High School Sports

Previewing the 2017-18 high school swimming season in Centre County

State College's Matt Brownstead celebrates his third-place time in the 50 yard freestyle at the PIAA State swimming championships at Bucknell in March. With the graduation of two of the Little Lions’ top swimmers, Brownstead will be counted on even more this season.
State College's Matt Brownstead celebrates his third-place time in the 50 yard freestyle at the PIAA State swimming championships at Bucknell in March. With the graduation of two of the Little Lions’ top swimmers, Brownstead will be counted on even more this season. Centre Daily Times, file

The county’s swimming teams all return some of their top competitors from last season.

New head coaches have taken over at State College and Bellefonte this season. There have been a few additions to the small roster at Penns Valley. And a handful of swimmers will compete for St. Joseph’s.

Here’s a look at the area’s swimming teams this year:

State College

Aaron Workman has been coaching since he was 22 years old, making stops at UNLV, Pitt, Penn State and North Carolina and leading a Division-III program. The 38-year-old is now in his first year as the head coach at State College.

“High school is a bit different but, honestly, I run it like I do a college program,” said Workman, who was a four-time All-American at Kentucky. “Most of the coaching and the teaching that I do is very intense, very fast-paced, a lot of racing going on.”

Workman said his State College swimmers already have a solid swimming background after working with former coach Ryan Sprang, so he can work with them specifically on their best events. It’s the same way he coached at the college level, and he said it’s been a seamless transition into the head-coaching job at State College after spending last season as an assistant.

On the boys’ team, the Little Lions lost two of their best swimmers in Tobias Van Dyke and Ben Gingher, but Matt Brownstead returns after an impressive freshman campaign. Brownstead took third in the 50-yard freestyle and fourth in the 100 freestyle at the PIAA Class 3A championships last year.

For the Lady Little Lions, Workman expects freshman Colleen Adams to qualify and score points at the state meet. Abbey Whipple, Sarah Finton and Meghan Hughes are among State College’s returning swimmers who gained experience at the PIAA championships last year.

Now, under a new coach, State College is looking to put together another successful year.

“I want to win everything,” Workman said. “That’s what I tell them. I want you to win on the competitive side of life. I want you to win in the classroom. I want you to win socially. I want you to be a confident human being.”


Matthew Horner is just starting his coaching career at Bellefonte.

The Red Raiders’ first-year head coach graduated from Bellefonte in 2014 and stayed close to the team as a volunteer assistant.

“It’s definitely a learning curve for me since this is my first season leading a program,” said Horner, who attends Lock Haven University. “But I’ve been with the program since 2010 as a swimmer, so I kind of know how it works and what goes on.”

Horner takes over a team that returns two boys’ swimmers who competed at the PIAA Class 2A championships last season. Brian Feldman took 21st in the state in the 100-yard breaststroke, while teammate Zach Malinich placed 31st in the state in the 100 butterfly. Feldman and Malinich are both aiming for better finishes in their events this season.

“This offseason, they’ve both been driven from that experience,” Horner said. “Brian has goals of being top-8 in the state and Zach, he’s looking to be more competitive and his ultimate goal is to break the school record.”

The Red Raiders have just four boys competing this season.

“I’d like to build the program back up to where we were a few years ago,” Horner said. “We need to figure out a way of how to recruit new kids and get ’em in the pool. As you can tell, our numbers are down, so I think the biggest thing right now is try and recruit new swimmers.”

The girls’ team has more depth this year, and Horner expects junior Zoey Cole and freshman Natasha Hoffman to lead the way. Cole placed second in the 200 freestyle and third in the 500 freestyle at the district meet last year.

“She’s leaps and bounds ahead of where she was last season,” Horner said.

Penns Valley

Steve Duck has watched Penns Valley’s three returning letterwinners swim together since they were 5 or 6 years old. That’s when they started competing for the Penns Valley Penguins summer league team at the outdoor community pool in Millheim.

Now, Audrey Duck, Abigail Gerhart and Sophia Gerhart are leading the Lady Rams swimming team as sophomores.

“It’s amazing to see them come up through the years and be able to swim together through high school,” said Steve Duck, the team’s head coach. “It’s just fun for them to be able to do that.”

The team trains at the State College YMCA and includes two additions to the girls’ team in Anna Butler and Sarah Traxler. Penns Valley will also have three boys swimming this season: Sam Karp, Nick Roberts and Harrison Reish.

Steve Duck said he hopes everyone on the team qualifies for the district meet this season. Sophia Gerhart is Penns Valley’s top swimmer — she won the 200-yard IM and took second in the 100 butterfly at the District 6 Class 2A championships last season as a freshman. She then placed 21st in the 200 IM and 28th in the 100 butterfly at the PIAA championships.

“She’s just amazing,” Duck said. “She does very well in all strokes.”

In the past, in some years, Penns Valley has had only one swimmer, but the Lady Rams are able to compete in relays and push each other to improve with five girls on this year’s team.

“I think it’s just a unique group of girls,” Duck said. “It’s just something that’s in their blood for most of ’em.”

St. Joseph’s

Peter Forstmeier is the top swimmer representing the Wolves this season.

The St. Joseph’s senior is the two-time defending District 6 Class 2A champion in both the 500-yard freestyle and 200 IM. He’s been to the PIAA championships the past two years and finished 19th in the 500 freestyle and 24th in the 200 IM last season.

Forstmeier will be joined again by junior Garrett Gall, who finished third in the 100 breaststroke and fifth in the 100 butterfly at the district meet last season.

Three freshmen — Erin Gall, Reece Bloom and Maddie Koehle — will also compete for St. Joseph’s this season.

High school swimming

State College

Head coach: Aaron Workman

Assistant coaches: Marion Ulmer, Rose Snyder

Key losses: Toby Van Dyke, Ben Gingher

Key newcomers: Garrick Zheng, Colleen Adams, Megan Doucette


Head coach: Matthew Horner

Assistant coaches: Jordan Newman, Elise Merrill, Jordan Eccher, Lisa Newman

Key losses: Ian Lowery, Dmitri Wall, Ester Ebling

Returning letterwinners: Alyssa Brezler, Zoey Cole, Clarissa Haak, Caroline Helms, Hannah Thomas, Brian Feldman, Zach Malinich

Key newcomers: Elizabeth Haak, Natasha Hoffman, Rianna Morris, Payne McCartney, Harrison Horner

Penns Valley

Head coach: Steve Duck

Assistant coach: Matt Gerhart

Returning letterwinners: Audrey Duck, Abigail Gerhart, Sophia Gerhart

Key newcomers: Anna Butler, Sarah Traxler