Haverford School’s time has come … to little fanfare

NEWTOWN SQUARE >> When Antonio Octaviano touched the wall Tuesday evening to win the 100 breaststroke, The Haverford School’s side of the deck cast its collective glance to the scoreboard, then drifted off to an exercise in mental math.

When those tabulations confirmed that three-quarters of a century of futility had been overturned, there were no hoots or hollers, merely a couple of understated high-fives.

That was all the Fords required to fete a 106-80 win over Episcopal Academy at the Burke Natatorium, officially sealing Haverford’s first outright Inter-Ac title since 1944, per coach Sean Hansen.

Haverford split a tri-title in 1974 and endured a pair of near misses in the last decade. But it hasn’t stood alone atop the Inter-Ac pedestal in 73 years, a span of time some current Fords struggled to describe.

“My grandfather is 94, so he was (in high school) around that time, which is pretty crazy to think about,” junior John Nelligan said. “It’s just a great feeling for all of us.”

How about this perspective: The last time Haverford School was the solo Inter-Ac champion, butterfly was still a decade from inclusion as an official Olympic stroke. (It was swum as a separate race with growing prevalence in the 1940s, diverging as a legal variant of breaststroke).

Where Haverford School broke new historic ground Tuesday, Episcopal Academy’s girls reinforced their claim to supremacy, as a 98-77 win over Agnes Irwin earned them a second straight league crown.

Tuesday represented an anticlimax but a unique challenge for the Fords. The emotional apex was last Friday’s 105-81 win over Malvern Prep, the rival that had obstructed the Fords’ path to a title the last four years.

But that championship moment complemented the challenge posed by a youthful EA squad that the Fords encountered sans their two-time All-Delco Charlie Ryan. Haverford appeared to be in control early before a 1-2-3 EA diving finish (led by Vlad Puskovitch’s score of 233.70) winnowed the deficit to 41-37.

But Haverford pulled away, clinching the title when Octaviano clocked in at 59.55 seconds in the 100 breast.

“It’s a great experience,” said Nelligan, who won the 200 freestyle. “All of our guys worked hard from the beginning to the end. It’s not over yet; it’s over at Easterns. I think we’ve got a pretty good shot. But winning the Inter-Ac is a pretty good feeling for all of us.”

The Fords monopolized gold across the board. Boratto, the reigning Daily Times Boys Swimmer of the Year, won the 100 fly and 100 backstroke, while Brian Brennan won the 100 free. The Fords swept all three relays, including a domineering 1-2 finish in the 200 medley.

Only wins by Ivan Puskovitch — in the 500 free and a pool-record 1:54.51 in the 200 individual medley — broke the Fords’ blockade.

Despite the score, the EA girls registered the more decisive win, with victory sewn up by the 200 free relay. EA weathered its toughest challenge in December in banishing Germantown Academy for the second straight year, consolidating its reputation as Inter-Ac top dogs.

“It’s nice to see how the program is building and now it’s kind of the expectation to win the Inter-Ac, which is sometimes a hard expectation to achieve,” said senior sprinter Maddie O’Reilly, who won the 50 free. “But I think that with the way the program is coming, it’s exciting to have a tradition now. Our tradition is going to be to win the Inter-Ac, always beat GA and hopefully soon we can start the tradition of winning Easterns. So that’s what we have on our horizon.”

Emma Seiberlich (100 free, 100 back), Alex Sumner (200 IM, 100 fly) and Hadley DeBruyn (200 free, 500) won two events apiece, while Sally Stockett closed out the sweep of firsts by winning the 100 breast. Wren Sablich set a pool mark by winning diving with 269.33 points.

Those triumphs find a fitting ideological font in O’Reilly, a national water polo standout bound for the University of Michigan. Tuesday was not as much about the times but finishing the job with a victory. The tri-captain approaches races that way and advises teammates to do the same throughout the dual-meet season.

“I wanted to win,” O’Reilly said. “That’s all I wanted to do. I didn’t care about the time up on the board. I don’t even really look at it. I look at the person next to me. Just having my competitive nature, I just wanted to win.”

Maddie Aguirre finished second in the 200 IM and 100 fly for Agnes Irwin, the latter in a tie with Riley Flick.
Haverford’s muted celebration acknowledges the championship as one milestone on a path they hope leads to challenging for the Eastern Interscholastic Championships title after two second-place results.

Boratto calls this the best he’s been a part of in five years, dating to seventh grade. Yet even as the Fords have produced 13 All-Delcos in five years, including the last four male swimmers of the year, adding such a significant accolade is significant.

“It’s just incredible,” Boratto said. “I’m so happy to be part of a team that did something extraordinary. … It’s still sort of setting in. It’s kind of crazy, and I’m just so happy to be a part of that program.”

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