“Flame-a-lopes” still making waves

Making a splash with the Northgate-Avonworth swim team are -- back row: Wiley Bozada, Zach Reskovac, Nick Lockhart, Mason Herzig, Aidan Sommers, Luke Meyer;Front row: Chloe Cropper, Karen Siddoway, Tess Theobold, Brianna Nowka, Rebecca Hapeman, Samantha Spade. Photo by Tom Steiner for The Citizen

Once again, the Northgate-Avonworth swim team has compiled the “winningest” record for any sport played by interscholastic athletes of the two schools.

How good is the record? As of last week’s North Catholic meet, both the boys’ and the girls’ teams were undefeated.

Coach Jesse McKelvey could not be happier for her team.

“I have a lot of sophomores and freshman putting up impressive times. It has been awesome to see some new names qualifying in events. There also have been some upperclassmen making qualifying times for the first time. There’s been a consistent slew of best times each meet across the board.

Although only three meets remain in the regular season, McKelvey says that it's too early to predict what might happen at state competition at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, March 13-16.

“That will be something determined at WPIALS, based on place,” she said.

Much of the success of the team may be traced to the unified personality of the team.

“They are the most tightly knit group I have had,” McKelvey said.

Echoing her coach’s comment, senior Bree Nowka said, “I would describe our team as unified. We all work together well, and fit well with each other, and you can see it both in and out of the pool.

Agreeing with Bree, senior Mason Herzig added, “The dynamic of our team is really something unique to this program. All other swim teams that I’ve been a part of fall short of what the ‘Flame-a-Lopes’ have. We have a greater sense of camaraderie that, at times, almost lends itself to being a second family.”

Assessing the season to date, McKelvey said that most of the teams so far have been rather small. “Riverside was a challenge for our boys, and the girls went up against their toughest opponent, North Catholic, on Thursday and came out on top. Shady Side has lost a lot of girls and we don't see them as being as much of a challenge as in years past. The boys will start to take on some stronger teams in the upcoming weeks, but I am confident they will do well.”

She added that the swimmers will really start feeling the competition at WPIALS. “There are a few strong boys’ and girls’ teams that are going to be a challenge, but we plan to bring our absolute best.”

The only way really to understand the ‘Flame-a-Lopes’ is to stop by the pool at Northgate and see them and their unique personality in a meet or just in practices.

McKelvey said that she often has heard “…such positive things about the conduct of our swimmers and the atmosphere at our pool from visiting parents, officials, other coaches, and school staff. We even had a Hampton senior swimmer who moved districts come to a meet on a day his team didn’t have a meet because he missed us and our energy.”

She added, “We always have graduates stopping by to cheer us on or just hang out. We have built something special. It’s those moments when I feel like we’re definitely doing something right.

McKelvey noted, “I always have letters from colleges in my school mailbox, inquiring about swimmers. Senior Karen Siddoway has committed to James Madison University. We are immensely proud of her.”