Three years of high school swimming have taught Mia Abruzzo plenty. But one enduring truth had followed her since her first days competing in high school: With enough hard work, each accomplished first eventually falls into the rearview mirror.
As a freshman, Abruzzo reintroduced the Academy of Notre Dame to swimming prominence, earning the Most Outstanding Girls Swimmer award at the Eastern Interscholastic Championships. Last year brought the fifth-place finish at Easterns with a program best.
This year, the Irish earned third place at Easterns. Abruzzo’s track record inspires confidence that, like the other accolades, she and her teammates can soon surpass it.
“It’s just been really cool to see how much the team has grown and watch us do things that we’ve never been able to do before,” Abruzzo said. “(Coach) Brigit (Barry) has helped us grow so much that we’ve been able to do things she never would’ve imagined us being able to do four years ago. So getting third at Easterns was crazy for us, especially being so small a team. And hopefully next year we’ll be able to place higher because that’s always the goal.”
Abruzzo’s rise in the swimming ranks has continued unabated. With a gold medal, four total medals and two Delco records from Easterns, the junior is the 2019-20 Daily Times Girls Swimmer of the Year.
Joining Abruzzo on the All-Delco team are teammates Madison Kolessar and Ashley Kolessar, Radnor’s Casey Cullen, Garnet Valley’s Catherine Weaverling, Episcopal Academy sprinter Kelly Feuzeu Mekoue and Marple Newtown diver Alexandra Pastris.
The sophomore class is surprisingly dominant with four of the seven spots (Mekoue, Cullen, Ashley Kolessar and Pastris). Madison Kolessar is the lone senior. She and Abruzzo are each three-time selections. Ashley Kolessar, Weaverling and Pastris appear on the team for a second time each.
The All-Delco team is selected in consultation with area coaches.
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Abruzzo went to Notre Dame to blaze her own trail. She’d been at Germantown Academy Aquatic Club until 2015 under Dick Shoulberg, who’d coached Abruzzo’s older brother Andrew into a world junior champion. But with Shoulberg leaving GA, Mia felt no pull to the school, and the Plymouth Township resident instead sought to build something at Notre Dame.
Mia didn’t think she’d want to follow Andrew’s footsteps to the University of Georgia, a perennial national powerhouse, either. But as her career grew and she surveyed college options, the Bulldogs beckoned, securing her commitment in December.
“When Andrew decided to go there, I kind of decided I wanted to do something on my own, kind of like how I’m at Notre Dame and I fell in love with the school on my own,” she said. “But once I got there (to Georgia) and stepped on campus, it was so beautiful and amazing, I couldn’t turn it down.”
With her future decided, Abruzzo embarked on the latest stretch of firsts for the Irish. The biggest of the regular season came in a dual meet with GA, a 98-72 win for the first victory over GA in program history.
That result was further proof of what Abruzzo aspired to for Notre Dame, making it more than just a collection of a few talented swimmers but instead a formidable team.
“It was honestly one of the most exciting moments of my swimming career,” Abruzzo said. “I was so thrilled to be part of something so special. It was the first time in history that Notre Dame had ever beaten GA, which is such an amazing thing to be able to do.”
At the Inter-Ac Championships, Abruzzo claimed two titles, lowering the Episcopal Academy pool mark in the 200 individual medley and winning the 100 butterfly, an event that isn’t necessarily a strength.
At Easterns, she went back to the wheelhouse. She wasn’t able to defend her 200 IM title, with Sarah Foley of Penn Charter completing a stellar senior season by winning in 1:58.11 for the meet and Franklin & Marshall pool records, plus a senior nationals cut. But Abruzzo was second in 1:59.24, improving her Delco record. She’s the first Delco high school girl to break two minutes, a vaunted milestone for IMers.
Abruzzo ascended the top step of the podium in the 500 freestyle, a 1-2 finish with Madison Kolessar. Both swimmers were under the existing Delco record, but Abruzzo thrashed it by nearly four seconds to win in 4:46.89. Both times were automatic All-American cuts.
Abruzzo added the third-fastest leg of the race in the 400 free relay final (an anchor split of 50.48) to pace Notre Dame to second place. The Irish were fourth in the 200 medley relay the day before. With those points, Notre Dame leapt from fourth at Inter-Acs to third at Easterns, another program-best finish.
Though the immediate future for swimming remains cloudy, the long-term prospects at Notre Dame are bright. Abruzzo hasn’t been in the water much since school was closed in late March. With Andrew home from Georgia, she’s able to work on dryland and strength training while taking a rest, as the spring slate of club meets was canceled by the coronavirus epidemic and the U.S. Olympic Trials were postponed to 2021.
Though Madison Kolessar graduates this spring, bound for the University of Florida, Abruzzo and Ashley Kolessar will form the nucleus of next year’s squad, with All-Delco second-teamer Natalie Stuart. Abruzzo’s younger sister, Tori, is in eighth grade, while a younger Kolessar, Kaitlyn, is also in middle school (and finished 22nd in the 100 breaststroke at Easterns). The families are close, growing even more so after Madison, who swam at Garnet Valley as a freshman, made the move to Notre Dame.
Mia also holds the distant goal of swimming against Madison at the collegiate level. The rivalry banter hasn’t started yet, but Mia has thought about what it will be like.
“Me and Madison are really excited to go to SEC schools,” she said. “So I’m really excited for when we have our dual meet and see each other and be like, ‘it’s one of my best friends from high school.’ It’s going to be so cool.