DLN GIRLS SWIMMING PREVIEW: Veteran returnees ready to lead the way for West Chester Henderson

West Chester Henderson, which finished in third place at the District 1 Class 3A championships last winter, features a strong returning lineup that should make its mark in Chester County pools once again in 2021.

Two of the returnees are juniors Katie Simpson and Krista Marlin, who received first team Daily Local News All-Area first team honors in 2020.

Simpson finished sixth in the 50 free (23.50) at States last winter, and posted the second-fastest time in the Ches-Mont League in that event. Also at States, she was the leadoff swimmer for the Warriors in the 200 free relay that finished seventh and posted a clocking of 1:36.01, the top time in the Ches-Mont League in that event.

West Chester Henderson swimmers; Dylan Smolders in the back row, left to right, Krista Marlin, Katie Simpson, Shannon Gamble, Hannah Fruhwirth and Rylee Kelly. (PETE BANNAN – MNG)

“Katie is such an excellent competitor,” said Henderson head coach Jeff Bott. “The way she ended her high school season last year really gave her even more confidence heading into this season. Katie has the perfect mentality and competitiveness for a sprinter and she has outstanding take off speed. She is always working to become a versatile swimmer and she can perform very well in backstroke and butterfly.”

Marlin placed ninth in the 200 free (1:50.90) at the PIAA Class 3A championships last winter, and posted the top time in the Ches-Mont League in that event. Also at states, finished 15th in the 100 back (56.55), and anchored the Warriors’ 200 free relay quartet that placed seventh with a clocking of 1:36.01, the top time in the Ches-Mont League in that event.

“Krista is one of the most talented and versatile swimmers ever to come through the Henderson program,” said Bott. “She could pick almost any event and excel at the district or state [meet] level. She is truly a product of her consistent work ethic and training both in and out of the water. As a result, her ceiling for improving even more remains high as she grows even more in the sport.”

Four other key returnees for the Warriors are junior diver Lily Horenkamp and junior Rylee Kelly (200 free, 500 free), senior Hannah Fruhwirth (butterfly, breaststroke and IM) and sophomore Shannon Gamble (sprint freestyle events, breaststroke).

“Lily established herself even further as one of the top divers in District 1 last year and she is looking to improve upon this and at states,” said Bott. “Qualifying for States last season was a major personal hurdle for her and pushed her confidence level through the roof. She has always desired to excel and take the next step competitively each year. Her attention to detail and her daily focus on skills is one of her strongest attributes.

West Chester Henderson swimmers left to right: Dylan Smolders, Katie Simpson, Krista Marlin, Shannon Gamble, Rylee Kelly and senior Hannah Fruhwirth. (PETE BANNAN – MNG)

“Rylee is such an excellent worker and has the ability to swim all freestyle distances very well. She had some breakthrough performances last season and she is very motivated to push forward even further this season.

“Hannah swims all strokes and distances well and is an outstanding leader. She is someone who has always trained well throughout the season and has excelled in each meet.

“Shannon really proved herself last season stepping up in a big way at districts and states in relay events. Her confidence grew with each meet experience and she is aiming to improve upon her individual and relay performances from last season.”

Here’s a look at the other local high school girls’ swimming teams:

Avon Grove faces a major rebuilding year this winter, as the Red Devils lost Sydney Paglia and Isabella Paoletti to graduation. Key returnees include junior captains Sophia Paglia and Annika Pfaff, who were part of the Red Devils’ relay teams at Districts and States last year. Another returnee is senior diver Kiara Kloss, who just missed qualifying for Districts last year. Avon Grove swim coach Kelly Burk said, “We have three incoming freshmen that we hope will be district qualifiers – Lily Perrin, Ava Pfaff and Catie Weingarten.”

Coatesville’s top returning swimmers this winter are senior Lauren Wolstenholme (freestyle, backstroke), senior Jordyn DiCamillo (butterfly, breaststroke, sprint freestyle) and senior Mackenzie Yosko (distance freestyle, butterfly, backstroke). All three swimmers have qualified for Districts in individual events the past three seasons. DiCamillo was a PIAA State meet relay qualifier in 2018 and 2019.

