Through four meets this season, the two swimming teams at Elizabethtown Area High School have gone 2-2. However, the last two were vastly different, with one team earning a comfortable win and taking a valiant loss and the other battling to the finish in both.
The atmosphere was electric in the first home meet of the season for the Bears at Elizabethtown College’s Alumni Pool on Thursday, Dec. 20, against Warwick. The packed crowd got to see a competitive fight on both sides, which ended in a 90-76 win for the Elizabethtown boys and a 101-69 victory for the Warwick girls.
The boys for Elizabethtown had just three wins total. Sophomore Ben Azzalina won the 50-yard freestyle in 22.72 and was apart of the winning 200-yard medley relay team (1:52.53) with his twin brother Sam, sophomore Donovan Arnold and freshman Riley Runnels. The former two also won the 200-yard freestyle relay with senior Stuart Readinger and sophomore Chase Shelly.
However, luck was on the Bears’ side. While Warwick was able to win every other event, the Warriors had just eight active boys swimmers, which Elizabethtown took advantage of by finishing second and third for the majority of the races. The aforementioned 200-yard medley relay win also came as a result of a disqualification for the lone entry for Warwick, who had Ethan Hershey and James Moll win two events each.
In any case, it’s a big win for Elizabethtown,who saw 9 different swimmers earn at least a top-three placement. They included Arnold (second in the 100-yard freestyle), Ben Azzalina (second in the 100-yard backstroke), Sam Azzalina (second in the 100yard breastroke, third in the 50-yard freestyle), senior Kyle Welch (second in the 100-yard butterfly and third in the 100yard backstroke), sophomore Reece Readinger (second in the 500-yard freestyle), Shelly (third in the 100-yard butterfly), senior Stuart Readinger (third in the 100-yard breaststroke), sophomore Andrew Donahue (third in the 200yard individual medley and 500-yard freestyle), freshman Ethan Hall (third in the 100yard and 200-yard freestyles). Stuart Readinger notably swam despite an illness, forcing some lineup changes from head coach Chad Houck.
“I was very impressed with the way that everyone showed up,” Houck said. “Stuart texted me earlier today and said he wasn’t feeling well, so I made some interesting adjustments that somewhat worked out in our favor. I was just excited with the way everyone picked each other up.”
Meanwhile, the Lady Bears showed out well despite the loss. The Warwick girls are defending the Lancaster-Lebanon League title this season, so it wasn’t shocking to see them win all but two of the events. Those Elizabethtown victories went to junior Lexi Fink (1:15.18 in the 100-yard breaststroke) and sophomore Gabby Walsh (1:03.43 in the 100-yard backstroke).
Elizabethtown’s roster depth showed in the amount of top-three finishers it had, which included Walsh (second in the 200-yard freestyle), freshman Sierra Kapcsos (second in the 100-yard freestyle, third in the 100-yard breaststroke), junior Rachel Handshew (second in the 50-yard freestyle),Fink (third in the 200-yard individual medley), junior Katie Locker (third in the 50-yard freestyle), junior Camille Donahue (third in the 500-yard freestyle), sophomore Mackenzie Batche (third in the 100-yard butterfly) and sophomore Brooke Heisey (third in the 200-yard freestyle).
The start to the year has resulted in both teams being in an excellent position to seize control of Section Two down the stretch. The girls are currently first, while the boys are just behind Cocalico in second. The underclassmen for Elizabethtown have been especially good; a total of nine have won at least one event this season, five for the girls (Walsh, Kapcsos, Batche, freshman Gabi Dabbs and freshman Lilly Rutkowski)and four for the boys (Ben Azzalina, Sam Azzalina, Donahue and freshman Riley Runnels).
“We have studs at both the freshman and sophomore classes,” Houck said. “We have really great seniors, but in a lot of ways, they’re the leaders of the team and not always the point scorers. Ben’s been holding the down boys team, and I’ve really been impressed with the way Sierra, Lilly and Gabi have stepped in and performed in high-pressure races. That’s exciting for us.”
At the very least, the Bears can go into their last nonleague meet against Lower Dauphin at Milton Hershey Middle School on Wednesday, Jan. 3, knowing that they’ve accomplished one of their goals already: both teams are 2-2 at the holiday break.
“I expected it a little different on the guys’side,” Houck said. “I thought we’d be able tobeat McCaskey, but I made a lineup shift that kind of backfired on us, and they were a little deeper than I realized. But it worked out that we were able to beat Warwick, and 2-2 is exciting, (especially) going intoJanuary when we swim against teams our size and skill level. (Assistant coach) Emily (Reale) and I talk about getting people motivated and wanting to win, and those meets are the best for that.”