LEWISBURG — With an extra kick and an added effort, a couple of Wyoming Valley Conference girls swimmers dug deep in the state pool and pulled out PIAA medals.
But Tunkhannock’s Sawyer Aitken may have pulled out the biggest surprise.
Young Dallas dynamo Abby Zolner tied for sixth place in the girls 100-yard butterfly Friday while fellow sophomore Tara Kupsky of Wyoming Seminary showed off her versatility by earning a seventh-place medal in the girls 200 IM as the PIAA Class 2A Swimming and Diving Championships provided a strong start for Wyoming Valley Conference competitors.
“Oh, it’s great,” said Zolner, who improved drastically from her 13th-place finish as a freshman in the state butterfly a year ago. “It’s way higher than my placing last year. I really worked on my endurance this year. I think that helps me a lot.”
The day wasn’t without some hurt.
Holy Redeemer freshman Adam Mahler finished 17th in the 100 yard butterfly — and just outside of a return to the night races — when his preliminary time clocked in at 54.38. That kept him out of the consolation run by just seven-hundredths of a second.
A host of other WVC swimmers, though, wouldn’t be denied a second swim in their events.
Dallas’ Annalise Cheshire and Wyoming Seminary senior Paige Kupsky (Tara’s sister) swam in consolations of both individual and team relay events, along with the Dallas boys 200 freestyle relay team and the Wyoming Seminary girls 200 medley relay.
Nobody had to relay a message to Aitken about how well he did.
Entering his first state competition as a 22nd seed after finishing third during the District 2 finals, Aitken survived the first two rounds of cuts among Class 2A boys divers to make the championship round.
“I was kind of coming here thinking if I don’t finish last, I’ll be happy,” Aitken said.
He did much better than that.
Aitken piled up 321.60 points with an array of well-executed dives, placing 14th while finishing less than 22 points away from the eighth spot and the state medal stand.
“It means a lot,” Aitken said. “I was very surprised I made it this far, especially since I came in third at districts. I was a little nervous, I was very excited, too. I just stayed calm, executed the dives I needed to do.”
His even demeanor and near-flawless display impressed the judges on a difficult double-somersault which propelled Aitken into the finals, but he was a bit disappointed with the results of his 1 1/2 back attempt. Still, he dove right into the teeth of the toughest Class 2A diving competition in the state, and came up with high hopes for his next two high school diving seasons.
“I was very happy, super-excited,” Aitken said. “I was surprised, myself, that I made it all the way to the final round. I’m hoping to maybe medal next year, and definitely do better than this year.”
The Kupsky sisters couldn’t have had a much better day.
Senior Paige swam in the consolations of the 200 IM and placed 15th overall with a time of 2:14.91 after winning an eighth-place medal in the same event a year ago. Her consolation run came right before Tara’s who earned an eighth-place medal this year with a championship race time of 2:09.91 in the 200 IM.
“I’m really happy,” Tara said. “I was happy to be here with my sister and my friends to compete. Great to finish my season off like that.”
She’s not quite done, as Tara’s seeded 12th in the 500 freestyle event entering Saturday morning’s preliminaries, meaning she has a good chance to at least swim in a consolation race Saturday night — if she doesn’t walk away with another medal. The 400 freestyle relay team she’s also a part of is seeded fifth entering Saturday.
“She’s been our strongest swimmer all year,” Wyoming Seminary coach Philip Mercatili said. “It’s never easy to swim it (in preliminaries) and come back and swim it again (in the finals).”
Tara’s medal followed her sister’s of the 2015 state meet, marking the only two state medals Sem swimmers have won in Mercatili’s five seasons as the school’s swim coach.
They didn’t’ stop there, though.
Tara’s trip to the medal stand came after both sisters joined the Baur sisters, Julia and Ava, on Wyoming Seminary’s 200 medley relay team that finished 12th overall and fourth in the consolation race with a time of 1:52.05.
After Cheshire took 13th overall by finishing fifth in the 50-yard freestyle consolations in 24.62, Zolner earned the WVC’s highest medal by tying Villa Maria Academy’s Mary Katherin Clark for sixth-place in the fly with a time of 59.02.
“I just think it’s determination and working hard in practice,” Dallas coach Romayne Mosier said of Zolner’s jump from an 11th seed entering the butterfly. “Seeing what she did last year, she knew she’d be able to do better this year with some practice.”
Then, Zolner and Cheshire teamed up with Melinda Ratchford and Lauren Finnegan to earn a top-15 state finish by winding up seventh in consolation race of the girls 200 freestyle relay, posting a time of 1:42.06.
“Our relay team, we were really hoping to make the finals,” Zolner said. “Win some, lose some.”
And the Dallas boys 200 medley relay team, made up of Mikail Krochta, Porter Luksic, Troy Reinert and Jared Krawetz, took fourth in the consolations to place 12th overall in the state field with a relay time of 1:41.10.
“Good,” is how Mosier rated the Mountaineers’ overall performance. “It’s always good when you make the consoles and the finals. You never know what to expect when you come to states. It’s who’s on that day, whoever’s performing well that day.”
Reach Paul Sokoloski at 570-991-6392 or on Twitter @TLPaulSokoloski