Last updated: March 13. 2013 11:46PM - 3930 Views

Swimmers compete at the Kinney Natatorium on the Bucknell University campus in Lewisburg during the PIAA Class 2A Swimming & Diving Championships Wednesday afternoon.  BILL TARUTIS/FOR THE TIMES LEADER
Swimmers compete at the Kinney Natatorium on the Bucknell University campus in Lewisburg during the PIAA Class 2A Swimming & Diving Championships Wednesday afternoon. BILL TARUTIS/FOR THE TIMES LEADER
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LEWISBURG - With a tumble and a twist, Kelsey Williams leaped so high off the diving board, she swore she could reach the stars.

She landed almost perfectly, in a pool of personal triumph.

In her first and only PIAA appearance, Williams captured a silver medal in Class 2A girls diving Wednesday with a score of 399.50, giving Holy Redeemer the first state diving medal in the school’s six-year history and bringing an ideal finish to her record-breaking senior season.

“It’s unbelievable,” Williams said. “It just feels so surreal.”

It felt just as great to a bunch of other Wyoming Valley Conference competitors who came away with prizes on the opening day of the 2012-13 PIAA Swimming and Diving championships at Bucknell University’s Kinney Natatorium.

In the boys field, Tunkhannock’s Ben Spencer, Dallas’ Brian Stepniak and Crestwood’s Josh Grzech earned place medals in consecutive races, while Stepniak picked up a second state medal as part of the Mountaineers’ surprising 200 freestyle relay team.

Spencer had the highest showing from the WVC, grabbing fifth in the 200 IM in a time of 1:58.24. Grzech finished seventh in the 100 butterfly - moving up six slots from his state seeding - with a time of 52:28, while Stepniak finished seventh in the 50 freestyle by cracking the 22-second mark for the fourth straight time to register a 21.76. And his 200 free relay team finished eighth after originally believing it missed the eight-team finals field.

“It feels amazing,” Stepniak said of his two medals, “especially since after preliminaries we weren’t sure if we were going to make the finals. We were originally ninth, but another team was disqualified. Any way (to medal) is great to me. It’s another medal I can put in my room.”

And his Dallas teammate Marcus Wagner made room for himself in the 200 individual medley relay consolation field, finishing fourth in the night race and 12th overall in the state.

“Not a bad first day at all,” whistled Dallas swim coach Romayne Mosier. “It’s really important to do your best. Marcus Wagner, he bettered his place. That’s the goal.”

Spencer and his Tunkhannock teammates reached their goals by exceeding expectations on the boys 200 medley relay team, earning a spot on the consolation heat, along with Holy Redeemer’s girls 200 freestyle relay team.

But it was Williams who stole the show.

The daughter of Dan and Kimberly Williams of Hanover Twp. filled the day with poise, precision and passion for perfection while chasing District 7’s McKenzie Stelter of Mohawk to the wire.

Just 2.2 points separated the two entering the last dive of the day - but an easy degree of difficulty for Williams at the finish cost her a shot at state gold. Stelter won it with a score of 406.70, but it was Williams who felt as if she was caught up in a golden moment.

“I feel like I really did accomplish something today,” Williams said.

She made up ground fast to reach second in the state.

“She always had the ability,” Holy Redeemer swimming coach Maura Pawlenok said. “She just didn’t have a lot of confidence.”

But the presence of Rob Jacobs destroyed Williams’ self-doubts. The long-time Wyoming Valley West diving coach served in dual role with the Spartans and Redeemer divers this year, and Williams wowed everyone during her final high school season.

She broke Holy Redeemer’s school diving records three times in four weeks, then handily won the District 2 championship.

Still, Williams was seeded fourth entering state competition, but didn’t back down - to competition or a case of the jitters.

“So many nerves,” Williams said. “Throughout the whole thing I was a little nervous.”

She didn’t show it.

Williams was sitting in second place after the preliminary round, then settled into third place entering the finals.

That’s when Williams ratcheted things up, trading spots with Stelter at the top of the leaderboard through the last round of dives.

She aced her first two attempts of the championship round, scoring a 37.95 for her backward somersault with a 1 1/2 twist, then captivating the judges with a 2 1/2 somersault tuck that earned her a total of 39.60 on the judges’ cards.

“This was my first state meet, will be my last state meet,” Williams said. “There would be no second chances.

“I was going to go in all-out.”

She emerged with a performance to cherish.

“We’re thrilled with second,” Jacobs said.

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