FAIRVIEW VILLAGE >> Last season was a trial by fire for Phoenixville’s Katya Hayward.
Then a sophomore on a senior-riddled Phantom squad, Hayward was the lone underclassman on her team’s 200-yard medley team that swam at the PIAA Championships in March.
Now, she returns as the team’s lone non-diving state qualifier in the midst of a massive roster overhaul.
Hayward swam a leg in two first-place relays on Tuesday afternoon as the Lady Phantoms sunk host Methacton 98-87 in a Pioneer Athletic Conference meet. The Phoenixville boys also picked up the win, pulling away for a 97-89 decision.
“We lost a lot of girls to graduation from last season,” said Hayward, citing the 10 seniors gone from this year’s squad, “but it’s coming together strong. There were some struggles in the beginning, trying to figure out the team dynamic and everything.”
Amid those transitions, Hayward found herself thrusted into a leadership role with the Phantoms.
And of course, she’s been embracing it.
“She’s a rock,” said Phoenixville head coach Dan Weinstein of Hayward. “She continues to step up each practice and meet and set an example for others to follow.”
Hayward swam the first leg of the Phantoms’ 200 medley relay to open the meet with a time of 1:54.54. The contingent — which included Katie Baker, Erini Pappas and Sarah Ritter — finished nearly two seconds ahead of Methacton.
Although their finish is still a ways off from last year’s state-qualifying time, Hayward and the Phantoms plan to save their best for last this winter. It’s something she’s learned during her time with the experienced teammates who showed her the ropes.
“For the past few years I got to talk with and watch a lot of the seniors who graduated last year,” she said. “I learned a lot from them — how to keep the team pepped up, motivated. We want to be swimming our best at the end of the season. For now, it’s just about getting better every day and every meet.”
The freshman Pappas was part of four individual firsts on the day. She touched first in the 100 fly (58.63) and the 100 back (1:01.12) and also swam the anchor of the 400 free relay (4:01.78), which also included Hayward.
Baker, a sophomore, took first in the 100 breast (1:14.87) while senior Caroline Turner was magnificent in the diving portion where she posted a 271.10.
“Our team has been replenished with a lot of great freshman talent,” said Weinstein, “and we’ve got underclassmen stepping up. It’s definitely exciting.”
Anna Price was a triple-winner for Methacton, taking first in the 50 free (25.78) and 100 free (56.23) before swimming the first leg of the 200 free relay (1:42.96). Victoria Zang finished first in the 200 free (2:06.68) while Sara Fleck touched first in the 200 IM (2:22.89), as both were also part of the 200 free relay.
* * *
On the boys side, Phoenixville is looking to send its first qualifiers to the District One Championships since making the jump from Class AA to the more competitive AAA in 2015.
If Tuesday was any indication, the Phantoms could be well on their way.
Despite winning only three events over the Warriors, Phoenixville used a balanced effort to seal the win.
Junior Dom Sposato and freshman Ryan Harth were each part of the Phantoms first-place relays — the 200 medley (1:43.62) and the 200 free relay (1:37.67). Freshman Jack Hussin swam the anchor leg of the Phantoms’ 200 free relay and also took first in the 200 free (1:52.78).
Weinstein has seen his boys team make plenty of strides on their way through the ranks.
“Last year, our girls belonged in AAA (competition),” he said. “Our boys — well, now we think they’re ready.”
Michael Palumbo and Jonathan Groff were each part of Methacton’s top-finishing 400 free relay, which closed out the meet with a 3:28.17. Individually, Palumbo took first in the 200 IM (2:05.58) and 500 free (5:04.63) while Groff won the 50 free (23.51) and the 100 free (51.91).
“I think they out-shined themselves in this one,” said Methacton first-year boys coach Barbie Griffith. “I don’t think our boys were intimidated by Phoenixville’s numbers — they’ve got depth and some strong swimmers.”
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