A year ago, few people expected the Holy Redeemer girls swimming team to walk away with their fourth straight district championship handily. Graduation took a toll on the Royals, and a crowded field left the Royals as an underdog for the first time. Fewer thought the young team’s depth would actually play in its favor.
Fast forward to 2013-14, and the Royals squad faces a new challenge. Particularly from the Wyoming Valley Conference North Division.
Hazleton Area ended the Royals’ string of South Division championships. The Cougars are the clear favorite in both Class 3A and the South Division. They return a trio of WVC All-Stars in Alex Podlesny, Shelby Sanko and Felicia Grego. Morgan O’Hara, Rebeccca Yannes and Katelynn Pleban provide Hazleton Area with unbridled depth.
Holy Redeemer looks promising in the beginning of the season. The Royals will generate much needed points on the diving board from Riley Williams and needs their freshman class — led by Emily Easton — to complement their seniors.
“We need to see individual improvement throughout the season to help us get back to where we were,” Holy Redeemer coach Mara Pawlenok said. “Districts is about how many swimmers can exceed their seed times. That’s how we won last year. I never thought as many of our young kids would score last year. It’s going to have a snowball effect for this year.”
Wyoming Valley West relies on a very strong sophomore class — Felicia Brittain, Hannah Rogers, Clare Winton, Elizabeth Wood — to get back into the fold after losing many key swimmers to graduation.
A quartet of WVC North Division teams have displayed serious talent in the water.
Abington Heights could be seen as the hands-on favorite this year in Class 2A. The Comets return all of their district qualifiers from last season and have 100 breast winner Sydney Gualtieri returning for her sophomore season. Valley View will be the new team in the mix for the district chase after two dominating performances from freshmen last year. Sprinter Clare Sebastianelli and distance swimmer Bailey Babarsky propel the Cougars into championship discussions.
Without a doubt, Scranton Prep boasts the most talented team in the field. However, with only eight swimmers on their roster, the Classics simply don’t have enough manpower to make a run at the North Division title. Alabama-bound Mia Nonnenberg will look to reclaim her 500 free state championship after setting a district record of 4:55.73. Katie Voitik and Angela Stahl could give Prep enough points at districts to make serious noise.
Tunkhannock, our area’s lone North Division team, has a new coach and a lot of talented returners in Morgan Manglaviti, Ashley Kasmierski and Cheyanne Kasmierski.
In the Division 3, Pittston Area hopes to extend a 30-plus meet unbeaten streak. Mia Nardone is the top swimmer in the division and a favorite to return to states.
Wyoming Area brings a strong freshman class to upset the Patriots’ dominance in the division. The Warriors are led by junior Amy Alder.
“She’s pretty much the most versatile athlete I’ve coached,” Wyoming Area coach Lauren Shovlin said. “She mostly a mid to distance swimmer but I can plug her anywhere. No matter what event, she’s going to be dependable for us this year.”
Here are a few swimmers and divers to keep an eye on in 2013-14:
Rachel Finnegan, Holy Redeemer: Finnegan assumes the role of senior leader to a Royals team that looks for its fifth straight district crown. She is a two-time individual District 2 Class 2A champion after taking the 100 free in 54.91 seconds. She took 20th at states after nearly overcoming a 6.7-second deficit in the District 2 200 free, falling by a mere 1.2 seconds. Her 200 free and 200 medley relays took district gold.
Alex Podlesny, Hazleton Area: If Hazleton Area wants to reclaim its regional throne, it will depend on Podlesny to generate much needed points in the distance swims. She brought the audience to its feet at the 3A districts. Amazingly, Podlesny overcame a 14.76-second deficit in seed times to win the Class 3A 500 free. Her 5:22.13 finish beat her heat seed by 18.74 seconds. Podlesny registered second in the 200 free at 2:01.56.
Shelby Sanko, Hazleton Area: No doubt Sanko will be eyeing an individual spot in Lewisburg. She missed the cut last year with two second-place finishes at the Class 3A championships. She placed second in the 100 free (56.04) and 200 IM (2:19.65). Sanko did, however, attend - as part of a 200 medley relay team that earned a regional gold at 1:53.45. Her team claimed 23rd at states.
Felicia Grego, Hazleton Area: Like Sanko, Grego wants to reserve a spot at states after missing out in 2013. Her 100 breast performance was a blink of an eye (18-hundreths of a second, to be exact) slower than the winner, and Sanko had to settle for silver. She also took second with the 100 butterfly time that eclipses the minute mark. She is tremendously efficient in the 400 free relay.
Morgan Manglaviti, Tunkhannock: After quickly emerging as a freshman sensation, this is the year for Manglaviti to push the Tigers into the top of the district standings. The only freshman on the Times Leader All-Conference team, she received a PIAA berth after taking second at Class 2A districts in 56.11 seconds. At states, she finished 29th at 55.73 seconds. Manglaviti also medaled in the 50 free at districts.
Carly Ray, Coughlin: The Crusader junior is among a crowded field of sprinters this year. At 2A districts, Ray took third at 25.7 seconds in the 50 free. She claimed a second medal after tying for fifth with Valley View’s Claire Sebastianelli in the 100 free.
Mia Nardone, Pittston Area: Pittston Area’s junior sprinter is a versatile swimmer that can be dangerous in a number of events. Nardone clinched her team’s third straight WVC Division 3 title over Meyers with a win in an event she had never competed in, beating out First Team All-Conference selection Eilish Hoban. She took second in the 100 butterfly (1:01.26) and fourth in the 200 IM at Class 2A districts. Nardone came in 20th at states.
Riley Williams, Holy Redeemer: The Holy Redeemer sophomore is already surpassing the 200 mark on the diving board this season. Her sister, Kelsey, was The Times Leader Swimmer of the Year in 2013 after taking silver at states. Riley’s third place (304.35) at districts qualified her for PIAAs where she came in 22nd in the preliminary round. Williams’ success on the diving board could give the Royals an added jump in their quest toward a fifth straight district championship.