The news on the swimming scheduling storm front is decidedly mixed this week, the best of a bad situation thanks to a nor’easter that dumped unseasonably large amounts of snow on parts of Pennsylvania.
But the most glaring casualty of the delayed and condensed schedule for the PIAA Swimming and Diving Championships — now Thursday through Sunday at Bucknell University — is the least ideal: It’s possible that swimmers will depart Kinney Natatorium after their respective competitions not knowing which teams will be crowned state champions.
That’s because divers won’t arrive until the following weekend to contest an event that counts the same toward team totals as the other seven individual races.
First, the revised schedule, which the PIAA announced Monday, shifts the competition back a day. Class 2A will swim Thursday and Friday, with 3A following Saturday and Sunday. But diving is postponed a week, with the 2A boys and girls diving Saturday, March 25 and the 3A competition following Sunday, March 26.
The more vexing change, wrought by the loss of travel days, is the elimination of the trials-and-finals format, with timed finals swum in two sessions a day for each. That eliminates one of the most endearing aspects of the meet, which offered the morning-afternoon dynamic that prevails in USA Swimming and college competition.
Safety is obviously the paramount concern with areas of the state walloped by two feet of snow or more, but it’s a difficult situation nonetheless.
“We’re not thrilled with it,” Ridley coach Kevin Pierce said. “I understand the reasoning behind it, but I think it takes away from the kids a little it.”
There is some precedent for the changes. In 2007, a snowstorm at Bucknell limited one day of the competition to timed finals. A similar situation occurred in 1993.
This time, however, the hardship is spread evenly among Class 2A and 3A, and swimmers were given a few days to adjust arrangements and training.
“I think the fact that we found out on a Monday, it gives them time to adjust their mentality,” Radnor boys coach Tom Robinson said. “They just know now that they’re not getting two swims. They’re getting one swim and they have to be ready to go in their opportunity.”
Some other changes are more difficult to quantify, like lane changes in the move from circle-seeded heats to straight seeding by times.
A case like Ridley senior Gab Rudy’s demonstrates the push-and-pull. On the one hand, Rudy didn’t rest for the District 1 championships two weeks ago, viewing it as more or less a qualifier for states in her two events, the 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke. Particularly in the latter event — where she’ll be chasing a medal and a possible All-American time — she’ll be seeded in a slower heat than had she gotten a rested prelims swim to more accurately portray her strength.
The flipside, though, is that Rudy’s lack of rest for districts puts her on a longer taper trajectory. Moving competition back one day is less impactful on a long taper like Rudy’s than, for instance, the 10-day version of a swimmer that rested for their district meet.
“We’re only pushed back the one day, so she’s going to be fine there,” Pierce said of Rudy, who’ll attend Drexel next year. “We’re just holding on one extra day. She’ll be fine. She’s a big-meet swimmer.”
Distance swimmers, who usually feel out race plans in the mornings while just worrying about qualifying, might be more adversely affected. Sprinters just have to adopt the one-and-done mindset quicker.
The team competition is another matter. No Delco teams will threaten for trophies handed out to the top two finishers. But most of the team-title contender in each class boast diving entrants.
According to Selma Robinson, an assistant athletic director at North Penn who represents District 1 on the PIAA’s swimming steering committee, it’ll be wait-and-see as to how to handle the delayed diving totals.
North Penn, a contender in Class 3A boys and girls, has a total of six divers entered.
“Unfortunately what’s going to have to happen is we’re going to have to wait for the results for the diving champions to determine who won,” Robinson said, deferring the decision on site to PIAA associate executive director Melissa Mertz, who has long been involved with the meet’s operations.