The Upper Dublin girls’ swimming team captured a share of the program’s first state title in 26 years at Bucknell University March 12-13. Pool deck photos provided courtesy of Cindy Hanson. To view more photos, please visit the Photo Gallery at the following link: https://solsports.zenfolio.com/f777780513 (Article below sponsored by Upper Dublin Swimming & Diving Team Boosters.)
By Craig Ostroff
Had everything proceeded in the traditional manner, it still would have been a most memorable day.
But with the added chaos, drama, whirlwind of emotions, and improvised celebration locations, it’s safe to say that the Upper Dublin girls’ swimming team’s 2020 Class AAA Co-State Championship title was the highlight of a day that no one involved will ever forget.
Rather than finding out their fate on the pool deck at Bucknell University, the Cardinals learned they had claimed a share of the PIAA Class AAA Team Championship in a Wawa parking lot.
Rather than taking the final team celebratory team dip in Bucknell’s pool, the Cardinals saw their season end, fittingly, exactly where it began - in the pool where they put in the countless hours and laps it would take to eventually earn their PIAA State Team Championship title in 26 years.
“I don't think there is anything better than celebrating a team win at the place where we made it all happen,” said senior tri-captain Laura Pendleton. “Yes, everyone had their part in earning the win at Bucknell, but in reality most of the work was put in at Upper Dublin. I didn't really think I would ever be jumping into the Upper Dublin High School pool again. It was a bittersweet moment following a crazy morning.”
The first day of the PIAA State Championships proceeded as planned. And as far as Upper Dublin was concerned, it couldn’t have started better. The Cardinals took gold in the opening event as Meghan DiMartile, Aly Breslin, Molly Braun, and Korinna Pesti broke the state record with a 1:41.96 in the 200 yard medley relay. Senior tri-captain Breslin then came back in the second event and blew away the field in the finals, taking the 200 freestyle by nearly three full seconds. Fellow senior tri-captain Elle Braun added key depth points with her eighth-place finish. Two events down, two golds and a commanding point lead for the Cardinals. A sixth-place finished for Molly Braun in the 100 butterfly and a sixth-place finish for the 200 free relay (DiMartile, Pesti, Pendleton, Elle Braun) gave the Cardinals 110 team points, two ahead of second place North Allegheny.
“Our medley relay kicked off the meet on a high note, and Aly did amazing in the 200 free,” DiMartile said. “Those first two events really gave us motivation for our other events, we couldn’t have stated the meet any better.”
Day 2 proved to be chaotic, to say the least. With rumors swirling that the event could be shut down early due to the increasing quarantines in the battle to slow the spread of coronavirus, the Cardinals approached the morning prelims with the expectations that the finals would be held that night. After the final swimming event, meet organizers gathered the coaches to let them know that the upcoming diving event would be the last. All times recorded in the morning session would count as the finals total.
As a result, DiMartile finished fifth in the 100 free, then successfully defended her State 100 backstroke championship; Breslin took bronze in the 100 breast, and Elle Braun earned her first State gold in an individual event in the 500 free.
“I was second last year, so I’m happy that it worked out in that way,” Braun said. “Obviously I wish I had another race since we were in different heats in prelims. I wish I had had a chance to really race the other girls, we could have pushed each other harder, but I’m happy that it worked out.”
Unfortunately, the Cardinals finished second to North Allegheny in the final swimming event, the 400 free relay (Molly Braun, Elle Braun, Pesti, Breslin). Had the teams had a chance to swim next to each other in the finals, things may have turned out differently. As a result, despite sitting atop the standings after the swimming events, there were certainly mixed feelings.
“We certainly would have wanted to swim next to our main competition,” said Cardinals’ coach Pat
Redican. “And when you get to the finals you’ll sometimes sub other girls in, and when you’re racing your prime competition, you’re normally going to knock 3 or 4 seconds off your seed time. North Allegheny went through and improved on their time. Our girls swam a great race but didn’t beat North Allegheny. We were the last heat, and once everyone got out of the water, they called all AAA coaches to scorers’ table and made the announcement.”
“We were going through a lot of emotions at that point,” Breslin said. “I wanted to swim again. I knew I could have gone faster in both events. But just the same, I know I’m not the only one feeling this way, there were so many other athletes feeling this way. The Class AA teams didn’t swim at all—to have that ripped away from you, I can’t even imagine. We swam, we finished, we did everything we could.”
With the swimming events completed, Upper Dublin remained atop the standings with 214 points. Fellow Suburban One League power North Penn stood in second with 177 and North Allegheny third with 176.
The Cardinals’ haul in the State Championship meet was beyond impressive—seven individual medals (including 3 gold) and three relay medals (1 gold), a new state record in the medley relay, two school records (medley relay and 100 breaststroke), nine All American qualifications (5 consideration and 4 automatic).
However, the Cardinals had no divers competing, while the Knights had two and North Allegheny brought three. Depending on where those five divers finished, any number of outcomes were possible.
Having left everything they had in the pool and having done all that was in their power, the Cardinals decided to pack up and head home.
DiMartile was the first to get the news. A member of the North Penn swim team texted her, congratulating her and telling her it was an honor to share the state championship with the Cardinals.
“No one else had heard anything else at that point,” DiMartile said. “I told everyone, but nobody else really knew anything, so we didn’t know what to do. We were already on the road, so we had no idea what had happened with diving.”
As the team pulled into a favorite rest stop, a Wawa by the Mount Pocono entrance of the Pennsylvania Turnpike, Redican had a chance to answer his phone. North Penn had taken the top two spots in diving. It was enough to give the Knights the 37 points they needed to move into a tie with Upper Dublin, but not enough to unseat the Cards.
