Strath Haven has exceeded expectations

NETHER PROVIDENCE — Strath Haven coach Dina Dormer is the first to admit that she had questions coming into the season about her boys team.

Last season’s squad came together around a central figure in states-qualifier Clay Resweber. But there would be no ready-made replacements for either the versatile Resweber or graduated sprinter Tom Platt, two individuals who could paper over the cracks on relays and in dual meets.

Instead of validating the understandably low expectations they entered with, the Panthers have continually exceeded them through the dual-meet season, a theme they hope translates to the postseason that begins with the Central League Championships at Radnor High School Friday and Saturday.

The 9-2 record the Panthers posted, punctuated by a 94-92 edging of Haverford, was third in the league. And while Haven’s swimmers enter the postseason without much individual hype, no one would be shocked if the Panthers’ defied expectations yet again.

“We like to think of our teams kind of like a group of savages,’ senior Nick Pappas said. “That’s how we always describe ourselves. So it’s like even though we don’t have one great swimmer, everyone just works together and it’s a great team effort all around to contribute to all of our wins.’

Perusing the Central League psych sheets, it’s amazing to think that the scarcity of Panthers near the top of events would be conducive to such team success. Entering Centrals, only two individuals (freshman Sean Adams in the 200 freestyle and senior Ben Wolters in the 50) possess District One cuts, and neither are auto cuts. None of the Panthers three relays have met the districts time standards, the highest-ranked being the 400 free, which is seeded fifth.

Only two swimmers on the Panthers roster have districts experience. Senior Andrew Restrepo joined Wolters in the 100 breaststroke at districts last year, while Wolters also competed in the 50 free and was the only underclassmen on the Panthers’ 400 free relay.

The group of districts-bound Panthers could change this weekend if they continue their trend of improvement. They’ve gotten the most out of their roster through the dual-meet season, so success in the postseason is a logical next step.

They’ve done so with an unusual blend of performers. Some of their strongest swimmers are on the younger side, like Adams (seeded fourth in the 200 free and seventh in the 500) and sophomore Oliver Yancey (11th in the 200 individual medley, eighth in the 500). They have senior leadership aplenty thanks to Pappas and Wolters, but many of the veterans are multi-sport athletes who only swim part of the year.

Once the season starts, though, those veterans are able to foster an environment — one that includes a big brother/little brother system for acclimating and accountability — that lets the older swimmers catch up and permits the younger members to flourish. Coupled with the “us against the world’ mentality that Dormer hasn’t exactly discouraged among her charges, it’s created a hungry team that has pushed itself to heights that have surprised even the veteran coach.

“I think it starts from the top with Dina, and she teaches this message that we all have respect for each other, we all compete and the end goal is to be the best we can be,’ Pappas said. “I think all of us get along really well. There’s a lot of great teamwork, great commitment.’

“It’s just a friendly competition,’ Yancey said. “It’s fun and games and we all sprint during our sprint work. Whoever wins, wins.’

What they’ve done from a team perspective is remarkable — whether it’s blowing out Garnet Valley in the 100 backstroke and 100 breast to make a close meet a laugher or gutting out a 1-3 performance in the 400 free relay to get past Haverford. While this isn’t the focus of Centrals, which features no team scoring, it’s worth nothing that Haven’s “B’ relays are all seeded second or third, indicative of the lineup’s depth.

“Everyone has stepped up,’ Wolters said. “And it’s been a different person in every meet that has come through for us. I’m so proud of our young swimmers and our old swimmers.’

The lens of that improvement has to shift from the collective to the individual at Centrals. The method to try and achieve that, though, remains the same.

“A lot of us, with those races and stuff, we know we can do a lot better because those races were fast times for us,’ Yancey said. “But we know that we can do better and get district cuts.’

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