formidable foe left the Mounties with an overall record of 2-2 in dual meets. They opened the season with a loss to traditionally powerful North Penn, then defeated another Suburban One League team, Plymouth Whitemarsh, before the Christmas break. The Magic then opened their league campaign by beating Villa Joseph Marie on January 9.

In the first nine races last Thursday, a string of Villa victories was interrupted only by a win in the 500-yard freestyle by MSJ junior Steph Eble, who turned in a time of five minutes, 29.24 seconds. Eble, a national-class rower for the Mount during the spring and fall crew seasons, also picked up second place in the 200 freestyle.

In the 50 free, Magic freshman Katherine Schafer was closing fast at the end and finished second, later coming back to become runner-up in the 100 free, as well.

Longtime Mount head coach Janet Pudlinski has been impressed by the performance of Schafer and other members of the freshman class, such as Sam Bauer and Grace Comerford. Comerford’s sister Julia is a 10th-grader on the team, and has also been swimming well, according to Pudlinski.

New to the MSJ coaching staff, but not to the Magic swim program, is assistant coach Caroline Menapace, a former MSJ standout who went on to swim at Fairfield University, where she graduated in 2012.

One of the current Mount seniors, Christina Formica, is planning to continue her aquatic career at Fairfield. Against Villa last week, she placed third in both the 100 butterfly and the 200 individual medley.

Thus far in the season, her best time in the fly has earned her “under consideration” status (one step away from automatic qualification) for the PIAA District 1 Class AAA championships. Schafer also garnered district consideration in the fly, along with the 50 and 100 freestyle.

In the 200-yard medley relay event that opened last Thursday’s meet, Mount St. Joe placed second with the quartet of (in race order) junior Haley Sannem, sophomore Liz DeGroat, Formica and Schafer. In the 200 freestyle relay, third place went to the Magic’s DeGroat, senior Jessie Dolan, Formica, and Eble.

Individually, Sannem came in third in both the 100 free and the 100 backstroke.

Villa decided to forego additional team points in the 100 breast stroke and the 400 free relay at the end of the meet. For the record, the Mount’s DeGroat was first in the former event, and in the relay the Magic placed first with Schafer, Dolan, Eble, and Sannem.

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