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Villa Maria will have to fight back to retain eighth-straight state crown

LEWISBURG – Every year since 2011, Villa Maria has reigned over the PIAA Class 2A Girls Swimming and Diving Championships. The Hurricanes have strung together seven consecutive state team titles, but veteran head coach Cathy Hay knows that to extend that incredible streak, it is going to take a monumental effort.

“If you don’t have the horses, it’s very hard to do,” said Hay, who is the only swimming coach Villa Maria has ever had. “We’ve got a wonderful group of girls, but they certainly aren’t the quality that we’ve had.

“We graduated 11 state qualifying swimmers in the last two years. But these kids will do their best, and there is always a chance. They are working hard and you never know what’s going to happen.”

Following action on Friday, we are at the midway point of the two-day event at Kinney Natatorium at Bucknell. The Hurricanes currently sit in fourth place, with six more events to go on Saturday. And Hay is anticipating a big finish.

“It’s really going to be close,” she said. “There are about eight teams that are within 20 points of one another.”

Fresh off its 16th straight District 1 crown, Villa Maria anticipated being a bit off the pace through day one. The ’Canes grabbed a trio of medals in the early going on Friday, with a seventh from their 200-yard medley relay, followed by a fifth- and eighth-place finish from Katherine Fronczak and Alexa Turco, respectively, in the 200 freestyle.

“We are a different team this year,” Hay explained. “We are lucky to have the distance swimmers. Our 200 and 500 swimmers are the ones to who are going to give us some good points.

“We looked at ourselves as being 30-40 points back (Friday), but with the 500 freestyle and 100 backstroke on (Saturday), we feel like we can pick up a lot of good points there. Plus our 400 freestyle is our best relay.”

Just a sophomore, Fronczak came on strong at the finish to register a 1:55.63 in the 200 free. Turco’s time was 1:56.76.

“I’m more of a distance swimmer, so I tend to back-half my races,” Fronczak said. “I was hoping to go a little faster – it was close to my best time.

“With all of the adrenaline at this meet, I knew I could finish strong.”

In the opening relay, Turco teamed up with Kira Butcher, Kaitlyn Agger and Nina Smith to go 1:49.88. A junior, Turco then faced a quick turnaround for the 100 free.

“We were a little off our time, but Alex just swam the back-to-back,” Hay pointed out. “I think it even affected her medley relay I little bit.”

Turco added: “It’s tiring and hard, but you have to get back out there, think about your team and the points. That’s definitely a motivator.”

Villa Maria’s 200 freestyle relay — which won the state title a year ago — missed out on a berth in the final by just 24-hundredths of a second. But The Hurricanes went out and won the consolation final to place ninth overall. The team of Smith, Caitlin Hamill, Anna Curran and Fronczak logged a time of 1:40.49.

And Agger, a senior, chipped in a 12th place finish in the 100 butterfly (58.75).

“(Franczak and Turco) are even better at the 500 (freestyle),” Hay said. “We are seeded second, third and fourth in the 500, so we are hoping to pick up 40-50 points right there.”

Even though there are three teams to leapfrog in order to successfully defend the title, the seven-time defending champs sound like they are ready for the challenge.

“That’s definitely in the back of our minds,” Turco said.

“We do talk about it,” Fronczak added. “I think this year there is a little more pressure. Every year we just try to keep it going.

“Every year is different. This team has so much energy and I think we are going to be able to pull it off.”

Bishop Shanahan’s Trevor Kern was the only local swimmer to medal in the 2A boys’ finals. The senior dropped nearly a quarter second off his previous best time during qualifying to earn one of the top eight spots, and ended up finished eighth overall in a time of 21.74.

“I was just looking to get to the consolation final, but I finished eighth (Friday) morning,” Kern said. “I was a little surprised.”

Kern was also the anchor leg in the Eagles’ 200 freestyle relay team, along with teammates Jack Fidanza, Nick Scott and Brendan Hill. The group wound up placing 14th overall (1:31.0).

“We were hoping to get faster splits, but we weren’t too far off,” Kern said.

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