RADNOR >> During a particularly grueling early-season workout, Haverford coach Matt Stewart sought to stoke a fire under junior distance specialist Collin Pettit with just three terms: “Bob Gavin, 4:32.24.”
The reminder is the school record in the 500 freestyle, set by Gavin back in 1983 and standing as the Delaware County record until 2015. Once Pettit blossomed as a sophomore, he and Stewart concurred on Gavin’s mark as a long-term aspiration.
Saturday’s Central League Championships presented an intermediate step on that path. So when Pettit surfaced for the final 50 and saw a hopping Stewart frantically waving a piece of paper on the pool deck, Pettit didn’t need 20/20 vision to know what it said.
“I didn’t see the words, but I saw the white paper and I knew what it was, so I was like, ‘Oh I’ve got to go,’” Pettit said.
He went quickly enough to win the 500 in 4:41.41, within a half-second of Gavin’s meet and Radnor pool record of 4:40.92, which was the goal du jour.
Pettit’s time was within two seconds of his lifetime best, close enough to encourage him as to what the postseason could hold.
Pettit has kept Gavin’s record in his crosshairs. The paper has traveled with him, stored for safekeeping in Pettit’s room. In a show of optimism, Pettit presented it to Stewart Saturday to record his splits on, figuring it would make an appropriate memento had he downed the meet mark.
Even with the near miss, the motivation remains, and with districts and (potentially) states ahead, Pettit will have two or three cracks at history.
“It keeps me motivated throughout the season to have a big end goal, not just placing but having a time to go after,” he said. “It feels better, too, because it’s such an old record, to possibly be able to break such an old record.”
Pettit wasn’t alone in feeling conflicting emotions atop the podium. On one hand, the No. 1 next to Matthew Bochanski’s name in the 100 breaststroke was cause for celebration. But the time — 1:00.07, maddeningly shy of the hallowed minute-mark for breaststrokers — caused a little anguish.
“I wanted to go under a minute,” Bochanski said. “I was seven-hundredths short, so it’s going to be a little hard the next two weeks over taper. I’d say it’s my biggest motivation, practice wise.”
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A greater positive is the dynamic among the Fords breaststroke contingent. David Abrahams finished second in 1:00.60, while John Higson claimed eighth in 1:03.03.That helped the Fords finish second to Conestoga in the final standings, combining the championships and dual-meet scores.
Bochanski is grateful for the natural competition in practice every day.
“That pushes me to do better in practice and meets,” he said. “I enjoy racing him, and it’s fun.”
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