Five members of the Seneca Valley swimming team are making the trip to Lewisburg for the PIAA championship meet this year.
That's more than have gone in each of the past three years. Basically, this year's state-bound crew is at the heart of the Raiders' program growth story. The Class AAA championships will take place at Bucknell University's Kinney Natatorium Friday and Saturday.
For the girls of Seneca Valley's 400-yard freestyle relay team, the story has been one of suspense. At the WPIAL championship meet, the squad placed seventh with a time of 3:34.86. That time represented almost a 10-second drop from the Raiders' qualifying time of 3:44.78.
This entry time held special significance for Kaitlyn Burkett, Madisen Tretter, Kassi Grumski and Katie Miller. It was the time they achieved when they defeated Fox Chapel in the event back in December, no easy feat. Coincidentally, the Raiders were placed in a lane adjacent to Fox Chapel for the 400 relay at the WPIAL meet.
"A couple of days before [WPIALs], they posted the psych sheets and rankings, and we knew in advance," said Raiders coach Brian Blackwell about Seneca Valley being in the lane next to Fox Chapel.
The placement may have been slightly disconcerting next to the tough Foxes' team. But Blackwell and Seneca Valley chose to use their prior performance against Fox Chapel as a minimum benchmark. The idea was to use Fox Chapel as a point of motivation without becoming nervous.
Blackwell waited until almost the night before the race to put Grumski, a freshman, into the relay. But it was his "gut feeling," something he decided to heed.
"The girls 400-freestyle relay came down to 2 or 3 o'clock on Sunday," said Blackwell about Seneca's wait to see if the girls qualified for the state meet. It took until the last district's results were posted for the Seneca Valley team to know.
"Our seed time was three seconds faster than last year, but we still barely made it under the gun to get in [to states]," Blackwell said.
Seneca Valley's girls 400-yard freestyle relay is seeded 20th of 24 teams.
When Tretter, Burkett, Grumski and Miller found out, they had a slightly unexpected reaction.
"They asked to have the next practice off," Blackwell recalled. "Actually, they were pretty excited. All the parents called each other."
Blackwell added that the girls were upbeat and energized, and that they kept the energy going at practice.
Miller, a senior, actually qualified for states in two individual events as well as the relay. She had placed sixth in the 200-yard freestyle race at the WPIAL championships (1:53.76) and seventh in the 100-yard freestyle (52.49). This year is the first that Miller has qualified for states in individual events. She had, however, gone to the state championships previously with a relay team in her freshman year.
On the boys' side, Spencer Tretter, Madisen's brother, qualified for the state championship in the 500-yard freestyle event. He placed fourth at the WPIAL championships with a time of 4:43.21.
"I'll be driving the van [to states]..." Blackwell said. "Hopefully, Maddie and Spencer can ride nicely on a family trip.
"They do kind of rival each other, but they also want to see each other do well. It's a friendly rivalry, but at times it can be a little hectic at practice."
Miller is still deciding on a college. The University of Pennsylvania and Dartmouth are among her schools of interest. She is currently interested in studying business and finance.
"She's a smart girl," Blackwell said.
Before Miller can head to college, the five state-bound Seneca Valley swimmers are focused on one more varsity meet. Perhaps the most promising thing for the Raiders can be seen through their behavior at practice.
"They talk ... a lot!" Blackwell said. "It's good to see them with all that energy -- they start to come together more. They're all excited for the same goal."