Districts will be a tight fit this year.
In Class 3A, only the top 16 times in each event qualify for a spot, as opposed to years past, when you only needed to meet a qualifying standard.
So as teams try to finalize their rosters for the big meet, set for Feb. 26th ad 27th at the York YMCA’s Graham Aquatic Center, there is some added tension down on the deck.
Swimmers try to remain poised and focused on the race in front of them.
“One of the things we’re trying to teach these kids is to take advantage of every opportunity they have,” said North Penn coach Jeff Faikish, who has guided both the boys and girls to district crowns and both enter the postseason as defending champs. “We had a lot of kids get ready for this meet today (at leagues at Souderton). And fortunately, we do have another couple meets. And we’ll try to put together the rest of our district lineup then, at our last-chance meet.”
Swimmers, more than ever, were concerned with their times. Now, they have to wait and see if they have punched a ticket to districts.
“I have girls who were on the (awards) podium last year swim at the meet (Friday at leagues at Souderton) and had a genuine concern about making it to districts this year,” Faikish said. “If you take a look at the results from the past couple years, kids that went into districts seeded outside the top 16 became state champions.
“Now, they wouldn’t even make it to districts this year. So the situation now causes a lot of stress. It’s a very interesting year.”
Matthew Harkrader was a prime example of North Penn’s focus.
The senior, also a standout on the water polo team, posted the second fastest 100 back time Friday and was a strong part of the winning 200 free relay.
“I did feel fast today. I had my best 100 back time for this year and around the same for the 100 free. And I had a good relay split,” he said.
As districts close in, Harkrader said of the meet: “I want to finally get under a 53.0 in the 100 back. I want to hopefully secure a spot on one of the relays and go as fast as I can, help the relay win. And I’m not sure if I’m gonna be swimming the 100 free or 50 free yet, but I know I can get out and swim fast in it.”
The postseason has been the final leg of a unique journey this winter for area swim teams. The pandemic delayed the start to the season and pushed North Penn’s back longer than most others. The postseason parameters have been altered, but the swimmers and coaches press on.
“It’s been a long, bumpy road,” Harkrader said. “But I think the team, honestly, has been awesome through it. The attitude at practice and at meets is no less than it normally would be. Everyone is still happy that we’re able to swim so we just wanna go out and do the best we can.”
The Knights are taking it one race at a time. It’s tough to plan ahead.
Said Faikish: “There is so much uncertainty. No time is safe.”
With the safety restrictions put in place this winter, teams were forced to break up certain honored traditions. Unity was challenged.
“For the first time in the history of North Penn, the boys team is separate from the girls team,” Faikish said. “And we as coaches have had to find ways to keep the continuity and keep the program together as one unit.
“Because that’s what we preach, from the day they walk in as a little eighth-grade kid for the North Penn Aquatic Club. It has been a struggle at times but I think our kids are responding really well. They’re a really good group of kids.”
It’s the final week, the final chance to earn a spot in districts, and from there maybe a trip to states. It’s the final challenge in a unique, trying season.
“Our job at this point is to try and keep the kids as motivated as possible and try to find a positive in any situation,” Faikish said. “You give criticisms and critiques in what needs to be fixed and areas of improvement, but ultimately this year more than any other year, you focus on the positive. And that’s where our approach is.
“When you finish your race and you are done in that particular situation, you can be happy with your performance, because that’s the only thing you can control.”
Districts will be a tight fit this year.