TREDYFFRIN — Every season, Laura Packer witnessed the same drill.
The Radnor senior heard the same aspirational if not always realistic goal articulated in the preseason, then saw it dashed in fairly undramatic fashion at the hands of one superior Conestoga team after another.
Early in this preseason, though, Packer and her teammates sensed things maybe, just maybe, could be different.
“We always have a team goal at the beginning of the season, and for the past 15 years or so, it’s always been, ‘˜beat ‘Stoga, beat ‘Stoga,” Packer said Friday. “But we always know we never really had a chance. They were such a powerhouse. But this year, when we took a step back, saw who we were getting and who got good and who they lost, we put it together and were like, ‘˜we actually have a chance.”
Friday, that chance came to life in spectacular fashion, with Radnor swimming to a 100-86 win at the Upper Main Line Y, the first loss for Conestoga in a Central League dual meet since the 1999-00 season, a string of over 140 meets.
Coupled with the Radnor boys claiming a 97-89 win, it’s the first time both Radnor teams have topped Conestoga in the same season since 1990.
The performance put together by the girls typified the rallying cry of “15th time’s the charm’ that Packer said they’ve (only half-jokingly) employed all season. It started right out of the gate with a stirring 1-3 finish in the medley relay, extending straight through a 200 freestyle relay win orchestrated by a great comeback from Packer and freshman anchor Julia Cullen.
And by the time Grace Wakiyama (another freshman) led Julia Condran and Samantha Lee in a 1-2-3 finish in the 100 breaststroke to reach the 94-point threshold, it was time for the celebration to begin.
“It’s so surreal,’ Packer said. “… We’ve been working so hard. It’s so nice that it’s finally paid off, and I couldn’t be more thankful for the team and how well we’ve all performed.’
As it has been all season, the source of the Raiders’ success has been their youth. Whether that was sophomore Anna Duffy leading the charge in the medley relay to see the B squad claim a crucial third place or classmate Sasha Smolyansky winning the 200 individual medley and 100 backstroke in dominant fashion, the pattern held Friday.
“When I was a freshman, I was terrified,’ Packer said. “But these girls have been so welcomed to the team. They’re scoring big points, and they know it.’
The medley was a particularly vital race, one that got the Radnor swimmers truly believing that this could be their day.
“(First-year coach) Garrett (Clark) was saying that we had to get off to some great swims because that would motivate everyone else for the rest of the meet,’ Cullen said. “Our relay was really excited, and we knew we had to get off to a good start. That’s what we did.’
Cullen is the leading light of the strong freshman class, evidenced by her composed win in the 50 free, followed by controlling the 100 fly to claim another win. She was left with work to do in the 200 free relay, with Packer’s strong third leg cutting slightly into a deficit inherited from Lucy Fulton and Emily Moyher. But Cullen responded with a stellar 50 split of 24.16, besting Conestoga’s Amber Zimmerman (24.87) by a wide enough margin to bring home a .31-second win.
With diving conducted Thursday afternoon and won by Radnor’s Nicole Cohen, the Raiders (4-0, 4-0 Central League) entered Friday knowing they had a leg up. By the time the diving results were tabulated into the team score, the spread was 16 points.
It was whittled down by wins by Conestoga in the 100 free courtesy of Madison Ledwith and the 500 through Zimmerman, but Cullen’s comeback in the relay stemmed the tide with Conestoga getting no closer than 10 points.
Smolyansky’s win in the 100 back prevented the Pioneers from gaining any substantial ground, and Wakiyama and Conrdan made it a two-man race in breaststroke, with Lee jumping up late to get third and make the result of the 400 free relay academic.
The boys result was closer, and even if it lacked the historical weight, it represented a vital win for this season’s Central League reckoning. And, like the girls, it required a stellar effort up and down the lineup.
The Raiders’ freestyle program led the way, with Tim Caulfield just getting the better of Richard Patten in the 200, Greg Giannella’s 23.30 blistering the 50 and Patten returning to win the 500 in authoritative fashion.
The combination of 11 team points garnered from the 500 plus a win in the 200 free relay by Giannella, Brian McKeon, Patten and Caulfield gave Radnor (4-0, 4-0) a 22-point cushion that withstood wins by Brian McKenrick in the 100 back and Kevin Jay in the 100 breast.
It was the culmination of a long journey for Radnor senior All-Delco Eli Avart, who won the 100 fly. An UMLY swimmer since he was five years old, it meant a lot to Avart to leave with a win in his last high school meet there.
“Losing last year just drove us all from last season to right now,’ he said. “The whole team really wanted it … just to get back to this meet and get to where we knew we could be to get a win.’
Avart’s wait was lengthy, but it had nothing on the history Radnor’s girls bucked.
“We’ve been talking about it since the beginning of the season,’ Cullen said. “First practice, Garrett said Conestoga and Strath Haven are going to be our tough ones. We never thought that we could actually do it, but we did.’