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Return to gold is plenty sweet for Lower Merion’s Kalandadze

LEWISBURG >> A year ago, Anna Kalandadze didn’t quite know what to expect at the PIAA Class 3A Swimming Championships.

Older and wiser as a sophomore and a reigning state champion, the Lower Merion distance specialist wore the label with pride, repeating with ease Sunday.

Kalandadze clocked in at 4:48.29 in the 500 freestyle, swimming away from the final heat by more than seven seconds to comfortably attain her second career gold medal at Bucknell University’s Kinney Natatorium.

“Last year I wasn’t really expecting to win,” Kalandadze said. “I just thought I’d come and swim my best and see what happens. This year, I was definitely more confident and I think that helped my race.”

Kalandadze finished seventh in the 200 free Saturday. In her favored event, she flawlessly executed her race plan. The schedule switch this week, with timed finals instead of morning trials and evening finals, tends to impact distance swimmers more. Kalandadze felt a little nervous, struggling to get enough warmup for the one-and-done race. She says she tends to be more of a night swimmer (last year, she was nearly three seconds quicker in finals than prelims).

But she showed no ill-effects once she was in the water for her race, getting out quickly and staying ahead.

“It’s a strategy me and (Lower Merion coach) Jeremy (Byrne) have been working on,” she said. “He wants me to get out ahead to see if I can keep holding my pace continuously to help my longer races.”

The echelons formed by the midway point, and Kalandadze was head and shoulders quicker than a trio of swimmers clustered within three-tenths of a second, led by Peters Township’s Abby Hay in 4:55.27. Central League rival Madison Kolessar of Garnet Valley was fourth in 4:55.56, .01 behind Twin Valley’s Hannah Schlegel.

In her short career, Kalandadze has gotten to the top of the podium and successfully defended that place. Getting there two different ways, Kalandadze didn’t sense much difference in the sensations.

“It still made me really happy, and I think it’s an honor to be up there,” she said.

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