Hart, Haigh have grown into stardom

HAVERFORD — Maddie Hart started her high school athletic career as a freshman field hockey player. Matt Haigh needed several years in the pool before the notion of swimming as anything other than a healthy endeavor crystallized.

Standing side by side on the deck at Haverford School, it’s clear that both Hart and Haigh have long since shaken off any doubt as to their sporting futures. Their prowess in the pool is obvious, and the juniors have grown to look the part of star swimmers.

But a lasting remnant of their respective gravitations toward the sport is a modesty that belies the depth of their talent. It still requires some good-natured convincing, no matter how unequivocal the stopwatch is, to assure them that they’ve become the kind of prospects garnering nationwide, Division I recruiting interest. (For the record, though both are tentative about leaping headlong into the recruiting process, Haigh has visited Princeton, while Hart has had contact with Penn State and plans to make junior day visits to Purdue, North Carolina, Indiana.) They look the part of elite athletes, but at the heart of that quest is the simple, good-natured mindset they’ve always brought to the pool deck.

Down deep, Haigh still is guided by a similar fire as when he qualified for YMCA states on a relay at age 12 and was so struck by the experience that he resolved to get there individually the next year, even as he’s blossomed into a contender for YMCA national titles. Hart’s first impression as she ascended the podium as a District One, then a PIAA, champion was to reflect on when she sat in the stands watching her older siblings compete and thought, “oh I want that. I want to be able to smile up there and look all happy and be proud.’

As much as their skill and determination in the pool, that earnestness helped propel them to record-breaking heights this season. And for those accomplishments, Haigh and Hart are the 2014-15 Daily Times Swimmers of the Year.

Joining Haigh on the boys team are Haverford School teammates Charlie Ryan and Alex Boratto, the Episcopal Academy trio of Ben Baturka, Waylon Jin and Josh Owsiany and Radnor’s Eli Avart. Complementing Hart on the girls squad is the Strath Haven pair of Summer Martin and Frances Resweber, EA’s Sarah Baturka and Emma Seiberlich, Radnor’s Julia Cullen and Agnes Irwin’s Marin Bloise.

It’s a fourth straight selection for Owsiany, one of only four seniors of the 14-person team, along with Bloise, Jin and Avart. The team also includes five juniors, three sophomores and two freshmen (Cullen and Boratto). Ben Baturka, Hart and Bloise are three-time honorees. Haigh and Resweber make the team for the second straight season, while the last two girls swimmers of the year, Seiberlich and Sarah Baturka, are each on the All-Delco team for the second time in their careers. The All-Delco team is selected in consultation with local area coaches.

For Maddie Hart, swimming was always an option, never a requirement. The evidence in her lineage, though, stacked against her straying far from the pool.

Hart is the fourth sibling to swim at Haverford High: Eldest Alex, a 2010 grad whose first year coincided with head coach Matt Stewart’s first season and who competed in triathlons at the University of Pittsburgh; Taylor, an All-Delco who just finished her senior season at the University of Akron; and Connor, an All-Delco who concluded his freshman campaign at George Washington.

The chlorinated bloodline runs deeper, though. Hart’s father, David, is the coach at Baldwin School who swam collegiately at national power Auburn, where he was teammates with Rowdy Gaines and roommates with David Marsh, who became one of the winningest coaches in NCAA history. Hart’s grandmother, Evelyn (Highley) Hart, is in the Temple Athletics Hall of Fame for her exploits in the pool and in field hockey.

Yet for the Hart brood, swimming was never their predetermined destiny. David made sure of it.

“I knew that swimming was a tough, tough sport to choose, and it takes a lot of your childhood, takes a lot of who you are,’ he said. “Most swimmers don’t want their children to be swimmers; it’s just sort of a joke we all have. It just became obvious that they enjoyed it and they had a lot of natural ability with it.’

To Maddie, that makes their success in the pool more authentic. Swimming was never forced or mandated. It could’ve been overturned the moment it stopped being fun or beneficial. But instead of the family history dissuading Maddie and her siblings, it supplemented their enjoyment, keeping the family coming back to St. Albans, the summer-swimming launching pad for their careers.

“There’s never really been pressure because it’s always been a really fun thing for the family,’ she said. “I think my dad said when we were younger that he didn’t even want us all to swim. He wanted us to swim to be water-safe and such, but he never really wanted it until we started doing summer teams, but it’s always been a great family thing, bringing everyone together.’

