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PIAA Swimming prelims: Walsh’s veteran savvy helps her return to 50 finals

LEWISBURG – Claire Walsh’s years at states offer a sagacious perspective.

The Penncrest senior is a different sprinter than she was as a freshman silver medalist in the 50 freestyle. That fact is neither good nor bad. It just is. And in her fourth states trip, journeys that have yielded five medals and six finals swims (and counting), Walsh has ridden the peaks and valleys in form that so many – especially female swimmers that reach lofty plateaus early in their careers – struggle to cope with.

Friday morning, the fist pump and head nod Walsh gave after finishing the 50 in the prelims of the PIAA Class 3A Championships told the story. She finished second in her heat, fifth overall to book an evening swim. Her time of 23.53 seconds is exactly what she turned in last year to take sixth place, three-tenths slower than the Delco record she set as a freshman in 23.20.

Where on the spectrum of emotions that result falls is a matter of her perception. Walsh’s preference is clear, as her wide grin showed.

“It’s impossible to compare myself to the swimmer I was freshman year, because I’m a different person than I was freshman year,” she said. “I have a different life than I had freshman year. So I just try and take it day by day and race by race and not compare myself to what I was or what I could’ve been because you’re going to get nowhere if you’re always comparing yourself to an impossible standard.”

Without that equanimity, the University of North Carolina signee’s postseason could look different. Walsh was sixth at the District 1 championships, an event she won as a freshman. But that’s too narrow a view to take. And the proof in that perseverance is seeing her place third in the District 1 contingent in the morning, behind North Penn’s Caroline Dunigan and Garnet Valley’s Noelle DiClemente (fifth in 23.52). District 1 champ Mikayla Niness of Owen J. Roberts made the A final in seventh.

“For me, a bigger pool, a bigger stadium, it just gives me a lot more energy, a lot more adrenaline knowing that I’m at the highest platform in PIAA swimming,” Walsh said. “So I feel like it gives me a lot more oomph when I race.”

The accolades of the past could only weigh Walsh down. So the plan was to put them aside, immaterial as they are. Her focus lasered on to the 50 yards ahead of her, and the reward is a chance at states medal No. 6 Friday night.

“The 50 free is a pretty unpredictable race,” Walsh said. “So I just wanted to swim it like I’ve swum it a million times in practice, at warmups, at meets. I really just wanted to take everything out of my head and just swim without thinking.”

Walsh was second in her heat, just .01 behind Garnet Valley’s Noelle DiClemente, who also advances to the A final.

* * *

Alex Boeckx knew he had a time drop in him Friday. And despite carrying the 27th seed in the 200 individual medley, the Ridley junior thought a finals swim was, if improbable on paper, possible for him.

Getting into the A final maybe even exceeded his expectations.

Boeckx blistered the opening unseeded heat of the 200 IM in 1:51.50, a personal-best and the first time he’d been under 1:54. With a huge cushion on the rest of his heat, he waited for times to shake out in the final three heats, and landed fifth for the evening prelims, squarely in the A final.

“Coming in, I knew that a lot of people shaved and tapered for districts, but I didn’t,” he said. “So I knew that was kind of their times and I didn’t have to worry about anybody dropping. So I came here ready to give it my all, shaved, tapered, knew what I had to do to get back to finals, and I got the job done.”

Despite trying to hold back to save energy for the last 100, Boeckx was out quickest in butterfly. He worked the middle 50s to pad his lead before emptying the tank coming home in free.                

The morning swim was by necessity a solo effort, with no one to race. In the evening, he’s hoping competition will allow him to trim still more time.

“It’s going to be a really good race,” Boeckx said. “I’m hoping to drop some more time. Hopefully it’s an amazing race and I can have some competition.”

* * *

Sydney Bergstrom’s first trip to states will include a finals swim. The Strath Haven freshman finished 14th in the prelims of the 200 free, clocking in at 1:53.96. She entered as the 15th seed.

“It’s really exciting,” Bergstrom said. “That was one of my goals in the beginning of this meet, to make it back. And I did and I’m really excited for finals.”

Bergstrom swims club for Suburban, so she’s accustomed to the trials-and-finals format. She also has the 500 free Saturday, in which she’s the eighth seed.

“My coach always tells me that I’m better at night, so we’ll see how it goes tonight,” Bergstrom said.

Bergstrom’s teammate Mia Yancey finished 27th in the event. Sun Valley’s Keeley Durkin was 21st.

* * *

Notes >> The girls 50 free won’t be the only event with two Delco A finalists. In the 100 fly, Radnor freshman Casey Cullen is the fourth seed in Friday’s A final, her time 56.20 in prelims. Garnet Valley’s Catherine Weaverling, who won the second heat of four in 56.33, is seeded fifth. The Jags’ 200 free relay also makes it back in 12th. Radnor’s foursome finished 22nd. … Radnor’s Patrick Cullen held his seeding by taking fourth in the prelims of the 50 in 20.66, a shade faster than at districts. He broke a tie with Greg Giannella for the school record by going 20.58 off the front of the 200 free relay. The Raiders are the fourth seed in finals with the team of Cullen, Nick Mlodzienski, Andrew Davis and Wil Cosgrove. … Haverford’s medley relay started the session with a bang, going six-tenths quicker than at districts to clock in at 1:34.28 and book an A final spot, the foursome of Zach Given, David Abrahams, Jackson Graham and Jon Meyer. Abrahams bumped up from 25th to 19th in the IM in 1:55.12, and Graham went from 28th to 19th in the 100 fly in 51.50.

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