Without a stable of year-round swimmers, incoming Deer Lakes swimming coach Katherine Longwell went about assembling a "non-traditional" swimming team this season.
She started with free clinics in October to recruit swimmers. A few students who were interested attended and learned about the team. A track runner joined, so did a football player. The small Deer Lakes team grew to a more respectable number of 13 total swimmers -- five boys and eight girls.
Winning dual meets is extremely unlikely with such a small team. Deer Lakes leaves open lanes in some events, so even though an individual on the team may win an event, opponents are able to place second, third and fourth and earn points.
Although the Lancers are not a major threat in dual meets, they are successful in other ways. They are rewriting the school record books and qualifying for the WPIAL championship meet in individual events and relays.
Halfway through the season the team set five individual school records and three relay records. Seven swimmers have already qualified for the WPIAL Class AA championships and more are closely approaching WPIAL qualifying times.
"We have kids who do not swim year-round, learning a lot about themselves," Longwell said. "The kids are learning about swimming as we go along. I have kids who tried new events, things they have never done before, it is just a learning process all season.
"Watching everybody conquer something, and swim a little bit faster, has been a really, really neat experience."
Longwell did inherit some year-round swimmers, most notably a trio of Marzolf siblings, freshman Mallory Marzolf and juniors Iris and Jade Marzolf, who are twins.
Iris and Jade are returning WPIAL qualifiers. Iris swam the 50-yard freestyle and 100 breaststroke at WPIALs last season while Jade swam the 100 butterfly and 100 freestyle. They also teamed up on the 400 freestyle relay that finished 12th, the highest finish by Deer Lakes at the event.
Iris has qualified for WPIALs in seven individual events and all three relays, Jade has qualified in four individual events and all three relays. The youngest Marzolf, Mallory, has qualified in seven individual events and all three relays.
Senior Renee Schmitzer and juniors Mikayla Vecchio and Kelcy Kraus are also returning WPIAL qualifiers. Schmitzer swam the 200 freestyle at WPIALs last season while Kraus swam the 100 butterfly and Vecchio participated in all three relays.
Kraus has qualified in the 400 freestyle relay, Schmitzer has qualified in the 200 freestyle and all three relays and Vecchio and sophomore Alyssa Bronowicz has qualified in all three relays
The Marzolf trio and Schmitzer set the school record in the 400 freestyle relay on Dec. 6. Three days later they did the same in the 200 freestyle relay with a time of 1:46.41. Exactly one month later they set the school record in the 200 medley relay with a time of 2:00.54.
Individually, Mallory Marzolf has set school records in the 100 freestyle (55.89), 200 freestyle (2:01.49), 500 freestyle (5:25.32), 200 individual medley (2:23.89) and 100 backstroke (1:03.85).
On the boys side, sophomore Dan Decker excelled in the 200 individual medley last week in his first meet ever attempting the event.
Sophomore Alex Herman joined the swim team while looking for a sport to cross-condition. Herman runs track at Deer Lakes. His top swimming event is the 100 breaststroke.
Sophomore Frank Hernandez came to the swim team after spending the fall on the Lancers football team. Hernandez's top event is the 100 backstroke.
Junior Jake Morrison is boys team captain. He is on the cusp of qualifying for WPIALs.
"We are going to do everything we can to qualify him for WPIALs," Longwell said. "He has so much heart and dedication."
Schmitzer is the captain of the girls team. Due to a knee injury she is only able to swim the backstroke and freestyle.
"She has been a tremendous help with organizing the team," Longwell said. "She gets everybody fired up."
Freshmen Kelsie Urbanek, Jasmine Russel and Josh Hineman are all relatively new to swimming and all three are working toward WPIAL qualifying times.
"They are a wonderful, hardworking group," Longwell said. "They cheer each other on, they don't want to let anyone down."