North Penn boys, girls looking dominant at District 1 Championships

PHILADELPHIA — The performance was overwhelming, from the Maidens’ record-setting 200-yard freestyle relay to the Knights’ surprising victory in that same event in the final swim of the night.

Emblematic of the type of energy and overall drive that North Penn brought to La Salle University’s Kirk Pool on Thursday was the performance of Liam Kelly, who helped bring Day One to a climactic close.

“He’s kinda like a wind-up toy,’ said Knights coach Jeff Faikish. “You just crank that thing on his back and let him go. It was awesome. I was jumping up and down, fist pumping so hard — that was awesome.’

Kelly’s gold medal in the 50 free helped bring the Knights’ point total to a whopping 242 points, 140 points ahead of second-place Upper Dublin, and the North Penn girls amassed 197 points on Day One, as both NP squads are closing in on District One Class AAA title defenses.

“It’s always been a goal for us,’ Maidens ace freestyler Olivia DiStefano said as the Maidens put themselves in prime position for a district title three-peat. “Ever since last year, winning it, and winning it as a sophomore, it’s always been a goal and it was my goal to come back three years with a district title, especially since it’s my last year. It would be great to come home with a district title.

“I’m really proud of all these girls. (The 200 free relay) was a great way to end today. I was really excited — it’s really close to our team record too, so we’re looking forward to states and maybe breaking it.’

North Penn’s foursome of Kailyn Evans, Aimee Baur, Leah Brown and DiStefano set a district record with a time of 1 minute, 34.63 seconds. NP also got bronze-medal finishes from DiStefano in the 50 free, Megan Zartman in the 200 IM, and Evans in the 200 free, along with a silver medal from the 200 medley relay team of Zartman, Erin O’Neill, Anna Haggerty and Leah Brown.

“Awesome first day,’ Maidens coach Matt Weiser said. “The girls really ended the meet on a positive note, breaking the record by 1.7 seconds (1:36.30, NP, 2013).

“The way Olivia anchored that relay — that’s the instinct and experience that that kid has over four years. She has swam relays at every single level since she was a freshman, and that’s as fast an anchor leg that we’ve had — ever.’

Kelly is also bringing his NP career to quite a close, winning three district golds — two relays along with his 50 free.

“I felt really good,’ Kelly said. “My whole goal was to get to the wall first and the turn, and I felt like if I could do that, I could work the underwater and hold it off. It’s kind of surreal how well everything turned out in that race.’

Overcoming a tremendous effort by Wissahickon’s Danny Knoll, Kelly touched three hundredths of a second faster to earn the gold.

“He was the smallest kid in the entire event,’ Faikish said of the diminutive but determined Kelly. “I almost talked him out of doing the 50 free this year — at leagues we had him doing the 100 free/100 fly. We sat down, took a look at it, and said the only way you’re gonna have a chance to do anything (in the 50 free) is to use your fly kicks.

“(Watching his) butterfly leg of our medley relay, I knew he was gonna be on.’

Capping things off, the Knights’ free relay foursome of Ryan Yocum, Kelly, Mike Kern and Harrison Friel accomplished a rare feat by winning gold out of the second-to-last heat, touching in 1:26.07. Sensational swims by Kern in the 200 free (silver) and Thanas Kountroubis in the 200 IM (silver), along with the gold-medal finish by the 200 medley foursome of Corey Smith, Kountroubis, Kelly, and Brett Else spiked the Knights’ point total to 242.

Record swims became the theme for the Pennridge girls, as Morgan Scott (200 free) and Hannah Zurmuhl (50 free) set individual district records and then teamed up for a relay one as well, joining Anna Beno and Brittany Weiss to go 1:44.65 in the 200 medley relay.

The future is arriving in a hurry for the young Rams, all of whom return next season.

“We’re having a really good meet,’ Zurmuhl said, as the Rams surged to second place in the team standings. “We have some really fast freshmen that came in and that really helped and we’ve been practicing really hard all season long for this.

“After that relay, we were all so pumped up so we all swam really well in our individual events. It’s really amazing. We’ve come up so much and it’s been great. We’re so excited for Friday.’

“That group of girls is something special,’ said coach Ryan Griffiths. “They’re a group that works out together year-round with their club team and high school team, and it’s very special to see what they’re doing this year.’

In Class AA, Gwynedd Mercy Academy’s Allie Szekely will go for her third straight title in the 100 back on Friday — the junior swam to her third straight gold in the 200 IM on Thursday with a 2:01.63, not far off from the record (2:01.24) she set as a freshman.

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