MALVERN >> As Antonio Octaviano readied behind the blocks Tuesday afternoon, the tied score showing on the board just behind the Haverford School sophomore wasn’t to his liking.
Malvern Prep had just strung together a 1-2 finish in the 200 freestyle, auguring a back-and-forth meet between two of the Inter-Ac’s foremost contenders. For his intuitive confidence in the talent around him, Octaviano let the faith waver for just a moment in the face of a possible swing of momentum.
But once he hit the water for the 200 individual medley, that vanished quicker than Octaviano did out ahead of the field.
Octaviano won the IM and the 100 breaststroke, one of a triumvirate of double-individual victors as Haverford School defeated the Friars, 104-82, to earn the inside track toward a second straight Inter-Ac title.
“My heart was pumping,” Octaviano said of the IM. “I think I was a little bit nervous from that 1-2, but I believe in our swimmers, I believe in myself, too. And when I went on the blocks, everything just went away. All I thought about was, ‘we’re winning this race. There’s no other choice; we’re winning this race.’”
The 200 free proved the outlier, Malvern’s only two swimming wins produced by Matt Magness. Haverford’s depth reigned, nowhere more prevalent than in the sprint events, which for so many years tipped the balance of these dual meets in Malvern’s favor.
Brian Brennan swept the 50 and 100 freestyle for the Fords (3-0, 3-0 Inter-Ac), clocking in at 21.00 seconds and 47.11, respectively. But the supporting cast supplied the big points. TJ Brooks finished second in the 50, blazing in at 21.62, and sewed up fourth in the 100 free, with John Nelligan (47.77) grabbing second.
The two events constituted a 22-10 scoring edge for Haverford. Add in 1-3 finishes in all three relays, and there’s the margin of victory and then some.
Relay ascendancy isn’t new to the Fords, who’ve regularly pieced together formidable foursomes – as proof, see Haverford’s rewriting of the county record book last spring. And sprint strength hasn’t come at the expense of the hallmark stroke depth, not as long as reigning Daily Times Male Swimmer of the Year Alex Boratto (50.85 in winning the 100 butterfly Tuesday and 49.98 in the 100 back) is around.
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But the sprint corps’ dynamic has elevated Haverford to a new level, nicking unexpected points in less predictable events.
“It’s really helpful, especially in practice when we’re really grinding on those sprint 50s. You always have that guy next to you to really look at and keep you going,” Brooks said. “… With that guy next to you in races and in practice, you know you’re going to have somebody to push you each and every race.
“We support each other, too. We’re always there, we’re always happy when the other person succeeds. We won two (sprint events) today, and I’m perfectly happy with that. You’ve just got to do your job and get points, and that’s what we did.”
A few years ago, Malvern Prep would’ve amassed major sprint points, a cornerstone of the Friars collecting nine of 14 Inter-Ac boys championships dating to 2002 before the Fords interrupted that run last year in Haverford’s first outright crown since 1944.
With Haverford neutralizing the sprint contingent, Malvern’s points were limited to distance and diving. Magness, a Unionville transfer, won the 200 in a 1-2 with John Connors, then claimed the 500.
“We definitely know who we’re swimming coming into the meet and we’re strategically swimming our events based on that,” Magness said. “I was looking for the win, and I was happy with the time.”
Diver Nick Harris, an eighth-grade phenom, dominated his high school opposition, winning with an astronomical score of 376.50 as part of a 1-2-3 result that clawed Malvern within two after diving at 40-38.
Boratto opened the gap with a win in the 100 fly, then the Brennan-Nelligan 1-2 in the 100 free stretched it back to double-digits. Magness got the Friars within six at 66-60 via the 500. But the Fords’ untouchability in the relays – 1:26.53 in the 200 for Octaviano, JR Leitz, Brooks and Brennan; 3:09.15 for Brennan, Jack Deppen, Nelligan and Boratto in the 400 – ensured that for a second straight year, the Fords prevailed in the rivalry.
And for Octaviano, that provided some satisfying calm.
“I love this rivalry between us and Malvern,” he said. “We always goal-set for this meet, and it’s pretty good to beat them again because it was our first Inter-Ac championship last year, and I want to continue that through my four years of high school.”
In the Ches-Mont League:
Sun Valley 100, Avon Grove 82 >> Grant Michaels led a 1-2-3 finish in the 50 free, Josh Landis won the 100 fly and Davie Kearney and Jimmy Wynes went 1-2 in diving as the superior depth fo the Vanguards shone through.
In the Central League:
Haverford 99, Harriton 78 >> Collin Pettit won the 50 and 100 free to pace the Fords, who also got wins from Jon Meyer (200 free), Jackson Graham (100 fly), Matthew Shaw (400 free), David Abrahams (100 back) and Dean Carson (diving).
Mia Abruzzo won the 100 fly, and her time of 5:45.81 in the 500 free took home second place as well as a Notre Dame school record as the Irish fell at Germantown Academy, 101-71, in the Inter-Ac League.
In the Central League:
Haverford 95, Harriton 82 >> Laura Seavey won the 200 and 400 free, Abby Krissinger won the 200 IM and Elsley Hazell won the 100 fly for the Fords.
In the Ches-Mont:
Avon Grove 107, Sun Valley 74 >> Jayme McIlhenny was the high scorer in diving at 208.20, but the Vanguards found it tough sledding against the reigning PIAA Class 3A champions.
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