Ground level wasn’t going to cut it.
After capping his junior season with an eighth-place medal at Bucknell University last winter, Pottsgrove’s Kevin Basch glanced up the podium next to him far from satisfied.
“The top eight finishers earn medals, but only six of them actually get to stand on the podium,” he said with a laugh. “The seventh and eighth place finishers stand at ground level. So to be honest, it didn’t really feel like a podium shot for me.”
That’s when everything changed.
“That really lit a fire under him,” said Pottsgrove’s first-year head coach Alex Diehl. “He was definitely proud to have made it to states his junior season, but I think it made him work that much harder to post a better time and finish even better this time around.”
Standing on solid ground and glancing up at six others standing on the podiums that day, Basch set a new standard for himself.
“My goal was to climb up onto that podium by the end of my senior season,” he said. “I knew I’d need to do better to get up there. That was my motivation all season.”
Last month, Basch accomplished that goal — not once, but twice — as the Pottsgrove senior climbed onto the podium twice after he earned a silver medal in the 500-yard freestyle just a day after finishing sixth in the 200 free at the PIAA Class AA Championships held at Bucknell University’s Kinney Natatorium.
For his efforts throughout the past season and the podiums he climbed once the waves were settled on his high school career, Basch has been named The 2015-2016 Mercury All-Area Boys Swimmer of the Year. He follows Perkiomen Valley’s Kyle Dix and Upper Perkiomen’s Mason Cassel, who were donned the Area’s Swimmers of the Year over the respective past two seasons.
“This is a really big honor for me,” said Basch, who is committed to continue his swimming career at Division I University of Delaware in the fall. “There are some really talented swimmers in our league and across this area. So to be selected out of all of them is something that I’ll really cherish.”
Over the span of his four-year career at Pottsgrove, Basch admittedly went through his fair share of ups and downs.
“Freshman and sophomore year, I kind of lost track of my goals,” he said, “I wasn’t exactly sure what I wanted to achieve from all of this. During the past two seasons, though, I definitely fell in love with the sport again.”
That rekindled mindset came in no small part to his then-YMCA head coach Linda Jones, who retired the summer before Basch’s senior season. Entering his final season with a new high school head coach in Diehl as well as a new Boyertown YMCA head coach in Alex Willcox, Basch’s senior year was no cake-walk.
“It was a really hectic start to the season,” admitted Basch. “Going into senior year, you’ve got all this pressure to do well and impress colleges. So having to do all that and having to adjust to two new coaches was definitely a huge challenge.”
A challenge that Basch would thrive under.
Along with standout teammate Emily Glinecke, Basch served as a mentor to his Falcons teammates during the season. By the time states rolled around, Pottsgrove sent a school-record six swimmers to Bucknell University, thanks in no small part to the senior leadership of Basch and Glinecke.
“They both made my transition a lot easier,” said Diehl of moving from a two-swimmer Pottstown program during the 2014-2015 season to Pottsgrove this past season. “Their role on the team was a lot different than it was when they were juniors, but they embraced it.
“They never seemed bigger than the team. They stayed loose just as much as everyone else was, but also knew when it was time to be serious.”
Having coached Basch in his early days of club swimming, Diehl knew what to expect from his senior as the Falcons geared up for the season.
“I knew he was going to be motivated coming into this season,” said Diehl. “He’s a really talented swimmer, but the thing that really separates him from the others is his dedication.”
Early on in his swimming career, the 500 free served as Basch’s ground zero as he began to take the water more seriously. Having started the sport around 10 years old, Basch didn’t compete in long-distance events until he arrived at Pottsgrove High School as a freshman.
Once he discovered the 500 free, though, he knew he’d found his event.
“It felt right for me right from the start,” said Basch. “I’ve never been a huge fan of sprints or short-distance races, so for me the 500 has always been my strongest event. It’s one of those things where I try and clear my mind and let my body do all the work for me.”
With a clear mind and his sights set, Basch posted a near-record-breaking time of 4:35.22 in the 500 free at the District 1-AA Championships to earn his first gold medal at La Salle University in early-March of this past season. About two weeks later, he took the blocks for his last go as a high schooler in his best event.
“There were a lot of things going through my mind,” said Basch of the moments before he swam in the 500 free at states. “It was my last swim, my last chance to go out and do something special. I knew I had to make it memorable.”
And he did just that.
Battling back-and-forth with Manheim Central’s Matthew Daniel (Cornell commit) throughout the 20-lap race, Basch posted a 4:34.79, finishing just over two seconds behind Daniel.
“We were tight the entire time,” recalled Basch of taking home the silver, “but he just had a little bit more left and turned it on during the last lap. I really couldn’t ask for a better finish to my high school career.”
His time proved over 12 seconds better than his eighth-place time as a junior when he touched the wall at 4:46.87. So when Basch climbed that podium just moments after accepting his silver medal, the senior stood tall and proud above six other swimmers who glanced up the podium at he and Daniel.
“It felt like all the work I put in over the years — especially this past season — were paid off in that moment,” he said. “I left everything I had in the pool.”
Though he’ll begin again at ground-level at the start of his collegiate career at the University of Delaware, Basch will have plenty more podiums to climb over the next four years.