Conestoga, which finished fourth at the PIAA District 1 3A championships last winter, is a young, talented squad that features a trio of sophomores who were first team All-Central League swimmers last year – Lily Robinson, Audrey Laganelli and Naomi Furman. Robinson and Furman were on the Pioneers’ school record-breaking All American 200 medley relay last year. Conestoga head coach Rob Kirkby said, “All three of them made fantastic contributions to the team at every level last winter, including participating at the state level. Ava Collin is a senior leader on our team, a state level swimmer and was a solid competitor for us all season long [in 2020].”

Downingtown East returns a couple of swimmers who received first team Daily Local News All-Area honors last winter – senior Grace Bousum and sophomore Alexa Fulton. Bousum, who will attend James Madison University next fall, finished 14th in 200 IM and 11th in 100 fly (56.11) last year at the PIAA Class AAA state championships. Fulton twice finished in the top 4 at the PIAA Class AAA state championships last year with a fourth place finish in the 100 free (51.29) and third place in the 50 free (23.16). The Cougars’ 400 free relay team finished eighth at States last year, with a quartet of Fulton, Bousum, Grace Noble and Victoria Maki. Returning swimmers Lindsay Blake and Grace Noble received Daily Local News All-Area honorable mention last winter.

Downingtown West’s top returnee is Penn State-bound senior Tori Howard, who finished eighth in the 100 back at the PIAA District 1 AAA championships last winter. “Tori has been the perfect example of what a great teammate is,” said D-West swim coach Eric Snook. “She works hard, supports her teammates and truly has the best interest of the team at heart. She leads by example with the effort she puts in every single day.”

Other top returnees for the Whippets are 2020 state qualifiers Alicia Littler and Alexa Houseknecht.

“We have a large freshman class this year and we look forward to seeing what they bring to the team,” said Snook. “It’s a large team with a lot of depth and talent that should stack up well against any team in our league.”

Kennett’s leading returnee is versatile senior Sydney McCracken, a University of Nebraska commit who finished first in the 100 breaststroke (1:03.32) and fifth in the 200 IM at the PIAA District 1 3A championships last winter.

“Sydney is strong in all four strokes, which makes her a great IM swimmer,” said Kennett head coach Cindy Millison. “She is an exceptional breaststroker, which is where most IM swimmers fall short. Sydney’s versatility makes her very valuable.”

Oxford head coach Chrissy Reinard said, “With not having started our swim season here at Oxford [as of Jan. 12], we have a strong returning swimmer in Grace Burns, who is always top finishers in her events, and she is hoping to help lead our girls team to a strong finish this season. We also have a few incoming freshmen who are hoping to put up some fast and competitive times, such as Zoe Verbanas, although I have not seen them in the pool personally [yet].”

Unionville features Penn State-bound senior Molly Carson, a standout in the backstroke. She finished ninth in the 100 back at the PIAA District 1 3A championships last winter. She also finished 11th in the 50 free at Districts in 2020.

Villa Maria Academy will look to capture its 19th consecutive PIAA District 1 Class AA title this winter. Leading the way for the Hurricanes will be senior Madeline Ladd (backstroke) and junior Hannah King (freestyle). At the District 1 2A championships last winter, Ladd finished first in the 100 back and placed fourth in the 200 IM, and King placed second in the 50 free and fifth in the 100 free.

“Madeline and Hannah lead the team in the pool, and even more importantly, with their academics and leadership out of the pool,” said Villa Maria swim coach Fritz Schumann. “We also have a strong group of divers, led by state qualifiers Peyton Kintzley and Morgan Kelly.”

West Chester East features a youthful squad with a lot of freshmen who will look to have an impact. Two of the freshmen to watch the winter for the Vikings are Taiylor Tegler and Samantha Heiland.

West Chester Rustin features Flynn Truskett, who was a state qualifier in freestyle sprints; and sophomore Kate Mondick, who went to States for the 500 Free. Both swimmers were members of two state relays. The Golden Knights also return sophomore Lily Turco, sophomore Michelle An, and senior captains Sara Jackson and Sofia Piccone – all four were individual district qualifiers.

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