It had been 11 years, before Thursday afternoon, since the last Delaware County boy won a gold medal at the PIAA Championships. Then, in the span of three days, six from Delco ascended the top step of the podium at Bucknell University.
And as impressive as that sounds, it’s even more so when you consider that none of the winners are seniors, in what might be a new era of Delco dominance on the state stage.
The brief recap:
• Interboro freshman Caleb Arnott won the Class 2A boys diving gold medal.
• Ridley’s Shane Eckler, a junior, won gold in both the Class 3A 50 and 100 freestyle.
• Second in the 50 free was Springfield junior Jake Kennedy, who went on to win the 100 backstroke, with Penncrest’s Jonathan Hoole second. Hoole is a sophomore.
• In between, Springfield junior Jacob Johnson won gold in the 100 butterfly.
• Kennedy and Johnson were part of a Springfield 200 free relay that won gold, then on the fourth-place 400 free relay. Each of those foursomes – Alex Chan in the shorter relay; Tristan Ronayne in the longer – featured a third junior.
The future isn’t guaranteed. But from a Delco perspective, it’s darn bright.
“It’s just making me more hungry,” Eckler said of his third-year success. “I feel like I have so much more to go, and I can prove that to myself and everyone else. This is not the top of the mountain.”
Gold medals at states are hard to come by, not to state the obvious. In a state like Pennsylvania, a fair few of them have been earned by eventual NCAA medalist or Olympians. (The last Delco boys states medalist, Shane Ryan, who won four golds from 2010-12, and is a two-time Olympian for Ireland.) The 3A medals are typically dominated by major programs like La Salle or schools from the western part of the Commonwealth.
Hence, 11 years between golds and 17 years between relay crowns. Especially on the boys side, winners tend to skew older, time dropping in a more linear fashion as swimmers age. Any event won by an underclassman on the boys side is notable.
Swimmers can make anomalous jumps in speed – for example, Katya Eruslanova of Haverford won the 500 free last year and this season was beaten by a sophomore who had finished 15th last year. But experience matters, too. Eckler went from needing to survive a swim-off to make the B final of the 100 free in 2022 to winning it this season. Johnson was the top seed in the A final of the 100 fly last year before a rough finals swim left him eighth. That adversity made him better.
“Going into the A final last year and not doing so great, I was just trying to learn from the guys that went really fast,” he said. “I tried to pace my swim off of them but also swim my own race.”
That much was learned from an eighth-place medal. Time will tell what lessons gold medals bring.
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