Sabrina Mortell was at a loss for words Saturday night, but the huge smile on her face spoke volumes.
The Cumberland Valley sophomore had surprised even herself after taking fourth place in the 200 free during the first half of the District 3 Class AAA girls swimming championships Friday.
The smooth swimming continued for Mortell Saturday, as she just barely missed out on gold in the 500 free. Mortell kept a consistent pace throughout the entire race, hitting splits that were just a bit over 30 seconds.
While she looked to be a bit behind in the beginning of the marathon event, Mortell’s steady rhythm prevailed and she hit the home-stretch hard, giving Wilson senior Camilla Czulada a run for her money in the final two laps. Czulada touched just 0.18 seconds before the fast-approaching Mortell to take the gold with a 4:59.67.
“She just wanted to swim and she was rested,” CV coach Jack Weaver said.
Still, Weaver didn’t expect Mortell to go that fast, as she blazed her way onto the CV record board. The previous school record in the 500 free was 5:00.91, a full second slower than Mortell’s second-place finish.
The race was also the first time Mortell has ever broken the 5-minute mark in a school or club meet. In order to top her time at the state meet at Bucknell University March 14-17, Mortell said she’ll need to find a way to stay relaxed.
“Just not to get nervous and stressed, but to stay long and steady,” she said.
Mortell also posted one of her fastest 100 free splits in the 400 free relay, helping CV claim fifth place with a time of 3:38.44. Teammate YangYang Lu also made her way back to the podium Saturday, taking fourth in the 100 back with a time of 58.12. She and Mortell both finished up the weekend with four district medals.
Weaver said Lu was hoping to fare better in the backstroke, but still dropped her time by about a half second. Not too bad for the freshman, who was facing off against a pool filled with upperclassmen. Red Lion senior Morgan Pfaff won the event and set a new district record of 55.30.
Hershey’s Megan Raab wowed those at the CV natatorium, breaking both of her previous district records in the 100 free (49.40) Saturday and the 200 free Friday (1:46.53). The Hershey girls edged out Wilson for the team title, tallying a total of 385 points. Cumberland Valley took sixth with 131, Cedar Cliff finished 17th with 35, thanks in large part to Julia Jagannath’s gold medal in diving.
Shippensburg finished 20th with 20 points while Carlisle took 24th with 10 points.
On the boys side, CV’s freshmen once again stepped up in a big way for the Eagles.
After his impressive fifth place finish in the 200 IM Friday, Benjamin Johnston dropped an astounding 12 and a half seconds in the 500 free, moving from his 11-seed spot to take the sixth-place medal with a time of 4:46.66.
Fellow freshman Josh Stewart also jumped from the second heat to make it to the podium in the 100 back. Stewart started the race as the 13th seed, but was able to shave off more than two and a half seconds to post a 54.22. As he accepted his medal, Stewart was all smiles and gleefully waved to the cheering crowd.
“He did well and he hit it hard,” Weaver said.
Stewart said he has been working on his kickouts a lot and felt that it made the difference — that or the small piece of glass lodged in his foot after he stepping on something before the race.
“That’s my secret,” he said laughing.
CV junior Seth Wenner took home his first individual district silver after posting a 47-flat in the 100 free. Wenner beat out Hershey’s Vinny Tafuto, who took gold at the Mid-Penn meet, but was about a half second behind Wilson’s Sean Heiden.
“It was just a painful race,” Wenner said. “Towards the end, I started tensing up, but I could see where everyone else was, so I kept pushing.”
The time was still a bit slower than Wenner’s top-seed time of 46.73.
Throughout the season, Wenner has been aiming for the school record of 46.31.
“I don’t really have any goals as far as standings, so it doesn’t matter if I get (the time) now or later at states,” Wenner said.
Wenner swam the lead-off for CV’s 400 free relay team, keeping the Eagles about even with Wilson in the opening leg and a good bit ahead of Hershey. The Trojans began to catch up in the second and third legs, but Peter Palmen and Garrett Treaster never let the Hershey swimmers get ahead, setting up a tight fourth leg.
Jack Brenneman swam his best split of the season, but Hershey was able to reach the wall first, giving CV third with a time of 3:11.82.
“They did a heck of a job,” Weaver said. “They all had great times and we hung in there.”
Carlisle senior Austin Karper dropped a few more tenths of a second on his 100 back, but wasn’t able to crack the top 3 to earn an automatic berth to the state meet, finishing seventh. Karper will find out today if his 54.23 is good enough for one of the at-large bids.
Carlisle coach Gary Shank said he was proud of Karper’s swim, but wished that things could have ended a bit differently.
“He was right where he needed to be, but got into the third turn too close,” Shank said. “I really would like for him to have another swim.”
If Karper doesn’t make it to states, Saturday will have been the last time Shank graces the pool deck as the Herd coach. After 33 years and more than 500 dual meet wins, Shank announced that he will be retiring. The Carlisle team and coaches wore t-shirts throughout the weekend that said “The Last of Gary’s Gang.”
While he wasn’t able to get to the podium, Red Land senior David Horton certainly made the most of his final swim as a Patriot.
Swimming in the first heat with the 20th seed, Horton swam his best 500 free of his life, dropping about 13 seconds from his seed time for a 4:53.79. The time catapulted Horton to 11th overall.
“I think for him, it’s 90 percent mental,” Red Land coach Beth Hockenberry said. “He wanted to do it.”
It certainly helped that his father, who was away for most of the regular season, was cheering Horton on Saturday night.
“It’s his senior year and he just wanted to go out with a bang,” Hockenberry said.
Hershey ran away with the team title, putting together a total of 509 points.
Wilson came in second with 263, while Dallastown (205) just so edged past CV (201) for third. Carlisle finished in 15th with 44 points, while Red Land took 22nd with 10 points.