PHILADELPHIA >> Greg Giannella hit the wall, turned to the scoreboard and threw his arms up in exultation Thursday.
The next time the senior sprinter produced a morsel of Radnor history, he heralded the news with a blend of triumph and perplexity.
Giannella won the 50 freestyle at the District 1 Class 3A Championships at La Salle University’s Kirk Natatorium. But he saved his best time for the 200 free relay, uncorking an anchor split of 19.91 seconds as Radnor seized fourth place and a states berth.
The first swim pitted Giannella against defending 50 champ Cristian Musterait of Souderton. Though Giannella entered as the top seed, he didn’t exactly feel like it.
“I knew the seeds for the 50 don’t really matter,” Giannella said. “It’s just hundredths of a second, doesn’t even matter. First seed, you’ve got to prove your worth I guess.”
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They mattered less when Giannella hit the water, glanced left to see Musterait trailing and literally put his head down. The time wasn’t what Giannella sought — 21.01 seconds to Musterait’s 21.07 — but he didn’t let up and nipped the Souderton senior at the wall.
“I was expecting him to go really fast, and I didn’t know if I had a shot at winning,” Giannella said. “I dove in and saw I was in front of him and I was like, ‘Oh, I can actually win.’ If I breathe, I’m going to lose, so I didn’t breathe the whole way and I got the W.”
Per coach Tom Robinson, Giannella is the first Radnor boys swimmer to win an individual gold medal at districts since the team transitioned to Class 3A.
“It’s exciting,” Giannella said. “I looked up to the seniors (as a freshman) because I thought they were the fastest kids I ever knew. And none of them ever won a district title and I won a district title. This feels weird.”
Teammate Patrick Cullen won the previous heat of the 50 in 21.46, earning fourth overall and a states date.
Giannella often reserves his best swims for relays, as he did Thursday. Entering the anchor leg, the squad of Cullen, Ryan Tague and James El-Deiry left Giannella with work to re-enter the picture for the five automatic states bids.
Giannella rose to the occasion with his sub-20-second leg, which put him in rarefied company nationwide.
“I work well under pressure, and I was anchoring that relay and I just wanted to go fast and I wanted to win,” Giannella said. “Unfortunately, we were too far behind to get the win, but 19.9 feels good.”
On the whole, Giannella’s day featured tradeoffs. Or to take the optimistic view, he extracted the best of both worlds from his swims.
“I wanted to go 20.0 in the 50, but I went 21.0 and I won. So that’s a tradeoff,” he said. “And I wanted to go 19.9 in the relay and win, but I went 19.9 and got fourth. So there’s that tradeoff. … But a week from now, I’ll be like, ‘Wow, I went 19.9.’”
In absolute terms, Matthew Shaw knew he swam a stellar 200 free. But as the Haverford junior waited on deck, he received plenty of reinforcement as to how outstanding it was.
Shaw set an extremely fast time of 1 minute, 45.27 seconds, shaving over four seconds from his seed to win the second heat of eight. Then he waited for someone else’s time to displace him from the top spot … and waited … and waited.
Shaw was so quick that he beat everyone in the next three heats. He even bested two swimmers in the next-to-last heat, supposedly the second-fastest. He finished 12th, a massive improvement from the 39th seed.
“It was exhilarating to watch,” Shaw said of all the swims slower than his effort. “Still no one was beating me. I dropped 27 positions. While not expected at all, it was great.”
Coach Matt Stewart says Shaw has a penchant for big time drops on taper. For a distance swimmer to capitalize on that requires a certain combination of faith and tenacity: The belief that your legs house that extra energy late, and the aggressiveness to attack the front half for that back half to make a big different.
Shaw took care of that with aplomb.
“For the past two years, taper has made me drop five seconds in the 100 fly, I dropped three seconds in the 50 free,” Shaw said. “When you have that feeling of taper behind you and knowing that it’s going to work, you can go in with a lot of confidence.”
He wasn’t the only Ford to see improvement. Collin Pettit finished eighth in the 200 free in 1:44.29, quicker than the last at-large to states a season ago (1:44.86).
Leo Goldszal was 11th in the 50, James Abrahams 15th in the 200 individual medley, while both relays authored top-10 finishes — the medley in eighth and the 200 free in 10th. Those swims are outside the last 2016 at-large cut. Haverford sits sixth in the team competition, tops among the Delco contingent.
Ridley freshman Alex Boeckx is in excellent position for states, taking sixth in the 200 IM in 1:55.56. Radnor’s El-Deiry, who qualified last year, was ninth in 1:56.62, more than a second quicker that 2016’s at-large cutoff. Strath Haven’s Oliver Yancey tied for 11th in the IM in 1:57.64. Haven’s 200 free relay of Yancey, Sean Adams (13th in the 200 free), Will Resweber (15th in the 200 free) and Colin Brennan took home 12th place.