Swimmers are WPIAL champs

The WPIAL champion Northgate-Avonworth swim team (“S” indicates advancing to state competition): Top: Aidan Sommers (S), Luke Wagner (S), Clark Bernauer, Ava Groll, Wiley Bozada, Cooper Groll (S); Middle: Tess Theobold, Carly Spahr, Danica Raich, Bree Nowka, Kaylee Madey, Mason Herzig, Luke Tomzcak (S), Graham Herzig; Front: Karen Siddoway (S), Zech Boyce (S), Nick Madey (S); Not pictured: Angelina Patarini and Katherine Mcfarland. Photo by Tom Steiner for The Citizen

Going into WPIAL competition last weekend, the Northgate-Avonworth swimmers had the confidence of a strong season record behind them.

But WPIALs is a bit different than meeting up with opponents from the season schedule. It’s the best vs. the best, and as with any sport, a plan of action can be a big help.

Rick Wagner, father of swimmer Luke Wagner, observed, “Coach Jess McKelvey had a simple strategy for capturing the first WPIAL AA swim championship in school history: dominate the relay events. This is the same strategy used by much larger schools but is often a challenge to duplicate at the AA level.”

McKelvey noted that “Most of the top AA programs have enough quality swimmers to field two strong relay teams, but it is rare that they do well in all three. We felt that we could make a run at the relays and still have enough depth to compete in the individual events.”

That strategy paid off, with the team earning 228 points and defeating three-time defending champion Quaker Valley by more than 50 points.

The swimmers put McKelvey’s plan into action in their very first event of the meet, the 200 medley relay. Seniors Zech Boyce and Nick Madey, junior Aidan Sommers and freshman Cooper Groll not only finished first, but also broke the WPIAL record for the event, which had stood since 2011.

The success continued in the 200 freestyle relay where Boyce and Groll teamed with sophomores Luke Tomzcak and Luke Wagner to set a new team record in earning a second place finish. In the final relay and last event of the meet, Boyce, Madey, Sommers and Groll again teamed up for a victory in the 400 freestyle relay, an event the team also won at last year’s WPIAL competition.

The team’s performance in the individual events ensured that no other team would challenge them for the title. Madey led all with points, finishing second in the 100 breaststroke and fifth in the 100 butterfly. Groll also earned a second place finish in the 100 freestyle, and Boyce took third in the 200 freestyle. Sommers placed fourth in the 100 backstroke and sixth in the 200 individual medley. Tomczak finished seventh, one spot behind Sommers, in the individual medley and also placed 11th in the 100 breaststroke. Wagner finished 13th in the 50 freestyle and 18th in the 100 freestyle. Freshman Graham Herzig, participating in his first WPIAL championship, placed 19th in the 100 backstroke and 23rd in the individual medley.

And junior Karen Siddoway took first in both the 200 and 100 freestyle, with a time that would have made her a winner at the triple-A level, as well.

With their performances at WPIALs, the team qualified all three of the relay events for the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association’s championships, which will be held at Bucknell University the weekend of March 16. Also, automatically qualifying for individual events at the state level were Boyce, Madey, Sommers and Groll. The team has a chance to add a few more swimmers to events when at-large qualifiers are announced this week.

Looking back at the overall season to-date, McKelvey had strong praise for the consistent efforts from all of the athletes, saying, “Our swimmers represented Northgate-Avonworth strongly and with great pride. Swimmers put an incredible physical and mental investment into their season, working to chip away at minutes, seconds, and sometimes hundredths of seconds. It’s a demanding sport, but they trusted the process and put the hard work in. All season they kept their eyes on their goals and their swims were proof. They deserve all the accolades and recognition for what they have accomplished. Each swimmer had a hand in the success of our team. As a coach, I couldn't have asked for a better two days. Everyone had great swims, exceeding my expectations. It’s an awesome feeling.”