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Penncrest’s Colizzo has reason to roar

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PHILADELPHIA >> The roar that Julia Colizzo heard when she climbed on the podium Sunday could just have easily been the Penncrest junior’s release of frustration.

In her freshman and sophomore seasons, the backstroker qualified for the PIAA Championships. But not since her freshman year had Colizzo turned in a personal-best time.

The drought ended when Colizzo bossed the next-to-last heat of the 100 back at the District 1 Championships, her time of 56.99 seconds earned fourth place and a states trip.

“It definitely felt good,” Colizzo said. “I haven’t gone a best time since my freshman year, so it was nice to see that. … I think my friends and my family have seen that I’ve worked a lot harder this season and I’ve really been putting in the work. And they were really happy for me.”

This is Colizzo’s first states nod as an automatic qualifier, which go to the first five finishers, as opposed to an at-large for the 16 fastest non-auto times statewide. That means no waiting to see if she’s in, a luxury Colizzo earned with her stellar swim.

“I was just trying to take it out fast for the first 50 and bring it back as hard as I could,” Colizzo said. “That’s what my coaches were telling me.”

Colizzo isn’t the first top swimmer at Penncrest to deal with a sophomore slump in times, although that has often owed to how fabulous their freshman campaigns were. Injuries slowed Claire Walsh last year, but the junior made good on a states berth in the 100 free by taking seventh in 52.08, which should get an at-large. Walsh earned bronze in the 50 free Saturday.

Senior Madison Dickert likewise felt her times stagnate as a sophomore before a junior renaissance led to states. Dickert was ninth Sunday in the 100 breaststroke, her 1:06.09 right on last year’s 16th at-large but quicker than the 1:06.93 that went in 2016.

Garnet Valley freshman Catherine Weaverling is also states bound in the 100 back, taking sixth in 57.62.

As for Colizzo, she’s happy to get the chance to get back to states, though she won’t fully rest for it. The wind of a best time in her sails certainly helps.

“Last year was definitely frustrating,” she said. “But I just put my head down and worked harder, knowing someday it would come.”

***

The path to states was twice unobstructed for Radnor sprinter Patrick Cullen, who medaled in the 50 freestyle Saturday and the 100 free Sunday. But both swims offer areas for improvement.

Cullen was third in the 50 in 21.06, fractions behind winner John Scully of Hatboro-Horsham (21.02) and West Chester Henderson’s Liam Pitt (21.05). The 100 free wasn’t as nip-and-tuck, Pitt winning in 45.81. Cullen nabbed fourth in 46.31. It’s a margin he hopes to rectify at states.

“The 50, it all came down to a few hundredths, so you just have to realize that every little thing matters,” Cullen said. “If you do one less kick on your turn or your start’s too shallow, it can throw your whole race off. And in the 50, it matters so much. I think in states I really have to lock in and pay attention to every little thing that can happen during the race.”

Radnor’s 400 free relay took care of business in 3:10.01, the squad of Cullen, James El-Deiry, Andrew Davis and Nick Mlodzienski securing the fifth and final automatic bid.

“We don’t want to get too comfortable, especially at a meet like this where if something little goes wrong, we’re done, we’re going home,” Cullen said of the relay. “We definitely want to motivate each other during the race. We’re kind of just all pushing each other to get our best times.”

***

Julia Curran leaps at the question: Is there a little bit of a love/hate relationship between the Haverford sophomore and the 500 free?

“Yes, definitely,” she offered.

Curran thought long and hard as to whether she wanted to swim the distance event at districts or plot another course, perhaps via the 100 free.

But ultimately, she stuck with her specialty, and it paid off.

Curran won the first heat of the 500 with a stunning time of 5:15.17, chopping nine seconds off her seed time and establishing a long-sought personal best.

“I didn’t want to do it at first but then I was like, I should just try it because I think that I could really do well in it,” Curran said. “… I did surprise myself. I did not think I was going to do that time.”

Curran finished 13th, a massive jump from the 38th seed. While states qualification wasn’t a realistic goal and remains a longshot — it took 5:11 the last two years — Curran is taking the long view, and reestablishing comfort with the event is most important.

“At first I was really nervous because I hadn’t been doing well at it,” she said. “But once I was into it, I got my rhythm and started feeling really good in it.”

Garnet Valley’s Amy Townend has a stronger states shot, shaving nearly four seconds to finish 10th in 5:08.59. Townend will likely get to states via the 400 free relay, which claimed seventh. The squad of Anastasia Erley, Townend, Weaverling and Noelle DiClemente clocked in at 3:32.53; 3:35.3 has made states the last two years.

***

As a sophomore, Grace Wakiyama swam at states on a Radnor medley relay. As a senior, she could be 48 hours and a little luck from going as an individual.

Wakiyama finished eighth in the 100 breast in 1:05.86, under the states cut each of the last two years.

“It’s been four years working to get here, so hopefully I get in and everything works out,” Wakiyama said.

The time is a Radnor record, and it could extend Wakiyama’s career another week. In the meantime, she’ll try not to ruminate on the possibility for too long.

“I’m definitely a little bit anxious, but I’m trying to put it out of the way — I have some homework to do,” she said. “I try not to focus on it too much and get back to training for when it comes down Tuesday.”

***

NOTES >> In the ebb and flow of specializations, the girls 100 free experienced a boom year. DiClemente is in rough shape for states despite a time of 52.86 that was quicker than last year’s 16th at-large cut by two tenths. That time, 53.08, would’ve finished 18th in District 1’s outrageously deep sprint field. … The wait in the boys 500 free won’t be very nervous for Collin Pettit of Haverford and Will Resweber of Strath Haven, who each broke 4:40 and finished sixth and seventh, respectively. … In an unusual shift, only one Delco swimmer placed in the top 16 of the boys 100 back, with Haverford’s Zach Given 14th in 54.37. It took 53.08 to get to states last year. … Haverford’s boys finished sixth in the Class 3A team standings, the highest among the Delco contingent in either gender. The Fords edged Radnor by one place and 1.5 points. Garnet Valley’s girls finished eighth Class 3A, with Penncrest 12th.

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