Mount swim team tri-captains (from left) Maria Finnegan, Jen Lehman, and Lexi Meister. (Photo by Tom Utescher)

by Tom Utescher

Wearing new team swimsuits to start the new season, the Mount St. Joseph Magic dove right in at the deep end last Friday afternoon, travelling to North Penn High School for their 2012-2013 season debut. Always a force in girls swimming in the Delaware Valley, the North Penn Maidens were the District 1 runner-up team last season, and some of their athletes recently completed a state championship run in water polo this fall.

Placing first in seven of the swimming events and winning the diving competition as well, North Penn won the meet, 104-72. Even though the Maidens spotted the Mount a few points at the end by swimming the 400 yard free style relay as an exhibition (accepting no team points), it was a respectable showing for the Mount against a large public school power.

“It can be helpful to swim a tough meet early in the season, because it shows you where you are as a team,” noted Mount head coach Janet Pudlinski. “I was pretty happy with where most of our times were for this time of year.”

Junior Christina Formica provided two of the Magic’s three individual victories, winning the 200-yard individual medley in two minutes, 22.19 seconds, and the 100-yard butterfly in 1:03.20. She also anchored the Mount’s winning 400 freestyle relay team.

Sophomore Steph Eble, who led off that relay effort, also picked up an individual victory. Fresh off a fall rowing campaign in the Magic’s varsity eight, Eble was able to put her stamina to use in the water as well as on top of it, winning the 500 freestyle last Friday in a time of 5:20.82.

“Steph Eble and Haley Sannem were both swimming close to their best times from last year, which was nice to see,” Pudlinski said.
Sannem, also a 10th-grader, was second in the 100 free (58.74 seconds) and third in the 100 backstroke (1:07.21), and third place in the 100 free went to MSJ senior Jessie Dolan (1:00.25).

Liz DeGroat, a freshman out of Gwynedd Mercy Elementary, made a noteworthy high school debut. She helped the Magic achieve its only one-two finish of the day, placing second behind Formica in the 200 I.M. with a time of 2:23.16, and she was also the runner-up in the 100 breast stroke (1:15.34).

In diving, Mount St. Joe is at a disadvantage against most opponents, since the La Salle High School pool they use as their home venue has no springboard. Coming in second at North Penn was the Magic’s lone diver this season, Emily McMullen. A Lafayette Hill native and a product of St. Philip Neri School, McMullen also raced in the 400 free relay.

The fact that North Penn did not have all of its top guns together for the 400 free relay actually made for an exciting conclusion to the meet, as the Magic prevailed in a barnburner, 3:55.22 to 3:56.01. The Magic had a slim lead after the each of the first two legs, swum by Eble and senior Lexi Meister.

Sannem preserved the modest advantage in the third stage, but near the end of the second of the four laps on the anchor leg, North Penn’s Kat Perkins edged ahead of the Mounties’ Formica. A very clean second turn by the MSJ junior put her in front once more, and she held her spot until she applied the finishing touch.

Afterwards, Coach Pudlinski admitted that the team will have a bit of a different feel due to the departure of last year’s co-captains, six-footer Katie O’Connell (Northeastern) and 6’1” Dana Zielinski (Clemson). Both are rowing in college, and while at the Mount they were mainstays of the swim team throughout their tenure.

“Things aren’t quite the same without the big girls; they were just so strong at the finish of a race,” the coach commented. “At the same time it will be interesting to see who steps up this season to try and fill that role.”

The senior tri-captains for the Magic this year are Meister, Maria Finnegan, and Jen Lehman, and the other seniors are Dolan and Julie Sowa. The only one who has made a college commitment so far is Meister, who was successfully recruited for crew by Bucknell University.