Water Polo, Swimming
Favorite athlete: Katie Ledecky
Favorite team: Villanova Basketball
Favorite memory competing in sports: Making Districts my freshman year by dropping a lot of time at Suburbans.
Most embarrassing/funniest thing that has happened while competing in sports: Freshman year I was dancing on deck before the state play-in game for water polo, my coach was getting annoyed at me because I was supposed to be resting and I just brushed him off saying I never slip, only to wipe out like five seconds later.
Music on my playlist: A lot of Lumineers, Noah Kahan, and Caamp. Before every important race I listen to “Hold My Hand” by Jess Glynne, and this year before every water polo game, our team listened to “Mr. Perfectly Fine” by Taylor Swift.
Future plans: I am going to continue swimming and major in Elementary Education at Merrimack College.
Words to live by: “Ability is what you’re capable of doing. Motivation determines what you do. Attitude determines how well you do it.”
One goal before turning 30: Just to travel as much as possible.
One thing people do not know about me: I hate mac and cheese and chocolate milk.
By Craig Ostroff
Like many athletes, Emma McCarthy has sacrificed blood, sweat, and tears for her sport.
Unlike a vast majority of swimmers, however, she’s sacrificed a bit of enamel as well.
“At Suburbans my freshman year, it was my last chance to make Districts,” McCarthy recalled. “I dropped 3 or 4 seconds from my 100 breaststroke and I made the cut. I was so excited, I jumped into the warmup pool, slammed my face on the lane line, and my tooth is chipped as a memory.”
While such an enthusiastic celebration normally would come as no surprise to anyone who’d shattered a previous-best time and secured a spot at Districts, it very well may have surprised McCarthy, who just a few months earlier had been far more focused on the camaraderie than the competition.
“I’ve been swimming in that pool since second grade,” McCarthy said. “My best friends swim, and I loved the social aspect of the sport when I started. I love the team, I’m friends with all the coaches. As I started swimming with them, that’s when I really started to understand that this is a good program, I’m going to have to lock in and start really trying.
“I remember when I was a freshman saying my goal as a senior is to make Districts, and (coach Pat Redican) said, ‘No you’re making it this year.’”
As it turns out, that love of the team and also developing a competitive fire made her stand out even as a freshman. She was one of three ninth graders to accompany the Upper Dublin team to States, where the Cardinals earned a share of the 2020 girls’ Class AAA State Championship.
“Emma was right behind Aly Breslin in the medley relay, and she had earned her spot in case something happened,” said Redican, now an assistant coach with the girls’ team. “She was an alternate. But the other reason we wanted her with us is we knew she was going to be a leader on the team. She just embraced the sense of team. We knew we were graduating some really good girls and we would need some people to fill in and Emma was exactly the kind of kid we knew could step up.”
McCarthy credits those senior leaders for bringing the then-freshman into the sorority that is Upper Dublin girls swimming and instilling the competitive drive in her.
“I remember my freshman year, our captains were my idols, they were so cool,” McCarthy said. “Aly Breslin, she was so cool to me. I really looked up to her. She swam the same events I did, and everything I could picture myself doing in my head, she had done it. So that became my goal – ‘I want to reach Aly levels.’ And she was so dedicated. I think seeing her do the extra mile, never slacking off, I knew if I wanted to get to her level, I’d have to I try and do that too, and never give up.
“And she drove a cool truck.”
Now that McCarthy finds herself as a senior captain for this year’s team, she’s hoping to do for the current crop of freshmen – and there nearly two dozen – what those senior captains did for her and her classmates.
And while she may not have the wheels that previous captains did, she’s certainly got all the other qualifications. While her coaches will point to her competitive nature and her ability to lead both by word and example, they first note the one attribute that elevates McCarthy and makes her such a respected and beloved captain.
“Emma is a kid who comes in with an amazingly positive attitude every day,” Redican said. “Honestly, it’s hard for me to imagine anybody I’ve coached that’s as positive as she is. She’s friendly to the coaches, to the kids … it’s no surprise she was a unanimous pick to be a captain this year.”
“If you could describe what you want as a senior leader, it would be everything Emma is doing,” said Cards’ girls’ swim coach Brandon Pierce. “One of the biggest things she brings is a positive attitude all the time. Through the hardest workouts, the hardest parts of the year, she’s bringing that positive attitude, setting a good example for the other girls in the pool with her. Even outside of the pool, Emma is so great at organizing activities, keeping everyone informed, and keeping everyone positive and focused.”
For McCarthy, who fully embraces the honor and responsibility of being a leader on a team loaded with freshmen, it’s all about helping the younger kids to understand what Upper Dublin swimming is all about while making them feel like a part of the team.
“I was super-excited to be named a captain,” McCarthy said. “I want to be the bridge for the freshmen. They’re new to the team and upperclassmen are scary, so I’m trying to make sure the upperclassmen are not scary.
“With Covid and the tornado, our last normal year was my freshman year. We did this for water polo, too, but what we really want to do this year is get back to traditions. There were so many traditions that got lost in the tornado and Covid seasons, so we’re rebuilding those traditions, emphasizing that you’re doing things for the team, bringing back the cheers and chants, setting the foundation.”
McCarthy and her fellow captains Maya Gondek and Hannah McKeown have done all they’ve been asked and more. While there is a large freshman presence on this year’s squad, the Cardinals boast plenty of experienced veterans as well, and expectations are as high as they’ve ever been. The captains’ ability to bring the team together was apparent when the Cardinals earned a victory over North Penn in a dual meet in December, something the Cardinals hadn’t done in more than 20 years.
