LANCASTER >> One by one, seniors like Maddie O’Reilly and Sally Stockett filed through the guard of honor prepared by the Episcopal Academy boys swimming team Saturday night.
They followed in the footsteps of Emma Seiberlich, twice a winner at the Eastern Interscholastic Championships. They led out junior Alex Sumner, who was crowned the most outstanding swimmer of the girls meet for a second straight year.
EA possessing world-beating talents like Sumner and Seiberlich isn’t novel. But the impetus for the Churchwomen’s charge to their first Easterns title stemmed as much from that next tier of swimmers as it did the leading lights.
EA has benefitted from great stocks of top-end talent down the years. As evidence, see the persistence of all three Delaware County relay records in an otherwise comprehensive onslaught on history. Two of those records date to the team runner-up performance in 2012.
In those days, the talent drop-off occurred after three or four top swimmers. This time around, as the mentality has evolved under the pressure of multiple near misses at the title, EA still counts among its ranks the stars needed to monopolize the top step of the podium. But more often, Churchwomen occupy the lower rungs.
Enter O’Reilly and Stockett. O’Reilly finished second in the 50 freestyle Friday, then took eighth in the 100 Saturday. Stockett steamed up to sixth in the 100 breaststroke after earning the eighth seed in prelims. She was also 11th in the 50.
Those stocks of points led to a total of 542.5, edging Mercersburg (527) for the title.
“I think it shows how we’ve turned into a team instead of individuals,” O’Reilly said. “Yeah, we’ve had a lot of great individuals in the past. But I think now we’re a team, we’ve learned to cheer for each other. We’ve learned to swim as hard as we can until literally we can’t get out of the pool. That’s great to see in our program.”
EA still won plenty of events — Seiberlich in the 100 butterfly and 100 free, Sumner in the 200 individual medley and 100 backstroke. They were buoyed by Hadley DeBruyn’s somewhat surprising win in the 500, dethroning top seed and reigning champion Karlee Carminati of Germantown Academy. (Carminati was 12 seconds quicker than DeBruyn last season when the eighth-grader took third.)
But a total of 12 swimmers scored points in the expanded top-24 scoring system at Franklin & Marshall’s eight-lane pool, plus three divers netting crucial points, led by Wren Sablich capturing second.
It’s tempting to see the performance authored by Haverford School through the same lens. EA’s ascent to the Eastern’s title wasn’t linear, taking second place to the last GA juggernauts in 2012 and 2013 before slipping to third the ensuing two years. Last season, they missed out on the crown by eight points to Mercersburg.
Haverford School took an ostensible step back this season, from second place in 2016 to third. But the way in which they did it reveals it to hardly be a hiccup. Seven Fords scored in Saturday’s events. Only two — Charlie Ryan and Will Russell — are seniors. Of the four A finalists, all but Ryan returns next season. Many, including distance star Brian Brennan and top-five age-grouper Antonio Octaviano, are just freshmen. Alex Boratto, who won two events, was named the Daily Times boys swimmer of the year as a sophomore and continues to get quicker.
The Fords erased all three Delco relay records; of the seven individuals comprising those squads, Ryan is again the only upperclassmen.
“I think throughout my whole Haverford career, the freshmen and the sophomores and the juniors just get better,” Ryan said. “I’ve never felt like the seniors have always been the best people on the team, and I can’t really see that being the way in the future either. Everyone’s always getting better and I’m glad to be a part of that.”
Each year, Haverford School coach Sean Hansen surveys the record-board wreckage of the previous season and wonders how his team will top it. Yet since the 2012 team that claimed the first top-six Easterns finish in school history reorganized the county record board, the standards have inevitably fallen, usually by the first meet of the following season.
Ryan knows who deserve the credit for that.
“I think a lot of it is trusting Sean as a coach because a lot of us know Sean’s one of the best coaches out there,” the Michigan State signee said. “At least from my point of view, every year, I’ve gotten faster. And I’m so happy to have a coach like that who gets in your face behind the blocks and really pushes you to do your best every single time you swim.”
History may be in the offing for Haverford School. It was made in emphatic terms for EA Saturday, a long and rewarding climb to the summit of the mountain for seniors like Seiberlich.
“This team is making history,” the University of Virginia signee said. “It’s our first time ever winning Easterns. I can’t even put it into words.”