State College’s Matt Brownstead left his teammates and opponents in awe throughout this season.
His times impressed them, especially since he’s a freshman. His age surprised them — “Wait, that kid’s 14?” some swimmers asked early in the season. His performances, like beating out upperclassmen to win the 100-yard freestyle at the Mid Penn Conference Championships, grabbed everyone’s attention.
Brownstead continued his remarkable freshman campaign Friday at the District 6 Swimming and Diving Championships, setting the meet record to finish first in the boys’ Class 3A 50 freestyle and contributing to meet records in the 200 medley relay and 200 freestyle relay at McCoy Natatorium.
“He’s definitely the type of kid that makes people stop what they’re doing and watch,” State College coach Ryan Sprang said.
Brownstead’s record-setting day highlighted a dominant effort by State College during the first day of the district meet, which continues Saturday. The State College girls’ and boys’ teams took first in each event and set four meet records. In addition to Brownstead’s record in the 50 free and the two relay teams, Tobias Van Dyke set the meet record in the 200 freestyle.
Mikey Challis (200 IM) and Jordan Hillsley (100 butterfly) rounded out the individual winners for the Little Lions. Winners for the Lady Little Lions included Sarah Finton (200 freestyle), Ruth Dangelo (200 IM), Abbey Whipple (50 freestyle), Grace Dangelo (100 butterfly), the 200 medley relay team of Ruth Dangelo, Jodie Challis, Grace Dangelo and Whipple, and the 200 freestyle relay team of Finton, Meghan Hughes, Jodie Challis and Thalia Stout.
In boys’ Class 2A, Bellefonte’s Zach Malinich won the 100 butterfly in addition to being part of the winning 200 medley relay team along with Ian Lowery, Brian Feldman and Dmitry Wall, while St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy’s Peter Forstmeier took first in the 200 IM. In girls’ Class AA, Penns Valley’s Sophia Gerhart won the 200 IM.
The top finishers clinched spots at the PIAA Championships to be held at Bucknell University from March 15-18.
That’s where Van Dyke’s focus is, and he still shattered the meet record set by State College’s Ben Ryan in 2006 (1 minute, 44.59 seconds) by more than four seconds, taking first with a time of 1:40.42.
“I didn’t know how fast it was going to be because I haven’t rested for this meet so we’re really banking everything on states,” Van Dyke said. “So this was a really great steppingstone to be able to go best time without rest just going into that championship meet.”
Van Dyke credited the environment for his lifetime-best performance, saying the Little Lions feed off their teammates’ success at the district meet.
“We know every time people just go crazy,” Van Dyke said. “It’s a domino effect. One person swims well, and the next person swims well, and all of the sudden everyone’s excited.”
And, like he has all season, Van Dyke’s teammate in Brownstead generated plenty of excitement.
“I knew that he was going to be an impact swimmer the second he started as a freshman,” Sprang said. “He’s even gone above and beyond that.”
Still, Brownstead admitted he was nervous for his first day the the District 6 Championships going against juniors and seniors.
“They’ve been here before and they know how it goes,” Brownstead said.
The nerves didn’t get to him.
He was on the winning 200 medley relay team with Noah Witt, Ben Gingher and Hillsley, helping set the district championship record with a time of 1:35.34. He and Van Dyke, Gingher and Matt Morris broke another record in the 200 free relay with a time of 1:26.32 in the day’s final event.
In between, Brownstead — facing three seniors and two juniors in his heat — outraced Morris in the 50 freestyle to set the meet record with a time of 21.04.
“It made me pretty happy because I also got the team record,” Brownstead said. “That was one of my goals for this season to get a record as a freshman.”
When Van Dyke first saw his freshman teammate swim this season, he remembers thinking, “How is that kid 14?”
But after excelling all season, Brownstead went into Friday with high expectations and left McCoy Natatorium with a place in the district record books.
“He’s a monster,” Van Dyke said. “It’s really exciting to have someone like that on the team. He’s got a great future.”