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Penncrest’s Walsh determined to make up for lost time

PHILADELPHIA >> Claire Walsh hasn’t had the sophomore season she expected, nor the one her tremendous freshman campaign portended.

Much of that owed to factors beyond her control — a pair of sprained ankles and a broken foot from a fall in September that cost her eight weeks of training, then a stomach bug that deprived her a chance to defend her Central League crowns two weeks ago.

With the important part of the swimming postseason dawning, though, the adversity the Penncrest sprinter has surmounted offers a novel perspective.

Walsh gritted out a solid swim Thursday at the District 1 Championships at La Salle University’s Kirk Natatorium, winning the next-to-last heat of the 50 freestyle in 24.11 seconds to claim fifth place overall and book an automatic trip to the PIAA Class 3A Championships.

Walsh still didn’t feel quite right after six days out of the water, and her competitive streak won’t allow her to gloss the fact that her winning time in the event last year was a markedly quicker 23.59. But with the curveballs the season has thrown, she’s inclined to grant herself some clemency.

“Going into this, I just tried to keep a positive attitude knowing that I did have to take some days off and just do my best with that,” Walsh said.

Walsh controlled the next-to-last heat in winning by a half body-length. Her time bested two swimmers in the final heat to earn the fifth and final auto bid to states.

Caroline Famous, Conestoga’s fab freshman and Walsh’s training partner at Suburban Swim Club, dominated the final in 23.45.

Walsh, who split 23.98 to anchor Penncrest’s 12th-place medley relay, kept her reaction even-keeled, expressing gratitude for the extra states swim.

“I think I’ll always be hard on myself, but I think now going into states, I have a positive attitude,” she said. “I think no matter what, I’m going to improve and I’m just going to try my best regardless of what happened in the past.”

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Drawn into an outside lane of the third-fastest heat of the 200 individual medley, the heat sheets would seem to have pegged Ridley’s Gab Rudy as a states long shot.

That listing didn’t disclose what Rudy knew as she ascended the block in lane 1, that the 17th seed’s entry time of 2:12.37 belied a swimmer who’s been a fixture at state meets since her freshman year.

Rudy brandished that form, winning her heat with ease in 2:06.76 to take ninth. She’ll have to wait out times across the state to set the PIAA cut, but with the last of 16 time qualifiers last year clocking in at 2:10.06, she seems safely in. Rudy was eighth in 2:06.55 last year.

Even as a senior, the Drexel signee admits a touch of nerves. But underlying that is a veteran poise that served Rudy well, knowing what she needed to do, regardless of heat or lane.

“I knew I had to take it out fast in order to make it to what I knew (the time) was last year,” she said. “I knew that I needed a 2:08 or faster, so I needed to take it out really fast and getting first (in the heat) would make it, too.”

Rudy’s club teammate Georgia Apostolu of Springfield finished 13th in 2:09.10. She’s also well under the time cut from last year, and 13 swimmers from District 1 qualifying is unusual but not unheard of. Apostolu was ninth last year in getting to states.

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Garnet Valley’s Madison Kolessar booked her first states trip with fourth place in the 200 free at 1:52.42. Radnor’s Julia Cullen will return to states in the 100 butterfly with a time of 56.71, good for fifth.

Strath Haven’s Summer Martin is almost certain to get a nod in the 200 free, where she placed sixth in 1:52.67, nearly three seconds quicker than last year’s slowest at-large. Teammate Liz Olszewski was ninth in the 100 fly in 57.43; 58.10 was required for states last year, with Olszewski earning an at-large by placing 14th at districts.

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