State College senior Ben Gingher could feel the butterflies fluttering around his stomach Saturday afternoon — so he tried his best to talk them away before his event at the District 6 Swimming & Diving Championships.
Just relax. You’ve done this before. I know you can do the time you need to do. Just relax. This is only the beginning. This is what you’ve worked for all season.
Less than a minute after he jumped in the pool and performed the 100-yard breaststroke inside Penn State’s McCoy Natatorium, he greeted the red numbers on the scoreboard with a smile. The pep talk worked. Not only did he punch his way to states with a first-place time of 57.05 seconds, but he broke a school record that had stood on the books since 2005.
“I wasn’t really expecting that,” Gingher said with a laugh. “But it was a good time. I’m excited to finally taper down and see how I do at states.”
That was only the beginning of State College’s dominating performance on both the boys’ and girls’ end.
The Little Lions captured first place in every single event Saturday to seize their 34th straight District 6 championship. The Lady Little Lions also won every race en route to the district title.
But that was essentially expected. What came as a surprise was just how easy it all seemed to come to State College.
The Litte Lions entered districts with an eye on the PIAA Championships at Bucknell University from March 15-18. Most, like Gingher (and unlike other teams’ swimmers), still lifted on Thursday and entered Friday and Saturday’s meet with sore muscles and tired bodies. State College still expected first-place finishes in Class 3A; it didn’t anticipate broken records and personal bests.
“It was an incredible meet for our team,” State College coach Ryan Sprang said. “Day 1 went great and I didn’t know if we could top it in Day 2; I just wanted to duplicate it. And I really think we took it to a whole other level. It was a lot of fun to watch.”
Another State College senior, Tobias Van Dyke, also set a school record — by swimming the 500-yard freestyle in 4:27.85. That beat his 2016 district time by nearly nine seconds; it edged out school record-holder Ben Ryan (2006) by nearly three seconds.
By Van Dyke’s fifth lap, he was already halfway down the pool before the second-place swimmer even hit the wall. By the last few laps, the crowd whistled and Van Dyke’s teammates shouted when a broken record seemed like an inevitability. The cheering only propelled him faster; his last 50 yards was his second-fastest segment in the 500.
“The first 50 (yards), I knew that record was going down,” Sprang said. “I was just watching him swim and thinking he’s probably taking it a little too easy. And then I look at my watch and I’m like, ‘Wow — that was the smoothest, most controlled 23.9 that I’ve ever seen.’”
Said Van Dyke: “It’s really great for all of us. Our bodies aren’t in great shape right now. We’re hurting, but we’re still able to do personal bests and break records.”
State College freshman Matt Brownstead also set a meet record Saturday by swimming the 100-yard freestyle in 46.71 seconds, the second-fastest time in school history. He was one of countless Little Lions and Lady Little Lions to place first and turn in their top times of the season.
Other State College boys’ winners Saturday included Jacob Whipple (diving), Noah Witt (backstroke) and the 400-yard freestyle relay team of Jordan Hillsley, Matt Morris, Mikey Challis and Van Dyke. Other winners for the Lady Little Lions were Morgan Fusco (diving), Abbey Whipple (100 freestyle), Maya Urbanski (500 freestyle), Ruth Dangelo (backstroke), Jodie Challis (breaststroke) and the 400-yard freestyle relay team of Meghan Hughes, Whipple, Ruth Dangelo and Grace Dangelo.
In Class 2A, local winners included St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy’s Pete Forstmeier (500 freestyle), Bellefonte’s Brian Feldman (breaststroke) and Bellefonte’s Ian Lowery (backstroke).
“I was looking to drop time in the backstroke, but I didn’t think I’d drop enough time to finish first,” Lowery said. “When I hit the wall, I thought I came in second or third. This just feels amazing.”
But the big story Saturday continued to be State College’s record-setting and personal-best-setting day. Urbanski dropped about nine seconds off her season best in the 500 freestyle, Caroline Swenson improved four seconds in the breaststroke, and John Cottingham bettered his time in the 500 freestyle by about 10 seconds. “This is not normal,” Sprang added.
State College’s speed seemed to be contagious Saturday — and several teammates pointed to Van Dyke for getting the momentum started. Van Dyke’s event was just the second Class 3A race of the day, and his record time in the 500 freestyle led to constant high-fives throughout the duration of the meet.
“Toby really set the tone because I think we were all a little nervous going into it, having not tapered,” Gingher said, referring to the fact many Little Lions continued to work out in spite of districts. “We really carried each other throughout the whole meet.”
Van Dyke just smiled at the end. He didn’t hesitate in acknowledging State College exceeded expectations — and he felt this would only help the team moving forward.
“Several kids just did times they didn’t think were possible, the coaches didn’t think were possible,” Van Dyke said. “It’s just really exciting to see everyone come together and feed off of each other.
“And it’s really exciting going into that state meet having set best times, despite feeling off.”