State medals top great season for local swimmers

At the beginning of their season, many of the swimmers on the Northgate-Avonworth swim team -- a.k.a. the Flame-A-Lopes -- sensed that this was going to be a banner year, perhaps not for all, but at least for some of them.

That sense of achievement came true for many of them, and for those who may not have brought home medals from state competition, it still will be a season with memories to last a lifetime.

But to re-cap the state highlights:

Overall, the girls’ team placed ninth, while the boys placed 27th .

Along the way, however, there were some notable individual and relay wins, with senior Karen Siddoway earning gold medals in the 100 and 200 freestyle events.

Girls’ relay teams also posted impressive times, with the team of Isabella Salerno, Angie Patarini, Anna Neiss, and Siddoway earning fifth place in the 200 free relay and the team of Isabella Salerno, Kaylee Madey, Anna Neiss, Karen Siddoway taking eighth place in the 400 free relay.

While the boys did not match the girls’ accomplishments, Coach Jessie Mckelvey said that she will remember their performance in the 400 free relay as her favorite memory of the boys’ state experience.

“They made consolation after some rough individual swims, but they swam for each other, winning the consolation heat. They rallied -- yes, they rallied with and for one another. There's no better way to end a meet than on that note,” McKelvey said.

The sounds of splashes in the Northgate pool and the endlessly echoing sounds of team camaraderie have begun to fade, but the memories of the season will remain with the coaching staff and the team members forever.

And McKelvey sees the value of the sport that goes deeper than the victories -- as great as they are to bring home.

“Every year brings a new bunch of swimmers as another round leaves me. It never gets any easier. Last year, I reached the point of coaching -- this is season five -- where I have swimmers from freshmen to seniors and it’s remarkable to watch the growth of them as individuals as well as growth in the program. That's honestly the most rewarding part about my job.”

And the most enjoyable part of her season was when she stood on the podium with the girls, who have had the harder fight since she has been coaching.

“I am so proud of them. They stayed resilient and team-oriented until the very end – literally... . The entire girls’ team played a role in the success, whether they were there to swim or there in spirit.”

Anyone who has never attended a Flame-A-Lope swim meet has missed out on life lessons that stem from a word used earlier in this season wrap-up: “Camaraderie.”

“Throughout the season they all supported one another, lifted each other up, talked each other down, and cheered and encouraged at every turn, literally and figuratively. I am always proud of both teams, and the boys fought hard and with tremendous heart, but it was the girls’ year to shine. I must admit, though, that it wasn't too bad remaining on the podium to help the boys accept their WPIAL runner-up and take two trophies home to the pool with us. It's been an incredible year and I am still reeling,” McKelvey said

She concluded her look back at the season with comments that explain why this was a championship season for every member of the team. “Both the boys’ and the girls’ teams make me very proud and I hope they know that. I have so many moments where I fight back tears watching them, in awe of how far they've all come and what great humans they are. I love them like I love my own kids! I think they love one another like family, as well. I hope I have instilled that in them, and I would guess their loyalty is largely the fuel to their successes.”