It is fairly common, pretty much expected, to be turning in the best time of the year at the state championships.
To be cutting multiple seconds, in events that last fewer than two minutes and can be decided by hundredths of a second, can be a real surprise.
State College’s Alex Hillsley and Bradley Gibble each pulled off that trick while earning spots on the podium and helping the Little Lions to a seventh-place standing after the first day of the PIAA Swimming and Diving Championships Friday night at Bucknell’s Kinney Natatorium.
“It was great,” Hillsley said after stepping off the podium. “I’ve been racing with Bradley all year and it was great that we could be up there together.”
The duo, along with two relay team’s competed in the evening races on the first of two days of competition on the boys’ side. Hillsley and Gibble were seventh and eighth, respectively, in the 200-yard individual medley. The 200 freestyle relay team won the consolation finals, placing ninth overall, and the 200 medley relay was 10th.
The boys have 55 points and sit among a slew of teams with nearly the same scores while chasing leaders LaSalle College (163) and Hershey (130).
The State College girls have 13 points and are 34th. Hershey leads decisively with 169 points.
Anna Farnsworth was eighth and was a part of the 200-yard medley relay team that finished 16th on the girls’ side as the Little Lion swim teams showed off their depth with at least one competitor in every event – and in a few cases multiple swimmers – except for boys’ diving.
“We want to encourage our younger swimmers to keep swimming,” Gibble said. “Hopefully we will stay strong in future years.”
Hillsley turned in a time of 1 minute, 53.90 seconds in the 200 IM finals. Gibble was next at 1:56.54. Both times were slower than their morning qualifying times.
“I always get way too nervous,” Hillsley said about the rigors of a long day of a little swimming and a lot of waiting. “The main thing is trying to keep myself calm and focus on my race.”
Hillsley turned in a clocking of 1:53.09 in the preliminaries to qualify seventh, a spot ahead of Gibble’s 1:54.24. Gibble had knocked more than four seconds off his previous best clocking of the season, while Hillsley lopped nearly three seconds off his top time.
“They were pretty significant drops,” said coach Ryan Spang said. “They just raced really well. They were excited to get in there and race, they soaked in the competitive environment, they got out ahead of their heats early in the race, got the adrenaline pumping and had some great times.”
For the duo, who have trained together the last three years, it was extra special to have a teammate in the pool, even if they were swimming in lanes 1 and 8.
“It can get competitive, but we’re good friends,” Gibble said, a junior who later noted how much this week’s experience will help him. “I feel like I can do a lot better next year, just from this, because I was really nervous going into this.”
In relays, Hillsley, Carter Hardy, Trevor Beahm and Jan Lazny initially was nipped at the wall in the consolation finals of the 200 freestyle relay, but Coatesville was disqualified to give the Little Lions the win in 1:25.29.
The boys just missed the A finals by one place and 0.08 seconds with their time of 1:26.48 in morning qualifying.
The 200 boys’ medley relay also was nipped at the wall, with Gibble, Sam Eaton, Sean Piatt and Hardy finishing in 1:36.23, which was 0.12 behind Erie Cathedral Prep.
The State College foursome had been 11th in qualifying, posting a time of 1:36.99.
For Eaton, who will be swimming at Dickinson College next season, it has been quite the introduction to this level of swimming. He had competed during the summer but was never a member of the Little Lion squad until this season.
“To be at states, to get this far, to get this sort of recognition in this sort of environment is phenomenal,” said Eaton, who plans on studying biology at Dickinson. “It’s breathtaking.”
Farnsworth was the lone medal winner for the Lady Little Lions, grabbing eighth place in the 100 butterfly. She finished in 58.05, although she and the State College fans thought she had placed seventh. A timing malfunction had the wrong time posted on the arena scoreboard for the lane next to her, however, causing the confusion.
The senior was disappointed she did not turn in a better race, starting our fast but fading at the end, but she admitted to being overly pumped up for the race.
“I got really excited about this race – I’m sort of new to the butterfly – and I forgot to breathe on the first 25 (yards of the race),” Farnsworth said. “I just got too excited. There’s room for improvement. The second 25 I finally remembered, and it caught up to me on the final 25.”
Farnsworth turned in a much better time of 57.17 in the preliminaries, and also was excited to have her teammates from the 400 medley relay on the pool deck during the evening session to help cheer her on.
The relay team, which also included underclassmen Kirsten Hillsley, Kate Cooper and Fiona Vashaw, took 16th during the evening consolation finals in 1:50.66.
“It’s sort of a growing year for the medley relay,” said Farnsworth, who will be the only one graduating from the foursome. “They’re so young – there’s a 10th-grader and two freshmen – and they have so much potential and they’re definitely going to do well as they grow older.”
The team had a clocking of 1:50.97 in the morning races
In other morning preliminary races, Liz Browne was 29th in the 200 free in 1:56.60, Sarah Koberna placed 29th in the 200 individual medley in 2:13.84, Vashaw was 31st in the 50 free in 25.64, Samantha Washell was 31st in 1-meter diving, collecting 126.5 points, and the 200 free relay team of Browne, Voshaw, Juliet Garrigan and Alisha Forrest was 22nd in 1:42.31.
Also, Sean Piatt was unable to make it a triple-threat of Little Lions with Hillsley and Gibble in the evening swim of the 200 IM, finishing 29th in the preliminaries in 1:59.22. He also took 31st in the 100 butterfly in 54.53. Jan Lazny missed making the evening races by one spot with his time of 21.53 in the 50 free, Carter Hardy was 25th in the 50 free in 21.80 and Trevor Beahm was 24th in the 200 free in 1:45.82.
The competition resumes Saturday with the other half of the events starting at 8 a.m. and the boys’ diving at 1:30 p.m.
“It always helps to have a team here,” Spang said of the deep roster on hand. “It’s more fun, it’s more exciting to be around their teammates.
“It helps to have kids that have gone through this several times to assist the kids that are new to this meet.”