In each of their individual events this week at the PIAA state championships, the 32 best swimmers in the state line up next to each other at any given time. If you get to Bucknell University, the site of the four-day event starting this morning, then you pretty much know you're special. But in talking to some area swimmers who are making the trip, you need more than that.
"I have worked really hard this year," said Hollidaysburg sophomore Mace Long, who will compete in the Class AAA?100 butterfly and 100 backstroke today and tomorrow. "I've never missed a practice, and during our Christmas break, I swam 12 to 15,000 yards. I believe in what I can do based on what I have done. I would like to think there is a difference between thinking you can swim fast and knowing you can swim fast. I believe I can swim fast."
With confidence brimming like that for a youngster making his second straight trip to states, you'd have to think Long, along with six other swimmers from the Mirror coverage area, will do well this week.
Mirror photo by Patrick Waksmunski
Heading to states at Bucknell University this week from the Mirror coverage area are: (from left) First row—Hollidaysburg’s Mace Long,?Central Cambria’s Alex Chiappini and Kelsie Conrad. Second row — Central?Cambria’s Matt Brady, Kole Newcomer and Adam Westrick. Absent from photo is Huntingdon's Matt Bair.
In talking to Huntingdon's Matt Bair, also making his second trip to states, you get as much a sense of calm as you do confidence. He is swimming in the Class AA 50 freestyle and 100 butterfly on Friday.
"I would think it will be a little easier this year [for me]," said Bair of his return. "But then again, it wasn't too intimidating the first year because I was in USA swimming and had been in some big meets before."
Central Cambria's Kelsie Conrad is another veteran of the state meet. She will swim in her event Saturday. She admits to having nerves last year as she competed in the 100 backstroke, the same event she has qualified in this year.
"The pool was really big, different than the pools I swim in around here," the Ebensburg resident said. "I was nervous, but not as nervous as I thought I would be. I don't think I will be nervous this year because I've been there."
Central Cambria's boys 400 relay team - Kole Newcomer, Alex Chiappini, Matt Brady and Adam Westrick - is making its first trip to states. They also go Saturday. According to Newcomer, confidence isn't a problem for the quartet. They needed to make the top three at districts to qualify for states in the Class AA field, and they did, finishing third.
"In the back of our minds, we knew we could do it," Newcomer, one of three seniors in the group, said, with Chiappini the lone junior. "All season long we worked out butts off for it. We had it in our mindset that we were not leaving districts without it."
As far as goals go, finishing in the top 16 seems to be the running theme among the group. Of course, there are also hopes for record times as well.
"I want to get a :51 or better [in the butterfly]. My best time in the backstroke is 53.67," Long said.
Golden Tigers coach Deb Solomon is trying not to be overconfident when talking about what Long could accomplish this week.
"I hope ... I kind of expect ... he will make it back to the evening competition," said Solomon of this morning's preliminaries. "He has a pretty confident air about him."
Central Cambria coach Ann Risaliti is impressed that her relay team has come together so well this year. Westrick just started swimming last year, but the other three have been together four years.
"As the year went on, the four of them really bonded well, and as the year went on, that is when they started setting their sights on breaking the [school] record," she said, pointing out that Grant Barber will also make the trip as a backup for the group. "It will be a tough record to break, but they're going for it."