The Obama Academy swimming team has a new head coach, a new pool and is competing for its first season in the WPIAL.
Still, the Eagles are rising to the top, despite the whirlpool of change.
Take senior Annie Widom. She took the starting block for Obama in the 500-yard freestyle race at last Thursday's Section 6-AA meet at Carlynton. The 500 was not Widom's usual race; she normally prefers the butterfly. But coach Mark Rauterkus requires Obama's swimmers to compete in each event during a given season, and it was Widom's turn to do the 500.
So Widom dived in next to Carlynton's Madison Gallagher and began the 20 laps. Gallagher and Widom were tied for the lead for 16 laps. Widom was edging Gallagher, who was only half of a body length behind.
"Then Annie sort of 'exploded,'" Rauterkus recalled.
Gallagher fell back as Widom made her move, and the separation became greater over the last few laps. Widom touched with a time of 6:45.09 for the win.
"To see her do well was nice," Rauterkus said. "She's a good leader, a good captain, consistent at practice -- it was nice to see that pay off."
The meet at Carlynton had been small, and enough lanes were available that the boys and girls could swim events simultaneously, which led to a bit of a humorous give and take. As the boys' 200-yard freestyle race was commencing alongside the girls, Widom actually passed Demetri Lardas. Lardas had been two seconds ahead of Widom, and Rauterkus joked with Lardas that he was trying to "demoralize" her.
"Well, she demoralized me," was Lardas' response.
The Obama girls' team ended up defeating Carlynton, 93-70, and the boys' team won, 87-51.
The Obama boys' team actually swept the 50-yard freestyle event. Tommy Brewton took first with a time of 25.31 seconds, followed by Jonah Raether in 25.34. Ben Friedman touched third in 25.64.
Raether got second place in all of his events at Carlynton. He swam on Obama's 200-yard freestyle relay at the West Allegheny Christmas Invitational on Dec. 28.
In the 200, Raether swam with juniors Yoka Rooney and Tommy Brewton as well is freshman Grant Rauterkus. The four recorded a WPIAL qualifying time (1:39.74) and Obama's boys' team took sixth place (out of 12 teams).
According to Rauterkus, Raether's achievements this season are the result of a significant progress leap.
"Jonah did a really good job swimming on the relay that qualified," Rauterkus said. "He's going to be a good addition."
Rauterkus attributed much of Raether's improvement over time to his willingness to stick with the swimming program through his senior year.
"When the kids are seniors -- they're just another year more mature," Rauterkus said.
Rauterkus is in his first year as head coach at Obama; in the past he coached only the boys' team.
Both Obama teams are experiencing their first year at the former Peabody High School building. Obama practices and swims its home meets at the Peabody pool.
The Obama swimming program continues to progress and grow in its first season competing in the WPIAL.
Senior Nicole Martellotti recorded a WPIAL qualifying time of 1:08.07 in the 100-yard backstroke at Carlynton at that meet last Thursday.
Today the Obama teams are scheduled to play host to a section meet against Northgate, as the installation of new starting blocks at the Peabody pool has been completed and deemed ready for use.
"We're calling it a Christmas gift that the blocks came in on time," said Rauterkus.
"We're just getting used to the facility and working out some kinks, but I think it'll be an exciting time. It will be good to have the better [WPIAL] competition."hsother