“I got a phone call from Selma Robinson, an assistant coach at North Penn and one of my really good friends,” Redican said. “She said this is going to sound crazy, but we’re tied for the state championship.
“As I was getting the phone call from Selma, the girls were getting texts or posts from some of the girls who were still there. They looked at me, ‘Is it true?’ I didn’t have anything official. Even if it’s true, Selma said they walked out of diving and didn’t announce final scores.”
At least a half-dozen coaches who had remained through the diving event had all done the math. And while it was still unofficial at that moment, all had come up with the same result: Upper Dublin 214 … North Penn 214.
“Some of the girls were in the Wawa, some were in the parking lot with me,” Redican said. “They saw me on the phone, I put my fist up, and they just started jumping up and down.”
“I don't think any of us knew what to do,” Pendleton said. “It was so surreal. How often does a team find out they're State Champions in a Wawa parking lot?
“I was in the Wawa with Aly. We stood looking out the window at our team in the parking lot. My coach was smiling and the girls were throwing their hands up in the air. For me, that was the moment I knew it was real. We both ran outside to the team and gave them hugs.”
They may not have had the chance to stand on the podium as co-state champions, but that certainly didn’t diminish the meaning of the moment, or the volume of the celebration.
“Going up on the podium is honestly not that important to me,” Breslin said. “As long as we were together, it didn’t really matter where we were.”
“The program has had its share of successes over the years, so I don’t necessarily think we needed this as any type of validation, but it sure feels nice to add one more banner to the rafters,” Redican said. “But for the girls, it means so much. Things didn’t work out for us last year, and these kids got together and their put their focus and work ethic toward doing something special. This was an example that you can get what you work for, you can accomplish what you want through focus and hard work and determination.”
The victory provided an extra special meaning for two of the Cardinals. In addition to finishing her career with the state championship, it meant that Elle Braun had the opportunity to swim her last high school race in a relay with her younger sister.
“It means a lot to me,” said Elle, who will swim at the University of Wisconsin next year. “We’re not going to swim together ever again. I’ve swam with Molly in relays since I was 7 years old. We’re only 18 months apart, so some years she was not in the same age group, but in the summer she’d swim up and still be in the relays with me.”
“It meant a lot to me that I got to swim with her in her final race,” Molly Braun added. “I went first and she went second, which we usually do in that medley, but for our last race together, it meant a lot to be able to do that. I’m going to miss her very much next year. I’ve never been on a team without her.”
Losing this year’s talented senior class is just one issue the returning swimmers will need to contend with when they look ahead to next season. On top of replacing the graduating seniors, on top of continuing the League Championship streak that reached a stunning 31 years this season, the Upper Dublin girls swim team will have an additional goal next season, one it has not faced in a generation—defending the state championship.
“We’re going to be ready,” Molly Braun said. “It’s going to be a very big challenge. But we have a lot of experienced swimmers coming back, we saw a lot of the younger swimmers step up this year (freshmen Maya Gondek, Emma McCarthy, and Hannah McKeown accompanied the squad to States in order to get some experience with the meet), and I’m sure we’ll have some freshmen next year who are going to be able to step in right away. I think we’ll be ready to take it on and see what we can do.”
After arriving back at Upper Dublin High School, the group had some unfinished business—both literally and figuratively—to attend to before saying goodbye.
With the schools set to close for at least two weeks and social isolation encouraged, it denied the team a lot of the spoils of victory. In the days immediately following the meet, there would be no bragging in the school hallways, no high fives from passing teammates between classes, no schoolwide announcement, no recognition at a school board meeting.
But they would not be denied the traditional jump into the pool.
“This was not the way we envisioned winning a state championship, not by any stretch of the imagination,” Redican said. “But you win the title, you jump in the pool. And they were going to get that.”
“I don’t think anyone expected things to go how they did, but it happened and I’m happy with it,” Breslin said. “We didn’t get a chance to jump into the pool at Bucknell, but we did the celebratory jump anyway. It was a lot of fun to do that in the home pool.”
“I don’t think it mattered that we didn’t get the full experience,” Molly Braun said. “Sure, it would have been nice to be at Bucknell and receive the medals and trophy. But we got to celebrate as a team. And we got to jump into our pool, which I like better. We got what we all wished for, and we still got to celebrate together.”
And after enjoying their dip in the pool, there remained just one more thing that needed to happen to truly mark the occasion.
Those two words served as the motto of this year’s team. Written at the top of the team’s whiteboard in the pool area, they served as a constant reminder of last year’s State Championships, where two Upper Dublin relay teams were disqualified and the Cardinals were forced to settle for second place in the team standings with 166 points, behind North Penn’s 243. With first place in a relay worth 40 points and less than 80 points separating the top two teams, it’s easy to see how Upper Dublin still felt the sting from what could have been. The Cardinals were determined to remember, and determined not to let the opportunity slip away this time.
“After we were done in the pool, it was just us three captains on deck with the coaches,” Elle Braun said. “And one of the parents walked over, I think it was Korinna’s father, and he asked if he could cross out the ‘un’ in ‘unfinished business.’ I think that’s when we knew it was over. We’d all been wanting this moment since freshman year. We waited so long, and now it was done. We did it.”
All SuburbanOneSports.com articles (or portion of articles) can be turned into keepsakes. For information, please click on the following link: https://www.suburbanonesports.com/article/content/turn-online-features-keepsake-posters-0086874