by Tom Utescher

Piling up 426 team points and picking up a number of medals along the way, Mount St. Joseph Academy finished second at the 2011 Athletic Association of Catholic Academies Swimming and Diving Championships last Saturday at Upper Dublin High School.

Defending Class AA District 1 champion Villa Maria took the AACA title for the seventh year in a row with an impressive 652 points, while the MSJ Magic, in turn, were well ahead of third-place Nazareth Academy, which scored 300. Rounding out the field were Merion Mercy (249 points), Gwynedd Mercy (194), and Sacred Heart (29). The other two league schools, St. Basil and Villa Joseph Marie, do not have aquatics teams.

“I wasn’t so worried about where we placed,” said Mount coach Janet Pudlinski. “I wanted to see each girl start to drop time and meet her goals.”

Freshman sensation Christina Formica captured the Mount’s lone gold medal, winning the 200-yard freestyle by more than two seconds, in 1:59.79.  She also took home a silver medal in the 100-yard butterfly (1:01.20), and anchored silver-medal performances for the Magic in the two freestyle relay events.

Fellow freshman Julia Sowa placed ninth in the 100-yard breaststroke and a third ninth-grader, Caitlin McGrory, was 10th in the 50-yard freestyle.

“A lot of the freshmen really did well,” remarked Coach Pudlinski. “It’s a big adjustment for them coming into high school, and when they do all the hard work earlier in the year they don’t always see what it’s for. When they make those big jumps at the major meets at the end of the year, then they understand.”

Pudlinski was also proud of the results produced by her veteran swimmers, who did not taper their training for this particular meet.
“They’re really training for Districts right now,” she said, referring to the District 1 championships on the first weekend of March. “It was great to see them step up and do what they did today; it showed character.”

Senior Alex Sullivan earned a silver medal in the 500-yard freestyle (5:27.03) and a bronze in the butterfly (1:02.72), and junior Katie O’Connell struck bronze in the 50 free (25.77 seconds). O’Connell and McGrory were among five Mounties in the top 10 in the 50 free; the others were juniors Dana Zielinski (fifth), Dana Cinque (seventh), and Miranda Rafferty (eighth).

Cinque came in fourth in the 100-yard backstroke, with Mount senior Caiti Foley finishing one place behind her. Sophomore Lexi Meister was fifth in both the butterfly and the 200-yard individual medley, and the Magic also had fifth-place showings by Zielinski in the 100-yard freestyle and by senior Meg Weiser in the 200 free.

Runner-up in the 200 free relay, a Mount foursome made up of (in race order) O’Connell, Rafferty, Zielinski, and Formica clocked in at 1:44.49, and in the 400 free relay, a time of 3:48.25 netted second place for O’Connell, Weiser, Zielinski, and Formica. Zielinski set a personal record of 55.8 seconds in her leg of the 400.

Earlier in the season, many of the Mount swimmers had achieved the qualifying times required to perform in their events at the district meet, and at the AACA’s O’Connell met the district standard in the 100 free and Weiser qualified in the 200 free.

Mount St. Joe’s still has to make up a snowed-out meet from the regular-season league schedule, then the Magic’s sole focus will be on the district championships.

“We still have a couple people who are on the bubble and could qualify for Districts in our last meet,” Pudlinski said. “We also have a good shot at breaking the Mount 200 and 400 relay records, so we really want to fine-time those relays for next month.”