And as the postseason looms on the horizon, the experienced leaders and returning swimmers will again be counted upon to guide the newcomers as the Cardinals look to make a splash at Suburbans, Districts, and States.
“Pat and I had that meeting with the senior captains, there was some nervousness how things would mesh together with so many freshmen on the team,” Pierce said. “These captains have done a great job leading to show the ropes to these freshmen. The sophomores and juniors are helping out and learning from Emma and the other captains, and that’s the key to our success this year. We couldn’t have had the success like we did against North Penn without everyone falling in line and doing their piece.
“Their experience is going to be critical as the season goes on. Our two other captains, Hannah and Maya, were on relays at States, but Emma is the only person on the team who had an individual swim at States. Her experience there and at Districts is going to be huge to have these other kids see and rely on her and her confidence in these meets.”
Not surprisingly, McCarthy’s tenure with the Upper Dublin water polo team has followed a similar progression to her years on the swim team. She was thrown into action as a ninth grader, improved every year, and proceeded to put together one of the most remarkable careers in Upper Dublin girls’ water polo history.
“I started playing water polo in seventh grade,” she said. “My freshman year, I was not even sure if I wanted to do it, but all my friends were playing so I did as well. The first game we were setting up, Coach (Chris) Ianni said, ‘JV, go get changed.’ I got up, he said, ‘Not you.’ From then on, I started varsity.”
Second on the team as a freshman with 33 goals (as well as 39 steals), she scored 35 goals and was second on the team with 20 steals in the Covid-shortened 2020 season. As a junior, McCarthy led the squad in steals (62) and was second in goals (69) and assists (33).
She capped it all off with a stellar senior campaign that saw her lead the Cards with 78 goals, 62 assists, 83 steals, and 32 kick-outs drawn. She was named First Team All-Conference, Second Team All-League, and Second Team All-State (her third All-State honor) and ended as the program’s all-time leading scorer with 215 career goals.
And while McCarthy is proud of those honors and of having her name etched in the record books, the team’s overall success means far more to her. The 2022 season saw the Cardinals finish with the most wins in team history (20-10 overall record) and saw the squad win its play-in game to make an appearance in the State Championship Tournament, a berth that had been denied the Cardinals the previous three years.
“Four of our seven starters graduated from last year, so we weren’t really sure what to expect,” McCarthy said. “I think we had set our expectations low. But Ianni told us, ‘You guys are going to be insane this year.’ Everyone stepped up so much and focused. The game we got in States, I was so proud of the team. We lost the past three years at that game to get in, so to do it my senior year was just awesome.”
And those memories will last a lot longer than having her name atop the scoring list, which, coincidentally, McCarthy doesn’t think will last for long.
“It’s definitely something special to have, and it means a lot because I worked hard for it,” she said. “But we have a junior, Anna O’Malley, who I think is going to end up on top. But I’m happy to have the record this year.”
But for all the stats, all the records, her two consecutive Team MVP awards, her coach will remember McCarthy for far more than just her stats.
“What I enjoy most in Emma is that she’s always excited to play,” Ianni said. “She brings unbridled enthusiasm with her every day, and it is certainly contagious. She makes it fun for everyone else, and she recruits players so that her friends and peers can enjoy it just as much as she does. During the offseason, Emma has also helped coach middle and elementary school athletes to get more people involved.
“One of my favorite memories of Emma was during her freshman year, we were playing against Pennridge, and the girls in the water were noticeably nervous and hesitant. It was a close game, and at halftime I made the comment, ‘You girls should be having fun, you should be excited to play how you're capable of playing like we've done in practice.’ And as I’m looking out to a somewhat stolid group of faces, freshman Emma smiles and speaks up to say, ‘Ianni, I am always having fun.’ And that's really what it's all about. Emma had the ability to lighten everyone up so that they could play with confidence and win the game.”
After two years that saw academics and athletics disrupted by Covid and the tornado, McCarthy is grateful to be able to walk the halls of Upper Dublin High School with friends and swim in the natatorium’s pool during her senior year.
In addition to her athletics, McCarthy is a member of the school’s Environmental Education Club and the National Honor Society. She has spent the last several summers as Redican’s assistant swim coach at Whitemarsh Valley Country Club, introducing a new generation of swimmers to the sport she loves.
“I think most people in high school hate their job,” McCarthy said. “I love my job, it’s the highlight of my summer.”
“The kids absolutely love her, her spirit and enthusiasm stand out,” Redican said. “She has been working with our really young kids, getting them involved in the sport, it’s the enthusiasm she has for the sport that comes through.”
Not surprisingly, connecting with young kids is exactly what McCarthy envisions in her future. She will head to Merrimack College in North Andover, Mass., in the fall, where she will swim on the Warriors’ swim team and will pursue a career in elementary education.
“My mom is an elementary school teacher,” McCarthy said. “Since elementary school, I knew I wanted to be a teacher. Everything I’ve done working with kids over the years confirmed that I’m going to be an elementary school teacher. I want to be making a difference to those kids.”
But first, McCarthy has some things she’d like to accomplish in her final season in the pools for Upper Dublin.
Or rather … some things she’d like the team to accomplish.
“I want to see us win Suburbans, and with the depth we have, I have very high expectations for Districts and States,” she said. “I know I have another 4 years of swimming ahead of me, so I’m not too worried about personal goals and accomplishments. My focus now is the team.
“I want to be helping the team wherever I can. Getting my best times would be awesome, but scoring where I can and hyping up the team and making sure the freshmen are involved, that’s what I’m so excited to do.”