District Swimming Preview: Usual suspects highlight district’s top qualifiers

No moment has ever been too big for Phoenixville’s Maddie Cooke.

Cooke arrived on the scene as a freshman and put herself on the map with a four-medal showing during the 2014 District One Championships at La Salle University’s Kirk Natatorium.

Flash forward three seasons later, the Penn State University commit is gearing up for her fourth and final trip to this Thursday and Friday’s district championships back at La Salle. Although she’s got the upper-hand in experience over most of the field, Cooke admits the feeling has never faltered from the first time she hit the starting blocks.

“Being a freshman,” she recalled, “I went into everything with really no idea what to expect. Each year I still get the same jitters I did that year.

“I have a lot of angst and excitement because it’s one of my favorite meets and I just love the electric atmosphere.”

Barry Taglieber – For Digital First Media
Phoenixville’s Maddie Cooke swims the 50-meter freestyle against Boyertown on Feb. 7.

This year will provide no shortage of competition.

North Penn, who won the Class AAA district crown the past four years, boasts nine individuals seeded within the top 10 of their respective events.

Senior Kailyn Evans is the second seed in the 200 IM and fifth in the 100 breast. With her is Megan Zartman, who will represent the Knights as the three seed in the 100 fly and seventh in the 200 IM. North Penn’s 400 free relay is seeded second while the 200 free relay comes in at third.

Along with Cooke’s 200 medley relay team of Kathryn Bland, Emily Fabius and Katya Hayward, Phoenixville is seeded fifth in the meet’s opening event.

Cooke, an eight-time district medalist, is seeded second in the 50-yard freestyle (which she’s won gold, silver and fourth place medals, respectively, over the past three seasons). She also comes in as the fourth seed in the 100 breast, while Methacton senior Emily Sykes is the top seed.

No matter her seed, her lane or who’s swimming alongside her, Cooke brings with her a simple approach.

Methacton’s Emily Sykes is seeded first in the 100 breast. (DFM file photo)

“I’m just going into the race knowing what I came to do,” she said. “I have my goals and I try not to let other names or times interfere with my thoughts because it will take away from my focus. Emily is an amazing competitor … so it will be a really fun race to hash out.”

There is an obvious back-and-forth competition between the two standout seniors.

Cooke narrowly beat out Sykes at the Perkiomen Valley Invitational last month, posting a 1:04.88 while Sykes followed right behind at 1:06.25.

Last season at districts, Sykes claimed silver with a time of 1:03.73 while Cooke finished fourth. The year prior, Cooke was silver while Sykes followed right behind for the bronze.

“There is so much talent in the 100 breaststroke this year,” said Sykes, who is committed to University of Tennessee. “The seeding doesn’t matter whether you are seeded first or last.”

She was quick to channel a little coach’s talk.

“As my coaches say ‘If you have a lane, you have a chance.’”

In addition to the 100 breast, Sykes is also seeded at No. 6 in the 200 individual medley. All winter long, her name has frequented the Mercury’s All-Area Top Times sheet, finishing out the regular season within the top three of seven separate events. She and her 400 free relay team of Victoria Zang, Sara Fleck and Anna Price are seeded at 12.

“The next couple of days will definitely be a roller coaster of emotions,” said Sykes. “I will be excited to race, happy to see my team and a bunch of my training partners swim, and probably a bit sad to see my high school career coming to a close.”

Elsewhere from the Pioneer Athletic Conference, Owen J. Roberts senior Morgan Hansen will try to make it four consecutive trips to the state championship while classmate Laurel Fink will shoot for her third straight trip. Hansen is seeded at No. 15 in the 100 fly and 22 in the 200 IM while Fink is seeded at No. 17 in the 100 free and 22nd in the 100 fly.

Owen J. Roberts’ Laurel Fink competes in the 100 butterfly against Boyertown during a meet earlier this season. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

Together, the duo will try to shore up the PAC champion Wildcats’ three relays, which will all be represented at districts.

University of Rhode Island commit Cara Megill will represent Boyertown as the No. 18 seed in the 200 yard free and 13 seed in the 500 free. She owns the area’s top time in the 500 free.

Others to watch for across the district are Pennridge junior Morgan Scott, Avon Grove junior Olivia Paoletti (who edged Sykes for gold at states last season) and Lower Merion sophomore Anna Kalandadze.

