Football and swimming seem like an odd mix.
And for State College’s Carter Hardy is was last year.
A torn anterior cruciate ligament in his right knee suffered during football season prevented the defending champion and record-holder from swimming in his best event — the breaststroke — in last season’s District 6 Class AAA Swimming & Diving Championships.
And even though the same knee was injured again this past football season, Hardy was back at McCoy Natatorium again with a vengeance. A day after setting the district record in the 200-yard individual medley, he shattered his own mark in the 100 breaststroke.
Hardy’s triumph led a sweep of every event Saturday by the Little Lions as the boys won their 38th consecutive district title and the girls rolled to their 36th straight triumph.
The best race of the Class AA meet may have been the last as Colton Schnars rallied Bellefonte past Huntingdon in the 400 freestyle relay final. Schnars also set his second meet record by winning the 100 backstroke for the Red Raiders, who won their fourth consecutive boys’ crown.
After surgery, Hardy was relegated to swimming freestyle events last season thanks to his knee woes. He tore the ACL again this past football season, but played with a brace for the District 6 champions, who advanced to the PIAA quarterfinals. The safety had an interception in the Little Lions’ loss to Pine-Richland.
As a senior, Hardy wanted to get back to the breaststroke and felt the knee was not a problem. Even though he had fierce competition on his own team, Hardy was spectacular in the 100 breaststroke on Saturday. He notched an easy victory and his time of 57.50 seconds shattered his own meet record of 59.04 set as a sophomore.
“Coming back and swimming an event that used to be my best event, it really feels great,” Hardy said of his triumph, with a proviso. “I was happy, but I think I can drop a little bit more. The school record is a couple of tenths lower. Maybe I can get back in the A final at states and it would be really awesome.”
He led a 1-4 finish by the Little Lions, who all swam under a minute.
“It’s redemption in the fact that I couldn’t swim it before,” Hardy said. “Just being part of a great 100 breaststroke team — we have four guys under a minute and one just over — it is really an impressive accomplishment for the team.”
Hardy wasn’t the only record-setter for the Little Lions on Saturday. Freshman Tally Brown shattered the meet mark (405.90) with her score of 438.80 in the girls’ one-meter diving.
Other Lady Little Lion winners were: Fiona Vashaw (53.92 in the 100 freestyle); Hannah Finton (5:14.47 in the 500 freestyle), Juliet Garrigan (58.16 in the 100 backstroke); Kirsten Hillsley (1:05.92 in the 100 breaststroke) and the 400 freestyle relay team of Kate Cooper, Macy Blake, Garrigan and Harly Stuyvesant (3:38.05). Hillsley was just .04 seconds off a meet record.
Other boys’ winners for State College were: Nicholas Brooks (413.05 in one-meter diving), Matt Morris (48.40 in the 100 freestyle), Jon Cather (4:43.65 in the 500 freestyle); Seth Erdley (53.88 in the 100 backstroke) and the 400 relay team of Tobias Van Dyke, Cather, Joseph Liechty and Filip Turecky (3:19.83).
State College held a 487.50 to 212.50 point margin over Hollidaysburg for the girls’ team title and a whopping 514 to 197 edge over Altoona for the boys’ crown.
“I thought we swam well,” State College coach Ryan Sprang said. “The kids get excited to race in this meet. They enjoy competing against one another. There was a story to each race. It was motivating to them and I think they used that to their advantage to have some really great swims.
“I still think there’s more there,” he added. “I’m anxious to see what they can do at the state meet.”
Bellefonte’s 400 freestyle relay team clinched a trip to states thanks to a thrilling win over Huntingdon. The two teams entered the event with the same qualifying time.
The Red Raiders led after the opening leg, but fell substantially behind the Bearcats on Leg 2. The margin was a slim .04 seconds when Schnars took off on the last leg. His 47.55 split was nearly two seconds faster than the Huntingdon anchor and the fastest by 1.14 seconds over everyone in the event. Grey Rockey, Patrick Scordato, Finn Nixdorf and Schnars won with a time of 3:20.37.
“I knew from before the race started that it was going to be really close,” Schnars said. “I knew I was either going to go in there right with them or a little behind. I just really got pumped up. I just swam as hard as I could.”
Bellefonte coach Serena Pfaff said it was a perfect way to end the meet.
“Oh my gosh, that’s what makes it fun,” Pfaff said. “It’s tough on the coaches and the swimmers, but it’s fun to have races like that coming down to who can just do it better.”
Schnars also set a meet record in the 100 backstroke, shattering the six-year old mark by nearly a second with a time of 51.39.
“I swam really well,” the senior said. “It was probably one of the best meets I’ve ever swam.”
Scordato won a Centre County duel in the 500 freestyle as his time of 5:09.57 knocked off second-place Peter Forstmeier of St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy.
The Red Raiders finished with 262 points to win the boys’ title over Huntingdon (201).
“That was the goal from the beginning of the season,” Pfaff said. “I’m so happy they were able to pull it off. They worked hard all year to do it.”
Bellefonte had one winner on the girls’ side Saturday. Miranda Fedor took the 100 backstroke in 1:02.42. The Lady Red Raiders (49) were ninth in the team race, which was won by Richland (201).
Penns Valley’s Megan Duck defended her title in the 100 breaststroke, swimming a personal best of 1:11.30.
“I’m thrilled I could make it back,” Duck said of the state meet. “I worked hard all year and was able to pull it off again. All my high school races have never been this close. That was the closest race all year for me.”
Duck spent her season training at YMCA pools in Bellefonte, State College and Lock Haven.
“It’s anywhere I can get in and have a lane to practice,” Duck said. “Really it’s me self-motivating myself to practice.”
All of the winners have qualified for the PIAA Championships, which will be held March 11-14 at Bucknell University.