LEWISBURG >> Even with the final individual swim of his high school career in the books, La Salle’s Kevin Durning was still adamant that his job wasn’t finished.
It’s tough to argue with Durning’s demonstrative defense of his point. But Durning’s high school journey is a study in defying conventional thinking, one that he hopes will yield a fifth straight state title for the Explorers.
In his states debut, the senior qualified for evening finals of the PIAA Class AAA Championships at Bucknell University’s Kinney Natatorium, securing 16th place in the 200 freestyle.
The answer as to why he’s so enthused by finishing last in the consolation final is similar to the response he’s most commonly pressed for: How does a kid from the Academy Park school district end up at a state powerhouse on the other side of Philadelphia?
“I just picked La Salle because I really wanted to find a place where I could further my swimming career and thrive and help a swimming program,” Durning said. “And I figured La Salle was the best place, even though they won multiple state championships and they have amazing swimmers on their team, I just thought that somehow I could benefit this team. And obviously today, I think I proved that I could.”
Durning’s tale of finding La Salle sounds like many athletes’ college courtships. He could’ve gone to Cardinal O’Hara like many of his friends. But instead, Durning opted four years ago for the road less traveled by stepping out of his comfort zone and into unfamiliar surroundings.
He describes an “instant bond” with La Salle’s late coach Frank Lichtner. With the athletic challenges presented by La Salle’s swimming and crew teams, Durning was ready to take the leap.
“It wasn’t easy,” Durning said. “All my friends go to O’Hara, and I still talk to kids that go there, but just La Salle, when I visited there and I shadowed there, it was just an instant connection. I knew I wanted to be there.”
Even before Lichtner lost his battle to cancer last October, Durning resolved to commit fully to the swim season. He put rowing aside and verbally committed to Albright College. He watched from a modest distance as the Explorers swam off with the last four PIAA Class AAA crowns and resolved that if a fifth materialized, he’d have a hand in it. (With diving, La Salle leads the team race, nine points clear of North Allegheny.)
“Going into senior year, I made the decision that I want to swim and I want to help this team win a state championship, and that’s what I want to do,” said Durning, with a heavy inflection on the personal pronouns.
Swimming, in its peculiar way, helped ease some of his burdens. Morning practices at 6:30 thinned traffic and trimmed a significant portion of the 40- to 45-minute commute. The proud swimming tradition gave Durning a foothold in his new environment.
The improvement in the pool has kept pace. He trimmed nearly five seconds at the District 12 meet to gain an at-large bid to states. He entered Wednesday’s prelims seeded 20th with a time of 1:43.48. As others gained time, Durning held steady at 1:43.55 to sneak into the last finals berth.
He was quicker in the evening, clocking in at 1:42.80, but he couldn’t budge off eighth in the consolation heat.
No matter, because the point Durning scored is unequivocally meaningful in La Salle’s title defense.
“The fact that I got 16th and went out and swam an awesome race, and even though I did get last (in finals), it’s still benefitting the team, and that’s what it’s all about with the team,” Durning said.
Greg Giannella couldn’t hide his displeasure.
He’s been under the weather all week. The Radnor junior was slower than at districts in his medley relay anchor leg, the Raiders taking 22nd place, and sluggish in his 50 free en route to 25th.
So when it came to the 200 free relay, Giannella had one thought in mind.
“I just wanted to redeem myself,” Giannella said after Radnor finished 12th in finals. “I did very bad in the first half of prelims — we did bad in the medley, I did bad in the 50.”
Radnor’s Greg Giannella (black cap, third from top) leads Radnor to 12th in the 200 free relay in 1:26.59 https://t.co/oneL9LJQxj
— Matthew De George (@sportsdoctormd) March 16, 2016
While the criticism is excessive, Giannella recovered to help Radnor, in the only Delco boys swim of the evening, improve from the 13th place it carried from prelims. The time that the squad of Giannella, brother, Steve, Patrick Cullen and Clayton Bowes registered in prelims (1:26.87) shaved four tenths opf a second from their District One swim. The foursome was another .28 quicker at night in a school record 1:26.59.
Greg Giannella was upset that he’d contributed to squandering strong legs by Steve Giannella and Steve Chen in the medley. Finally in the free relay, the Raiders cobbled together a swim that featured fast times from all four participants, an elusive assemblage this postseason.
Teammate James El-Deiry took 30th in the 200 individual medley in 2:00.55. Penncrest’s 200 free duo of Mike Paul (25th in 1:45.30) and Daniel Rosenberger (30th in 1:46.60) also finished shy of finals. Haverford’s Will Canny, the only Delco diver at states, finished 21st, eliminated after five dives.