Coming in to the 2012-13 Wyoming Valley Conference boys swimming season, the race to the Class 2A and Class 3A titles could very well turn out be a mirror image of two teams that boast solid talent in a number of events but will need to see more contribution from new and returning members to get to the top. During conference play, Wyoming Valley West will be tough to defeat in the South Division. The North Division will again be interesting to watch with Tunkhannock, Abington Heights, Delaware Valley, Scranton Prep and Valley View all boasting quality programs.
The Dallas Mountaineers will be pursuing a fifth consecutive district title this season. Gone is Jake Chielli, a major part of Dallas' previous four titles. Brian Stepniak and Marcus Wagner, however, return after helping Dallas' 200 and 400 free relay teams to a sixth-place finish in last year's state championships. Jack Matusiak is a strong competitor in the IM and breaststroke, and Pat Madaya will be looking to produce points in the dive for the Mountaineers, another event that will have to be won consistently to fend off two new members to class 2A.
Abington Heights and Tunkhannock drop down to Class 2A this season, with the Tigers bringing with them two-time district champ Ben Spencer.
On a good day, Spencer is unbeatable in the backstroke and IM. His times in those events are considerably faster than the rest of the field, if his numbers from last year's district meet hold up. Joe Moffitt will be strong in the breaststroke, but Tunkhannock must see more from the rest of the team. Expect to see points coming in from James Proulx and Justin Hill, with Stefan Sehne handling diving duties.
Abington Heights returns the most swimmers from last season but will be joined in the chase to first place by Holy Redeemer and Scranton Prep, which both had fine showings at the district meet last year. The Royals qualified 10 for the meet while Prep saw six swimmers finish no lower than eighth.
Berwick, Hanover Area, Lake-Lehman, and Wyoming Seminary complete the competition in Class 2A. The Black Knights return defending diving champion Matthew Edkins for his sophomore year. Crestwood does not have a program but will be a factor at districts with Josh and James Grzech, and Chris Lukashewski.
Reclassification dilutes the 3A level even more than usual, leaving the big schools with just five District 2 schools and District 4's Williamsport.
Wyoming Valley West, like the Mountaineers, has a number of individual talents that will buoy the Spartans' hope of stopping Williamsport's run of district titles. The Millionaires, a District 4 team that drops down to District 2 for regional meets, are hurt by graduation and even though they have the numbers, this season's crop is unproven. While the Spartans can't match them for size, the combination of Colin Vest and Ed Zawatski will make them tough no matter the meet.
Vest is a three-time district champion in diving and will likely have his sights set on a fourth this year. His district score last season was the highest in 35 years and the senior will continually score highly coming off the board. As a freshman, Zawatski struck district gold in the 50 and 100 free and will be a major factor in the Spartans' relays. Cory Himlin and Thomas Missal will also be finding their way to top-three finishes throughout the season. If the rest of the team rises to the challenge, this could the Spartans' year.
Figuring to make a push at the top spot, Hazleton Area has three swimmers who will contend for individual district championships and two who will score steadily throughout the season. Jeff Hicks returns with last year's conference-best time in the 100 backstroke and Ryan Paisley does the same in the 200 IM. Paisley also brings back the second-fastest time in the 100 free and Troy Valkusky brings back the second-fastest times in the 200 and 500 free events, rounding out a trio that will score steadily in all meets. Also in the Cougars' mix is Kyle Steiner and Tyler Farley. Much like Wyoming Valley West, though, Hazleton Area will have to see improved times throughout the rest of the squad.
Delaware Valley, Scranton, Wallenpaupack and Williamsport complete the 3A division. Pittston Area does not have a team, but will send Brandon Winters and Eann McCloe to regional meets in the hopes of posting district qualifying times.
Chris Lukashewski, CRE: Competing without a program, Lukashewski swam a 23.34-second finish in the 50 free, placing fourth, at last year's Class 2A district race.
Mike Dubinski, HR: The Royal sprinter qualified for states in two relays, and returns as one of the top sprinters in the district.
Matthew Edkins, LL: In his first high school campaign, Edkins earned a medal with a sixth-place performance at the PIAA Class 2A championships. He held off Holy Redeemer's Mike Pahler to earn gold at his first district meet with a 448.2 score.
Josh Grzech, CRE: Without a team to compete on all season, Grzech not only qualified for the PIAA Class 2A championships in two events, he placed 15th in the 100 butterfly. Grzech claimed second in the 100 butterfly and the 100 free at districts.
James Grzech, CRE: Along with his twin brother, Grzech managed to qualify for states in spite of Crestwood's swimming program being cut prior to the season. He yielded a 22nd-place mark in the 100 back at the PIAA Class 2A championships. He placed third place in two events at districts.
Ben Spencer, TUN: An all-around threat, Spencer shares 2.64- and 4.76-second leads over the field in Class 2A in the backstroke and IM, respectively. The Tunkhannock senior looks to win a district title for the third-straight year and will benefit at states from the Tigers' demotion from 3A..
Brian Stepniak, DAL: The Mountaineer senior anchored two medal-winning relay teams at the PIAA Class 2A championships. Both the 200 and 400 free relay teams placed sixth at states. Stepniak won two individual district titles in the 100 free and 100 back to give him four total for the meet.
Terry Vrabec, HR: The Redeemer sophomore surprised many in his second-place showing at districts in the 100 breast. He'll contend with Tunkhannock junior Joey Moffitt for the top time this year.
Marcus Wagner, DAL: Wagner was part of two state-medal relay teams at the PIAA Class 2A championships. The Mountaineers' 200 and 400 free relay teams placed sixth at the Lewisburg state meet. Individually, Wagner took home two district titles in the 200 free and 500 free.
Jeff Hicks, HAZ: The senior sprinter brings balance to the Cougars in sprints, back and relays. He is the favorite in the 100 back.
Cory Himlin, WVW: The Spartan senior could make a splash in the 100 back with his 1:00.86 time from last year.
Thomas Missal, WVW: The area's premiere butterfly swimmer, the Spartan senior is the favorite for a district crown in the event.
Ryan Paisley, HAZ: Paisley dropped 5.51 seconds off his seed time to clinch a 200 IM title at the regional championships. His 1:57.97 time makes him a returning favorite. He also qualified for states in a crowded 100 free field after taking second in districts.
Troy Valkusky, HAZ: The Cougar junior should be a contender in the distance events, where he brings the region's second-fastest returning time in the 200 and 500 free races.
Collin Vest, WVW: Vest continued to sketch his name into every district and conference diving record, and will be among the favorites for a state championship in his senior year. Vest shattered a 35-year old district record with a 534.4 score last winter. He is the winner of three straight district crowns.
Ed Zawatski, WVW: As a freshman, Zawatski made a name for himself with two individual district titles, posting exemplary times in his 50 free and 100 free wins. His 21.02-second mark in the 50 free was nothing short of spectacular.
Jay Monahan contributed to this report.