LEWISBURG >> The moment had finally hit her.
As she headed for the medal podium one final time her for scholastic career, Methacton senior Emily Sykes finally felt the emotions she swore she wouldn’t experience until graduation day.
Quite simply, it was a medley of feelings as the PIAA Class AAA Championships finished on Sunday at Bucknell University.
Sykes concluded the weekend and her scholastic career with a bronze finish in the 100-yard breaststroke, standing alongside the likes of Phoenixville senior Maddie Cooke who joined her on the medal stand to finish out her career.
“I was zippering up my jacket to walk up onto the podium,” recalled an emotional Sykes, “and that’s when it all hit me. I thought to myself, ‘This is it.
This is the last time I’ll ever get to wear this jacket.’ It’s really hard to put all of it into words, but I’m so thankful that I’ve been a part of this.”
For the weekend, it was Sykes’ second medal after claiming fourth in the 200-yard individual medley on Saturday.
She swam a personal-best 1:02.33 on Sunday, shedding plenty off her qualifying time of 1:03.69. All that finished ahead of her were Downingtown East’s Heather McCausland and Avon Grove’s Olivia Paoletti (2017 Swimmer of the Meet), who finished dead-even at 1:01.49 to split the gold.
“We’ve all gotten so close over the years,” Sykes said of the competition in the 100 breast. “It’s so fun to race some of the same people from our district and state each year — Maddie Cooke, Olivia Paoletti — we’ve all pushed each other to get better every year. It makes for a really great atmosphere here.”
As she made her way to the podium, Sykes kept with tradition, shaking hands with each competitor one-by-one before she took the step up to her respective place. Once she got to North Penn’s Kailyn Evans and Cooke, though, she broke stride.
“We had to hug it out,” said Cooke with a laugh. “It was a pleasure to race her for the last four years. It was so cool that we both got to finish it out together. I think we’ve both pushed each other really well throughout high school.”
Cooke finished up in seventh place at 1:03.81, right on the heels of Connellsville’s Tatum Detwiler (1:03.57) for her third career medal in the breaststroke. It was her second medal of the weekend — her first coming when she finished eighth in the 50 free a day earlier.
“It was a fast meet,” said Cooke. “Coming in, I knew it would be a strong field both days.”
With a combined 13 PIAA medals gained over the past four seasons between the two, Sykes and Cooke have been cornerstones of the Pioneer Athletic Conference’s swimming foundation throughout their careers.
As both begin to eye their Division I collegiate careers — Sykes at University of Tennessee, Cooke at Penn State University — one thing remains perfectly evident: They saved their best for last.
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In boys action among Pioneer Athletic Conference qualifiers, Spring-Ford senior Noah Cancro made the most of his first and final shot swimming at states.
The Bloomsburg commit won his heat and placed 15th overall with a personal-best 58.71 in the 100-yard breaststroke. His time was right on the heels of State College’s Foster Heasley and Haverford’s David Abraham, who finished tied for 11th at 59.68.
“It’s hard going back-to-back tapers, that’s for sure,” said Cancro in reference to districts a couple weeks ago. “This was a great experience, especially with college coming up. Hopefully I set a good example for the guys coming up behind me.”
Boyertown senior Patrick Lance brought with him a similar approach.
As the team’s most experienced swimmer — a three-time state qualifier — Lance served as the anchor to the Bears’ 400 free relay (3:14.48), which finished 19th overall to close out the careers of Lance and classmate Ivan Escott.
“I wouldn’t want to end it any other way,” said Lance. “I love anchoring. I always get that drive once I look over and see who’s swimming ahead of us.”
Freshman Owen Miller and sophomore Oliver Tye swam the second and third legs, both soaking up their first state experiences.
Individually, Lance finished tied for 22nd in the 100 free with Cumberland Valley’s Logan Skiles at 47.50.
“There’s no doubt in my mind that this team will only get better with time,” said Lance. “I think every year, Boyertown will keep getting stronger.”
Safe to say, he’ll always be watching.