LEWISBURG >> Off to the side, as a microphone was thrust into Greg Giannella’s face Saturday night, Radnor’s peanut gallery assembled as the crowd at Bucknell University’s Kinney Natatorium dispersed.
Giannella didn’t get very far into assessing his performance at the PIAA Class 3A Swimming Championships before the ribbing began. And when the subject turned to a teammate’s swim, like Patrick Cullen one heat earlier than Giannella in the 50 freestyle, the rejoinders began to fly.
That humor finds steady footing on a team that makes swimming for each other no laughing matter. Three-fourths of the Raiders’ medal-winning relay turns in career-best times Saturday, then summoning even more speed competing for their mates, testifies to that bond.
Giannella medaled in the 50, taking fifth in 20.66 seconds, nearly a half-second quicker than his golden time at districts. Cullen was 10th in 21.19.
North Allegheny’s Mason Gonzalez goes 19.99 to win the 50. (Greg Giannella in lane 7 4th in 20.66) pic.twitter.com/74RNog2llt
— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) March 19, 2017
Then both dug deeper, Cullen leading off the relay in 21.09, Giannella unleashing a 19.68 anchor leg to claw Radnor to second in its heat, en route to sixth overall, alongside James El-Deiry and Ryan Tague.
The medal is Radnor’s first since the medley in 2013. For all the subsequent laughs, swimming for each other is serious business.
“I think that’s a big part of it,” Cullen said. “We all want each other to do well, and we see everyone else doing well and we do so much better after seeing that.”
Giannella’s was the fourth sub-20 split of the night and only one not turned in by North Allegheny, which is running away with the team competition and set a state record in the 200 free relay. Mason Gonzalez, who won the 50 in 19.99, split 19.31 in the medley. (His services were not required for the latter relay.)
Giannella’s split added the difficulty of recouping a deficit. Radnor was fourth in the heat when he hit the water, but not for long, the senior chewing up real estate with his controlled fury of a stroke.
“We’re all really proud of him,” Cullen said. “We know he’s capable of doing great splits like that, and it’s so awesome to watch Greg go in a little behind and then catch up and have an awesome split.”
Giannella split 19.91 at districts. Saturday’s was faster and more theatrical, with the board at Kinney posting splits instantly, giving Giannella a chance to admire the remarkable figure.
“When I saw 19.6, I was like, ‘Whoa, that’s really fast,’” said Giannella, who will return to Bucknell in his college career with Lehigh.
El-Deiry set a school mark in the 200 individual medley, finishing 19th in 1:56.05. The final relay capped a strong first day with an apropos display of camaraderie and fast swimming.
Alex Boeckx needed just a quick survey of the heat sheets to find his perspective.
The Ridley freshman knew he’d be in select company in his first trip to states. But as one of only four rookies in the 200 IM, he didn’t lump any additional pressure on.
Boeckx produced a season-best 1:55.20, earning 15th place. That he was third among the four freshmen, though, is the more pertinent metric.
“Being a freshman, I’m not going to have a big chance up against the big guys because everyone’s really good as seniors,” he said. “I just think, man I can really improve, I just need to work on this and this and I’ll get good outcomes if I try my best.”
Boeckx was among just 10 freshmen to qualify for the four individual events Saturday. Others in the IM included North Penn’s Sean Faikish, who finished second, and Upper Dublin’s Matthew Jensen in 11th.
Boeckx’s emphasis on his first exposure to states was merely to soak it in and ready for the future.
“I took that I did that, next time I can do it better, just have to train harder, work harder in the practice,” he said.