At long last, she had arrived.
For years, all Phoenixville High School head coach Dan Weinstein had heard about was a phenom tearing it up in the program’s middle school ranks.
‘“Just wait until Erini gets here … wait for Erini, you’ll see,’” he recounted as though he had heard it 100 times. “‘What grade is she in now, seventh? Alright, we’ll just have to wait for Erini.’”
Then this winter season, Erini Pappas finally arrived.
Pappas burst onto the scene during her first high school season, turning heads and eventually finishing the year as the only freshman to medal at the PIAA Championships in March. For her efforts in the water and her ability to live up to the hype surrounding her, Pappas has been named the 2017-2018 Mercury All-Area Girls Swimmer of the Year.
“All the hard work’s paid off,” said the quiet, mild-mannered Pappas. “It’s an honor to be chosen my first year.”
Pappas is the first freshman selected as All-Area Swimmer of the Year since Phoenixville grad Maddie Cooke earned the accolade after bursting onto the scene in 2014.
Pappas never once got the chance to compete alongside Cooke, who graduated in 2017 and now swims at Penn State University. Cooke was one of 10 seniors who graduated from last year’s squad, a roster overhaul that was supposed to leave this year’s program franticly picking up the pieces.
“I didn’t get to experience anything with them,” said Pappas of last year’s team. “So it wasn’t really that much of a change for me. I wasn’t behind anyone, I got to come into the year with a fresh start.”
And she took full advantage.
In her first meet with the Phantoms, Pappas etched her name onto Phoenixville’s all-time records list with a 59.51 in the 100-yard butterfly and a 59.71 in the 100 back. The Phantoms won the meet, but more notably, Pappas had already secured herself a spot in school history.
“It was like from day one, we knew we had something special,” said Weinstein. “The first meet of the year, she broke all-time team records and won every event she was in. It worked so perfectly because we graduated that huge crew of girls last year, including Maddie. To have that great of a talent graduate, and then to have this great of a talent come in and assume that role meant a lot to this team.
“You could tell she came in and did exactly what she knew she was going to do,” Weinstein said of Pappas. “It stayed the same all year long. She came, she saw and she conquered … as planned.”
After turning in a strong regular season with the Phantoms, Pappas lit it up at the inaugural Pioneer Athletic Conference Championship meet at Perkiomen Valley in February.
By the end of the meet, Pappas secured three gold medals and a bronze, including individual firsts in the 200 IM (2:09.08) and the 100 fly (57.19), blowing past the field by more than three seconds in both events.
A couple weeks later, Pappas had her first go at the District One Championships at La Salle University.
She climbed the medal stand twice that weekend — finishing fourth in the 100 fly (56.69) and seventh in the 200 IM (2:08.19) — to become Phoenixville’s first ever freshman to qualify for states on the Class 3A level since the team made the jump from 2A in 2015.
Then at the PIAA Championships at Bucknell two weeks later, Pappas found herself on the outside looking in for both of her events.
She entered the weekend as the No. 9 seed in the 100 fly and was No. 17 in the 200 IM.
That meant she had her work cut out for her in the morning’s preliminary swims. At states, the top eight times from the morning’s preliminary swim qualify for the night’s championship final. Then, the next eight finishers advance to the consolation finals.
Pappas leapfrogged a spot in each event — securing a spot in the championship final in the 100 fly and a consolation final appearance in the 200 IM.
By the end of the meet, Pappas secured eighth overall in the 100 fly with a time of 56.60 and claimed 16th in the 200 IM with a 2:09.03.
“I just wanted to be in the A-final, I wanted to get myself a medal,” Pappas said at the time of the 100 fly. “It was kind of nerve-wracking (going against mostly upperclassmen), but I just kept my cool and kept going.”
That cool, calm and collected attitude has been her modus operandi in her swimming career. Through all of her challenges and her success over her career so far, Pappas has never once let the moment become too much for her.
“I try not to overthink things,” she said. “I just go out and always try to get better every time.”
Aside from her postseason success, Weinstein said the most impressive part of Pappas’ skillset is her flexibility as a swimmer.
“You can insert her anywhere in the lineup,” said Weinstein. “I’ll ask her before a meet, ‘Where do you want to swim?’ And she’ll respond, ‘Wherever you want to put me.’
“All 11 events, I feel like she can go and win. That’s something that separates her from a lot of other swimmers. There are really excellent swimmers in her events, but could they also swim the 500 or 100 backstroke and still do well? No, probably not. There aren’t many swimmers who can go out and do that the way she can.”
The wait is over at Phoenixville. Pappas has arrived and already left her mark.
Now it’s just a matter of what she will leave behind.
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