As difficult as it is to make it to the top, it is even harder to stay there.
After dominating yet again at the District 6 championships last season, the State College swim team will look to defend its title while making greater strides at the PIAA championships.
The Little Lions took gold in all but one event at districts last season. The only first-place finish that eluded the team came in the girls’ 200-yard freestyle race, which was won by Altoona’s Katerina Parowski.
The next four spots in that race went to State College swimmers, however.
Despite the impressive performance at districts, the team left the state meet empty handed, as its top finisher, Carter Hardy, took ninth in the 200 individual medley. Hardy has since graduated and is swimming at Emory University.
The Lions will have to reclaim their position at the top of District 6 without the help of Hardy who, along with Will Benner, Jon Cather, Joseph Liechty, Macy Blake, Kirsten Hillsley and Hannah Mancuso, competed in their final competition for State College last season.
The Lions should not struggle to replace the talent lost to graduation, however.
Jordan Hillsley and Matt Morris, two of the members of the boys 200 medley and 200 freestyle relay teams that won gold at districts, return for their junior and sophomore seasons, respectively, and will likely be tasked with carrying on the success experienced last season.
Along with capturing gold in the relay events, Morris took first place in both the 50 and 100 freestyle races, while Hillsley took second in the 100 butterfly race and third in the 100 Freestyle race.
The girls squad will have an easier time finding swimmers to fill roster spots, as each of its relay teams lost just one member.
Now-seniors Juliet Garrigan, Kate Cooper, Fiona Vashaw, Harly Stuyvesant and Hannah Finton regularly comprised three of the four positions on each rotation, with either Blake or Hillsley taking the final spot.
With Blake and Hillsley gone, head coach Ryan Sprang may use any combination of the group of five seniors with relay experience.
Each of Garrigan, Cooper, Vashaw and Finton claimed first-place finishes in individual events at Districts.
It was a tale of two teams for the Bellefonte swim team last season.
While the boys team finished with a 7-1 record and had success at both the district and state meets, the girls team went winless in eight meets.
Despite the contrasting records, coach Laura Randazzo said that both teams are returning to the pool with a positive outlook.
However, both groups lost key contributors from last season to graduation.
Five members of the boys’ roster (Colton Schnars, Patrick Scordato, Chance Foster, Grey Rockey and Finn Nixdorf) received Mountain League All-Star honors after last season, with Schnars being named the Mountain League’s Outstanding Male. He also took third place at the PIAA meet in both the 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke.
Of this group, only Foster and Nixdorf, both in their senior year, return this season, leaving holes to fill.
The boys medley relay team, which won gold at districts and finished 11th at States, lost three of its four swimmers in Scordato, Schnars and Rockey. Only Foster returns from last year’s rotation.
The 400 freestyle relay team, which featured Foster, Nixdorf, Rockey and Schnars, will have to fill the two roles left behind by Rockey and Schnars. The relay team also took gold at districts and finished 13th at states.
Josh Brungart joins Foster and Nixdorf to form the team's group of seniors.
The girls team is returning its lone Mountain League All-Star and only representative at the state meet — Miranda Fedor.
Fedor took silver in the 200 individual medley at the districts, then placed 30th in the 100 backstroke at PIAAs.
Like Foster and Nixdorf, Fedor returns for her senior season, alongside Rebeccah Harter, Gillian Stewart and fellow districts qualifier Kailee Klimek.
Despite losing some talented swimmers, Randazzo and her coaching staff will hope to replace these spots with any of their 11 returning letterwinners or 10 new faces.
“While we have a lot of new swimmers this year, we know they will make immediate contributions at our meets,” said Randazzo, who takes over the program after working as an assistant coach the last two seasons.
The learning curve may be short-lived for the new swimmers, as Randazzo believes they will be able to take lessons from the experienced returners.
“With our talented senior class and returning swimmers, they will help lead our younger swimmers,” she said.
Randazzo pointed out Fedor, Foster, Nixdorf and Brian Feldman, who also represented the team at districts, as candidates to take on leadership roles for the team.
“They, in addition to the rest of the team, will be important to our post-season goals and competitions at Districts and States,” Randazzo said.
Head Coach: Ryan Sprang (fourth season)
Assistant coaches: Alex Raup, Rose Snyder
Last year: Boys: 6-2, 4-1 Mid-Penn; Girls: 6-2, 4-1 Mid-Penn
Key losses: Will Benner, Jon Cather, Carter Hardy, Joseph Liechty, Macy Blake, Kirsten Hillsley, Hannah Mancuso
Returning Letterwinners: Nick Brooks, Patrick Caswell, Benjamin Gingher, Jordan Hillsley, Hunter Mona, Matt Morris, Brian Nordgren, Dave Rovensek, Filip Turecky, Tobias Van Dyke, Kelsey Bittel, Tally Brown, Kate Cooper, Ruth D’angelo, Hannah Finton, Juliet Garrigan, Ally Hughes, Madison Lambert, Harly Stuyvesant, Fiona Vashaw
Head coach: Laura Randazzo (first season)
Assistant coaches: Taylor Shields, Steve Morris, Joseph Andrie, Elise Merrill, Matthew Horner, Ed Foster
Last year: Boys: 7-1, Girls: 0-8
Key losses: Colton Schnars, Patrick Scordato, Grey Rockey, Andrew Kaschalk, Ashley Morris
Returning letterwinners: Chance Foster, Josh Brungart, Finn Nixdorf, Brian Feldman, Ian Hoaglund, Miranda Fedor, Kailee Klimek, Rebeccah Harter, Zach Malinich, James O'Donald, Gillian Stewart
Key newcomers: Ian Lowery, Hannah Thomas, Zoey Cole, Dmitry Wall, Caroline Helms