Golden 200 Free Relay has North Penn girls in the hunt for PIAA Class AAA title

LEWISBURG — She’s been the heart of North Penn’s 200-yard freestyle relay for four years.

On Friday evening at Bucknell University, she anchored them home one final time.

“Winning gold my last year is amazing,’ said Maidens senior Olivia DiStefano, “and I couldn’t ask for a better way to end it.’

North Penn finished Day One on top of the medal stand, as the Maidens’ fast foursome of Kailyn Evans, Aimee Baur, Leah Brown and DiStefano swam to gold with a winning time of 1 minute, 34.40 seconds at Bucknell University’s Kinney Natatorium.

The 40 points the Maidens earned in the event pushed them to third place in the team standings with 107 points. Pennridge, earning an amazing four silver medals in all four finals it competed in Friday, racked up 85 points on Day One.

Later in the evening, the North Penn boys, keyed by a bronze-medal finish in the 200 medley relay, powered their way to sixth in the boys standings. La Salle leads, followed by Upper St. Clair.

Defending champion Hershey is atop the girls competition with 158 points, followed by runner-up North Allegheny (146.5).

Hershey, the defending champs in the 200 free relay as well, swam an impressive 1:35.23 in the event, but the Maidens outraced the Trojans for top honors.

Evans, Baur, Brown and DiStefano, District One champions two weeks ago, followed up with a gold at states.

“Fantastic girls. Amazing sprinters,’ DiStefano said. “I couldn’t ask for a better team to be on. It feels amazing. I’ve been doing this relay since my freshman year, and every year, I look forward to doing my best in that relay.’

DiStefano was on the NP free team that earned fifth place in 2012, then helped them improve to a silver in 2013 and earn bronze a year ago. On Friday, they completed their journey.

“It definitely gets us motivated going into tomorrow,’ she said. “We have a lot of girls swimming — individual and the 400 free relay, so I’m really looking forward to seeing how we do in the prelims. It’s good to end this day where we are, and we can really push it tomorrow.’

The Maidens got a boost earlier in the day from diver Marie Yacopino, who earned her third top-three finish in the state with a silver-medal finish.

The competitor that she is, Yacopino was hoping for — and very nearly got — the gold, but the junior still has another year to complete her quest.

“I’m excited for next year already. I’m looking forward to it,’ Yacopino said. “I worked really hard this year so it’s nice to show that it pays off — what you’re working for. There was a lot of good competition this year. It was anyone’s game really.’

For the third year in a row, Yacopino distinguished herself on the board, following up a silver medal in 2013 and a bronze a year ago.

Turning it on in the semifinals, Yacopino was one of only two divers in the competition to score over 500 points, earning 506.05. Maria Lohman of Chartiers Valley won the back-and-forth battle, taking first with a 508.35.

Pennridge came up with some phenomenal swims in the evening, including the 100 butterfly by Brittany Weiss, who dropped over a second off her prelim time to go 54.45, propelling her to second place.

The Rams were also powered by Morgan Scott, a freshman, who raced to second in the 200 free, and Hannah Zurmuhl, a silver medalist in the 50 freestyle.

Pennridge began the evening by shaving over a second off their prelim time in the 200 medley relay, as a team of freshman Anna Beno, Weiss, Scott and Zurmuhl claimed second with a time of 1:43.99.

More sensational swims could be on the way Saturday for Pennridge.

“This is a very special group,’ coach Ryan Griffiths said. “To watch them come up here (Thursday night), the way they practiced, and the way they came together this morning to put themselves in position for top eight, is just great. Watching them swim in the finals — they are right there.’

The Knights’ foursome of Corey Smith, Thanas Kountroubis, Liam Kelly and Harrison Friel placed third in a tremendous medley relay, going 1:32.18, behind La Salle (1:30.97) and new state-record holder Upper St. Clair (1:29.74).

The Knights further bolstered their point total with a fifth-place by Kountroubis in the 200 IM and a fifth-place finish by Kelly in the 50 free.

District One was well-represented on Day One, as Upper Dublin’s Michael Jensen set a state record in the 200 free with a 1:35.31 and Hatboro-Horsham’s Michael Thomas won gold in the 200 IM, touching in 1:44.50.

Other local medalists included Wissahickon’s Danny Knoll, a third-place finisher in the boys 50 free, and Souderton Area’s Ricki Lee Hodges, a seventh-place finisher in the girls 50 free.

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