The key, Maddie says, is demarcating between pool and home, something David readily echoes. David and his wife, Nancy, freely allowed their children’s careers to follow their own trajectories, and that lack of intervention is why Maddie doesn’t usually think of her father as a coach, especially at home.

Befitting the endearing sense of awe that Hart usually brings to the pool, her big break was something she was wholly unaware of. After medaling at districts her freshman year, Stewart informed her that her times qualified her for national meets, a level of competition never on her radar. “I was like, wow, I can kind of do this,’ she said.

Though lacking the hereditary component, Haigh’s journey to the pool bares similarities. Springfield Swim Club served as an outlet to while away summers, just one of a handful of potential sporting outlets. By middle school, though, swimming nudged out lacrosse as the target of Haigh’s energies.

His introduction to the rigors of distance rings familiar. At a meet in eighth grade, he was thrown into an open mile event and showed aptitude. When afforded a chance to swim the 500, he broke the crucial five-minute barrier on his first try, a definitive coronation as a distance swimmer.

Since, the junior has honed his mentality to accept the toil of distance training. He’s a rare talent for whom the high school slate of events is limiting, with Haigh’s powerful and persistent style tailor-made for distances up to the mile and translating well to long-course pools. (He finished second in the 800-meter freestyle at the YMCA Long-Course Nationals last August.)

“Most of it is just going into practices and only doing longer stuff, just not treating it as easy and not taking a break and going easy when it gets tough,’ Haigh said. “It’s just pushing through it until it becomes more comfortable.’

Haigh gets the best of both training worlds. He’s able to hammer through yards with the Ridley Rays, then transitions to the high school season, where coach Sean Hansen’s emphasis on efficiency and weight training bolsters his chops over shorter distances, like the 200.

This year, that work bore fruits for Haigh and the Fords. The third straight Ford tabbed as boys swimmer of the year, he finished fourth in the 200 free at the Eastern Interscholastic Championships and swam a leg on the Fords’ fourth-place 400 free relay that set a Delco record.

Haigh also claimed an individual Delco mark, downing the oldest record on the books, Bob Gavin’s 1982 mark in the 500 free. Haigh used that swim to take second in the event in 4:29.49; indicative of his immense talent, it’s the second time he’s been under 4:30 in his career, the other instance being the second half of a 1,000 club race.

What strikes Haigh most is the team aspect of his achievements. He’s honored to enter the pantheon of recent Haverford School stars, but he’s most enthusiastic about his role in the Fords finishing second at Easterns, the best in program history. Haigh was a ringleader of the effort, bombarding Hansen with strategic suggestions in the days leading up to the meet, getting everyone on the team engaged by scoring out the meet and hunting down opponents’ splits to forecast race plans.

“We were definitely real excited to go to Easterns, and I guess we were excited for the outcome,’ he said. “We saw the path that we had to go. … It’s really cool placing the highest in our program’s history, especially after the class of 2012 placed third.’

Hart’s postseason was just as prolific. She won the 100 fly and 100 back at the District One Championships while also piloting the Fords’ medley relay to sixth place and a states berth. For her efforts, she was named the most outstanding swimmer of the Class AAA meet, an award she scarcely knew existed.

She started the PIAA Championships by pacing the Fords to fifth in the medley. She added a gold medal in the 100 fly, the lithe yet powerful Hart outkicking District One runnerup Brittany Weiss of Pennridge by three tenths of a second to book Delco’s first girls Class AAA state title since Upper Darby’s Beth Grube in 1996. The time of 54.14 downed the county record held by 2014 EA graduate Emily Rhodes.

Hart added a silver medal in the 100 back, her sixth individual medal in three seasons. The time of 54.98 bested Seiberlich’s from Easterns, which had undercut Emily Baturka’s three-year-old county mark.

That success exceeded Hart’s humble expectations. But what made it more special was that she could look up in the stands at Bucknell University’s Kinney Natatorium and see her three older siblings cheering her on, as they always have.

“I was extremely happy with my districts, so if it had ended at that, I would’ve been fine with that,’ she said. “States was just the cherry on top. It was really fun.’

Print Friendly, PDF & Email

Leave a Reply