North Xtra: Relay win highlights victory for Mars

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Despite having no school pool and a handful-sized roster, the Mars Area boys swim team took second place out of 24 teams at the WPIAL Class AA swim championships last Thursday and Friday at the University of Pittsburgh.

The Planets' performance was all about states.

"The difference this year from last year was that the team had felt what it was like to go to states, and did not want to do any less. ... They wanted to get the same winning feeling," said Mars coach Heidi Brandon.

One particular highlight of the Mars' boys at the WPIAL meet was their win in the 400-yard freestyle relay. The Planets came from behind to out-touch Shady Side Academy for a 3:17.56 victory.

The 400-free relay victory was actually a story unto itself. It began when Christopher Georgiadis, the squad's third swimmer, got one of his contact lenses adhered to his eye. Georgiadis was in the first aid room at Pitt's Trees Pool until the start of the race.

"My husband was in the first aid room along with EMS and the paramedics," Brandon said. "We were texting back and forth." One of Brandon's messages to her husband had said that she was certain Georgiadis would race.

"I know Chris very well, and he was going to swim that relay," she said. "He wanted that championship."

Fortunately, the contact became dislodged from Georgiadis' eye.

"We did not know we were going to win," Georgiadis said. "But the most important goal [at the time] was to get the WPIAL runner-up."

Georgiadis, Reed McDonough, Thomas Pierre and Francis Folz knew they needed to win the 400-yard freestyle relay in order to get second place in the meet.

Shady Side led the relay through the first half, but Mars kept it close.

"They'd stacked the front half of their relay," said Georgiadis. "The first two guys are, like, the two fastest guys." Sure enough, Shady Side's Thaddeus Ellis and Ryan Koul had gotten the Indians into the lead.

But then, it was Georgiadis' leg of the race. For Shady Side, Andrew Lehman was swimming. " 'I know I can catch this kid,' " Georgiadis recalled thinking.

It was Georgiadis' last turn that brought Mars up to the point of being only a forearm's length behind Shady Side. "That turn was big," said Georgiadis. He added that he hadn't realized how instrumental his turn had been until he viewed the race video after the meet.

As Folz anchored the race, he out-touched Shady Side's Brendan Leech by four-hundredths of a second.

The win broke a 13-year streak in which the Shady Side boys' team had taken victories in the 400-yard relay event.

"When Francis touched we all went crazy," said Georgiadis. "We all threw our caps off and threw our goggles off." Georgiadis was so excited he did not even remember throwing his cap and goggles.

"Francis Folz calls his teammates the dream team," Brandon said. She noted that Folz had done this since the beginning of the season.

"They were a little worried about that," she said. "They told him, 'Francis, keep your mouth shut!'"

The Mars team knows, however, that victories are of-the-moment and competition must move on.

"We're a lot more concentrated on states than WPIALs this year," said Georgiadis. "That's what it's been like for all four of us now that we're more advanced."

McDonough and Folz are sophomores this year, whereas Georgiadis and Pierre are juniors. For the PIAA championships, they will undergo a full taper in their practices and shave to reduce drag through the water.

The prospects have Georgiadis upbeat.

"We should see another time drop," he said.

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