LEWISBURG -One minute, the Wyoming Valley West Spartans were on top of the world.
The next, their expectations took a sudden and shocking downward dive.
By the time the opening day of Class 3A action in the PIAA Swimming and Diving Championships ended Friday, Ed Zawatski had a new school sprint record and an elusive state medal wrapped around his neck, Karina Zabresky didn’t, and Valley West had run a gauntlet of emotions at Bucknell University’s Kinney Natatorium.
Those two Spartans carried the Wyoming Valley Conference’s best hopes for state medals, based on PIAA seedings that placed them in the top eight of their respective events before the start of the championships.
His time of 20.92 seconds in the boys 50 freestyle not only earned him a fifth-place PIAA finish, it broke the old Wyoming Valley West standard Zawatski previously set for 50 yards - and that came as part of a relay team.
“I look at it, I don’t know how I did it,” Zawatski said. “But somehow I did. Everything felt effortless.
“It feels great.”
His Spartans schoolmate wasn’t as fortunate.
Quite conversely, misfortune struck Zabresky right from the start of the girls diving competition, when she twisted her ankle while planting her foot to leap off the board during her first attempt.
Without the capability to muster much height on the leap, Zabresky plopped into the water with a failed dive, immediately destroying her dreams of reaching the state semifinals in a strong Class 3A girls field. Seeded seventh in a field of 32 competitors entering the event, she failed to make the cut for the top 20 who advanced to the second round of competition.
“I twisted it on my press. When I went up, my ankle rolled,” said Zabresky, a senior who will be part of the freshman class - but not involved in a swim program - at King’s College in the fall. “What happened here never happened before. It was a fluke.”
She didn’t allow the devastation to define her day, though.
Zabresky fought back to finish her final four dives - accumulating a score of 123.45 while averaging a respectable number of nearly 31 per attempt.
“Sometimes you eat the bear and some days the bear eats you,” Valley West’s retiring nine-year head diving coach Rob Jacobs said. “Am I disappointed? Yeah. But I’m proud of her. She’s had a wonderful four-year run. She’s a remarkable young lady. She came back, she did her other dives very well. It’s very difficult when you fail a dive to come back and complete the round. She did. She has been a pleasure to coach. I wouldn’t trade it for the world. Even this experience.”
Had she been able to advance and continue her preliminary pace, Zabresky may have challenged the gold medal-winning score of 317.10 North Penn’s Marie Yacopino accumulated, and averaging scores of 30 over 10 rounds would have definitely taken Zabresky to the medal stand.
“She recovered and did well in all the other dives,” Valley West swimming coach Frank Tribendis said. “She didn’t let it bother her, that’s the main thing.”
What made Zabresky’s failed attempt most maddening, Jacobs said, was the intended routine was one of her favorites and considered her strong point.
“That’s why I put it first,” Jacobs said. “Very first dive, when she pressed the board, her ankle gave out. She was caught there.”
“I usually hit it well,” Zabresky said incredulously, but was pleased she didn’t allow the mishap to linger in her mind. “I have messed up dives before. I just knew that dive’s over, move onto the next one. I broke two records (this season), made it to states.
“That’s all I wanted to do.”
Zawatski fell to a similar state fate last season.
He was seeded as a medal contender in both the 50 and 100 freestyles as a freshman, but failed to make it out of preliminaries in either event.
“It’s going to be a little upsetting at first,” Zawatski said of dealing with dashed state dreams.
Not for him this time around.
He was already assured of a state medal after putting up a 21.05 time in the 50 to rank fifth in Friday morning’s preliminary competition. Then Zawatski remained in that place - and moved up one spot from his original seeding - by setting a new Spartans sprint record.
“He comes down here, swims, the time of his life,” Tribendis said. “Everything he worked for, he accomplished.”
Quite a difference from last year, when Zawatski felt he expended too much energy preparing for state competition after tapering for the District 2 championships. This time, he changed his routine.
“The rest was different,” Tribendis said. “Taper is a roll of the dice. A year ago, he didn’t have the energy.”
Zawatski had it this year, and let it loose for 50 yards.’
“This year, we tapered for states,” the Spartans’ super sophomore said. “There was a lot more rest, a lot more conditioning.
“And it paid off tremendously.”