In Class AA competition, Villa Maria will look to grab its 16th consecutive crown while fending off Gwynedd Mercy.

The Hurricanes boast top seeds in all three relays and have 13 individuals seeded within the top three of their respective events.

Villa Maria’s Maggie McNamara competes in the 100 butterfly against Gwynedd Mercy Jan. 15.

Villa’s most impressive showing is the 50 free, where Maura McManus, Olivia Giampietro and Nina Smith are seeded first through third. McManus is also the top seed in the 100 free while Giampetro is seeded second. Katelyn Chick is the top seed in the 100 breast and No. 2 in the 200 IM while Kaitlyn Agger tops the 100 fly and is second in the 500 free.

Noel Fresa looks to be the standout for Upper Perkiomen. The freshman is seeded sixth in the 50 free and seventh in the 100 back. Sophomore Bailey McCausland is ranked seventh in the 100 breast and ninth in the 200 free.

* * *

On the boys Class AAA side, Boyertown senior Patrick Lance wants to use his final-go at districts as a stepping stone for the younger members of his team to follow.

The Bears will be trekking along four newcomers to their first district experience, a place Lance can recall just a few years back.

Boyertown’s Patrick Lance swims the anchor leg during the boys’ 400 free relay against Owen J. Roberts during Tuesday’s meet. (Austin Hertzog – Digital First Media)

“I want to make sure I can show them how to enjoy themselves,” he said. “I love the competition at big meets and making memories. That’s what it’s all about.”

Lance is seeded second in the 100 butterfly behind only Conestoga sophomore Brendan Burns. For the season, Lance holds the Mercury area’s top time with a 51.57.

The Cleveland State University commit is seeded fifth in the 100 free and will anchor Boyertown in both the 200 medley relay and 400 free relay.

“I’ve been fortunate to be on the district team since my freshman year,” said Lance. “I’m going to make sure that my mind is set on what I need to do in order to have a successful final year and make it back to states.”

Lance will look to make it three straight trips to states, where he has yet to make it past the morning preliminaries.

Classmate Ivan Escott will join Lance and the Bears at La Salle. The Eastern Illinois University commit is seeded 10th in both the 200 free and the 100 fly.

Elsewhere around the circuit, Spring-Ford senior Noah Cancro is seeded ninth in the 50 free and 14th in the 100 breast. Junior Carson Huff is 12th in the 100 back and 16th in the 200 IM.

Simon Crew, of three-time defending PAC champion OJR, is seeded at No. 22 in the 100 free and 26 in the 200 IM.

Rebuilding Upper Dublin will look to fend off resurgent North Penn, Conestoga and Souderton in hopes of repeating.

Andy Thomas, younger brother of Hatboro-Horsham standout Michael Thomas (now at California University), holds top honors in the 100 breast and the 200 free while Conestoga’s Brian McKenrick is the top seed in the 100 back and 200 IM. Souderton’s Christian Musterait is seeded second in the 50 free and third in the 100 free.

Hatboro-Horsham’s Andy Thomas swims backstroke in the boys 200 yard individual medley at Upper Dublin Jan. 20, 2017. (Bob Raines – Digital First Media)

In AA action, defending champion Lower Moreland will look to claim a repeat of last season’s title. LM has two top-seeded relays and six top-seeded individuals.

Connor Killion sits atop the charts in the 100 back and 200 free while Christopher Kelly has top honors in the 200 IM and 100 breast. Tommy Lutter is seeded atop the 100 fly and third in the 200 IM while Colin Shipp is first in the 100 free and third in the 50 free.

Pottsgrove certainly isn’t strong in numbers, but will look to make the most with what the Falcons have.

Senior Mikey Prior is back for one final-go, seeded at No. 2 in both the 100 back and 200 IM. He advanced to states as a junior in the 100 back.

Joining him will be junior Patrick Agnew, who has the top seed in the 50 free and third in the 100 free.

Joel Williams will represent Upper Perk as the third seed in the 100 fly.

Bright Lights

The further a swimmer progresses into the postseason, the brighter the lights get.

The PIAA Championships are set for March 15-18 at Bucknell University.

District 1 receives one automatic qualifier in Class AA and five in AAA per event.

In addition to the 16 district champions across the state, 16 addition swimmers throughout the state will be selected by time in each event. Eight additional relay teams will qualify for states beyond the 16 district champions.

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