Mars boys take PIAA swimming and diving title

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LEWISBURG, Pa. -- When it comes to winning a PIAA team swimming championship, having a pool is overrated.

Mars High School does not have a pool, but Saturday it obtained something better: The PIAA Class AA boys swimming and diving team championship.

The Planets, with just six boys scattered through eight of the 12 events, nailed down its first PIAA title with a victory in the meet's final event, the 400 freestyle relay, at Bucknell University's Kinney Natatorium.

"That [winning states] was the goal from the very beginning," said Mars senior Christopher Georgiadis moments before he and his teammates collected the hardware. "Coach was right about that."

"Coach" is Mars' Heidi Brandon, who said her small but potent group of swimmers never made a secret of trying to hunt down big game. "We said from the start that we could win a state championship, and that's what we pointed to all season long."

The Planets did it with talent, but even more so with dedication. The team worked out at 5:30 a.m. every day at neighboring Pine-Richland High School.

"There were times our kids would come in at 5:30, work out, go to school, work out late, and go to bed at 11," Brandon said. "Then they would go to sleep, get up early and do it again."

The Planets had work to do Saturday ... and they got it done. Folz's fourth in the 100 free, Thomas' sixth in the 500 free and Georgiadis' 11th in the 100 breast set up the big finish, the 400 free relay.

Reed McDonough, Thomas, Georgiadis and Folz swam a sharp race to win the event in 3:12, grabbing the team title with 153 points. Camp Hill Trinity was second with 134 and lost an opportunity to challenge in the final race when it was disqualified in the 400 free relay preliminaries.

As if to prove a point about the no-pool issue, Camp Hill Trinity also lacks a school pool and works out at a YMCA.

"All of that work, all of that getting up early, it just made us strive for moments like this," McDonough said.

If the Mars title was the headliner, West Allegheny junior Jarod Kehl was a great opening act. He won his second gold medal of the meet with a personal-best 4:28.80 in the 500 freestyle, again beating Drew Damich of Chartiers Valley. Damich earned his second silver in 4:33.20.

"This just feels amazing," Kehl said. "I started feeling the tightness hit me about halfway through the race, so I had to dig deep and keep going to the finish."

No other WPIAL swimmer claimed a gold medal on the final day of the meet. In fact, Damich's second in the 500 free was the only silver medal for a WPIAL boy.

The girls were shut out of golds, but did get silvers from Geibel's Emily Zimcosky in the 100 free (50.52) and McKenzie Stetler of Mohawk in 1-meter diving.

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