NEWTOWN SQUARE >> Standing side-by-side, Alex Sumner and Alex Boratto cut drastically different figures.
Sumner is quiet and unassuming. Not the first person you’d necessarily peg in a room full of her peers as the star swimmer. Boratto is growing into the rangy physique of an elite swimmer, still a little gawky in a teenage way, but with a broad-shouldered stature that signifies aquatic excellence.
That’s where the divergences end, though. Both juniors — one at Episcopal Academy, one at Haverford School — are star backstrokers of rare vintage. Both tend toward the quiet side on deck but express their talents emphatically in the water. Both will frequent similar national meets this summer and court interest from the same national array of schools at the pinnacle of swimming and academic achievement. Oh yeah, and then there’s that shared name.
Boratto and Sumner also share the distinction as the 2016-17 Daily Times Swimmers of the Year.
It’s the second straight Boys Swimmer of the Year nod for Boratto and third All-Delco recognition. Sumner, who didn’t swim scholastically as a freshman, is on the All-Delco team for a second year.
Accompanying Boratto on the boys team are Haverford School mates Brian Brennan, John Nelligan and Charlie Ryan, Episcopal Academy’s Ivan Puskovitch, Radnor’s Greg Giannella and Haverford High diver Will Canny. Sumner’s first-team mates include Emma Seiberlich, Hadley DeBruyn and diver Wren Sablich, joined by Garnet Valley’s Madison Kolessar, Strath Haven’s Summer Martin and Ridley’s Gab Rudy.
Eight are repeat honorees, led by Seiberlich, the 2013-14 Girls Swimmer of the Year, making her fourth appearance. Boratto and Ryan are three-time picks. Puskovitch, Giannella, Martin and Rudy join Sumner as two-time honorees.
Six seniors spearhead the 14 first-team picks. The junior class gets the two Swimmers of the Year among its four picks, while Brennan, DeBruyn and Kolessar make the cut as freshmen.
The All-Delco team is selected in consultation with area coaches.
It’s hard to track away from the similarities between Sumner and Boratto; accordingly, both entered the season with high expectations.
Sumner dominated the Eastern Interscholastic Swimming and Diving Championships as a sophomore, winning Most Outstanding Swimmer honors. With EA finishing second in the team category, a slim four points behind Mercersburg Academy, the goal for this season were easy to set. That growth required Sumner inheriting a larger leadership role with the Churchwomen, which doesn’t come naturally with her reserved personality.
“Last year, I just wanted to watch and see how things went and how things worked on this team,” Sumner said. “But this year, I was able to more be a part of the team and more supportive to all the girls because I already knew them and I got to know a lot of the incoming freshmen who I didn’t know. And next year, since I’m one of the captains, I think that role will continue to grow and I’ll be able to fully take a role of leadership.”
Boratto helped the Fords take second at Easterns as a sophomore, the team’s best ever finish. An abundance of young talent rising through the ranks elevated this season’s goals to include a first Inter-Ac title since before World War II.
Sumner and Boratto duly accomplished all that was set before them. The Fords triumphed over rival Malvern Prep to capture the Inter-Ac dual meet crown. While they dropped to third at Easterns, it came against a strengthened field, and even third would’ve been unheard just five years ago.
Boratto was at the center, winning the 100 back in an automatic All-American time and earning All-American consideration in the 200 freestyle, which he won, and with a flat-start time in the 100 free. He was part of two of Haverford’s three Delco-record-setting relays.
“I took it upon myself to look at last year and say, what can we do better?,” Boratto said. “Our main goal was winning the Inter-Ac. That’s something that was really big for us, beating Malvern and pushing kids every day, taking a leadership role and making sure we’re being the best team possible. That would set us up great. We had a phenomenal season.”
Boratto’s team-first mindset was on display in the Easterns event selection. With Charlie Ryan excelling in the 100 back and 100 butterfly, coach Sean Hansen wanted Boratto to branch out to another event. He ended up in the 200 free, responding with the victory against a loaded field.
“It wasn’t a very long conversation,” Boratto said. “Sean said, ‘Hey listen man, we need you to do the 2-free,’ and I said, ‘I’ll do anything for the team.’ It’s not an event that’s too curious to me. I’ve swam it many times before, so I was like, alright, I’ll do whatever I have to do for the team.”
READ: 2016-17 Delco Top Times
Sumner’s individual focus in the postseason centered on a post-high school meet, the NCSA Spring Championships in Orlando. Even without full rest, she relied on her team for the motivation at Easterns. With EA chasing its first team title, that was more than enough.
“I think from the moment we all stepped on the pool deck in December, we all had a collective team goal that we wanted to win Easterns,” Sumner said. “And I think throughout the season, that really motivated us, especially coming so close last year. Since we had this goal together instead of individual goals, I think it connected us as a team. … I’ve never been on a team that’s so supportive of each other and cheers for each other at every race.”
Sumner did her part, repeating as Most Outstanding Swimmer. She won the 200 individual medley and 100 back, both in All-American times. She also took part in EA’s winning medley relay and the title-clinching 400 free relay, which claimed silver.
Sumner and Boratto’s paths will cross plenty this summer. Boratto, a Wissahickon native who swims with Upper Dublin Aquatic Club, and Sumner, a Wallingford native who trains at Suburban Swim Club, will both prep for long-course meets. Sumner will attend a meet in Vancouver in the coming months, then both will travel to the Atlanta Grand Prix and gear their summer training toward trials for the World Championships. They’ll also likely find themselves on similar college visits, with the who’s who of Pac-12 and Ivy League powers, among others, expressing early interest.
And with another season of high school left, it likely won’t be the last time their paths converge.