RADNOR — Conestoga girls' swimming head coach Rob Kirkby had no idea what to expect.
At a Central League Championships that had been postponed due to weather, with wintry conditions wreaking havoc on a normally regimented training schedule, Kirkby had his concerns as to how his Conestoga girls team would perform Feb. 15.
The concerns lasted all of one race.
"Because of weather and just being out of sync with weather and training, I had no expectation,' Kirkby said. "I had no idea what to expect. And when we set the school record in the medley relay, it set the tone for the whole day.'
The end product was four Central League meet records, and a coach completely blown away by what his stopwatch read time and again.
The record-breaking started immediately, with the team of Nikki Bookwalter, Amber Zimmerman, Abby Mack and Laura McClintick timing a 1:48.72 in the 200 medley relay, obliterating the old mark set by the 2006 Conestoga team by 3.5 seconds.
That swim had a noticeably positive effect on the team.
"It's a really good snowball effect,' Bookwalter said. "It just gets better and better as we go. ... Our medley relay, we were not expecting to go that fast. I didn't expect to go that fast in the 100 backstroke. So we're doing better than we expected.'
Amber Zimmerman followed with a win in the 200 freestyle, then doubled up by winning the 500 free in a meet-record time of 5:08.68. The record downed the standard held jointly by 1995 Conestoga grad Amy O'Donnell and current senior Kaitlin Benjamin, who tied the record in 2012.
The fact that she took it from a teammate and friend wasn't what made the record special to the junior Zimmerman, who struggled through a shoulder injury and illness late last season.
"I didn't even have the end of the season last year,' she said. "And so the distance events, I was kind of scared to come back. I didn't know if I could really do it. But coming back to my best times, it's nice to know I didn't lose anything.'
Meet records were also downed in the 100 fly by Mack (57.37 seconds to take fellow Pioneer Stephanie Shupe's 2007 mark) and Bookwalter in the 100 back (58.60 to down the record of Upper Darby's Beth Grube from 1996).
The Pioneers also finished first in the 400 free relay, the team of Benjamin, Zimmerman, Grace Wydeven and Mack winning in 3:36.77. The winning quartet was just 0.15 seconds shy of the record set last year by Conestoga.
The success at Centrals, especially amidst the doubt caused by all the extenuating circumstances, means Kirkby and company can head to Districts feeling confident.
"I think it sets us up great,' he said. "We had some great seed times going in. We qualified some other kids for districts that didn't already quality. I think the biggest thing is confidence that they can swim fast when needed.'
Not only did the Pioneeers win six of the 13 events, but there were other solid finishes by the 18 girls representing the Conestoga girls' team at the Central League Championships. The 200 yard medley relay team of Courtney Sellig, Emily Booz, Caroline Apathy and Janashree Jonnalagadda finished seventh. In the 200 yard freestyle, Linda Ashmead was fifth and Anna Mack ninth.
In the 200 yard individual medley, Conestoga swimmers included Nikki Bookwalter (second), Emily Booz (sixth), Emma Wydeven (17th) and Courtney Sellig (23rd). In the 50 yard freestyle, Laura McClintick was ninth.
In the 100 yard butterfly, Conestoga swimmers included Caroline Apathy (third), Kaitlin Benjamin (fourth), Grace Wydeven (sixth), Caleigh Sturgeon (13th), Carolyn Riggs (14th), Bharathi Kolluru (15th) and Jessica Ackerman (19th).
In the 200 yard freestyle relay, the Conestoga quartet of Laura McClintick, Linda Ashmead, Grace Wydeven and Kaitlin Benjamin placed second, while the Pioneers' foursome of Janashree Jonnalagadda, Emily Booz, Emma Wydevan and Caleigh Sturgeon finished ninth.
Top Conestoga finishers in the 100 yard freestyle included Grace Wydeven (second), Benjamin (fifth), Ashmead (seventh), McClintick (10th), Apathy (13th), Jonnalagadda (17th) and Sturgeon (18th).
In the 500 yard freestyle, Anna Mack was fifth, Kolluru 14th and Riggs 21st. In the 100 yard backstroke, Conestoga swimers included Sellig (10th), Booz (14th), Abby Mack (19th), Jonnalagadda (20th), Emma Wydeven (22nd) and Isadora Fan (29th). In the 100 yard breaststroke, Conestoga's Alexandra Gillis was 18th. Conestoga's 400 yard freestyle relay team of Ashmead, Sturgeon, Bookwalter and Apathy finished fifth.During the regular season, the Conestoga girls went undefeated in Central League meets for the 14th year in a row, capping the season with big wins against Ridley, Garnet Valley and Penncrest.
Against Ridley, the Stoga girls swept the 200 freestyle with a win by Caroline Apathy, followed by Janashree Jonnalagadda and Anna Mack, which was matched a 1-2-3 finish in the 100 butterfly by Carolyn Riggs, Caleigh Sturgeon, and Jessica Ackerman. Additional wins were tallied by Grace Wydeven (50 freestyle), Leah Bernstein (diving), Amber Zimmerman (100 freestyle), Linda Ashmead (500 freestyle), Emily Booz (100 backstroke), and Nikki Bookwalter, Zimmerman, Abby Mack, and Grace Wydeven (200 medley relay).
Increasing the Stoga score were Booz, Ackerman, and April Huang (200 IM), Laura McClintick and Kiera Crenny (50 free), and Jennifer Henry and Mia Borger (100 free). Lea Bernick widened the girls lead by scoring in diving, with points in the 500 free by Emma Wydeven and Bharathi Kolluru. Isadore Fan and Kathleen Morotto scored in the 100 back, and Alexa Gillis, Anula Jonnalagadda, and Huang added on in the 100 breaststroke.
Additional swimmers contributed in relay scores, including Kristen Klemens, and Julia Madden in the 200 free relay, and Jennifer Henry, and Anna Koblish in the 400 free relay.
Against Garnet Valley, winning their events were Bookwalter (200 IM), Bernick (diving), Kaitlin Benjamin (100 butterfly), Abby Mack (100 freestyle), plus Janashree Jonalagadda leading a sweep in the 100 backstroke followed by Marotto and Madden.
Adding to the scores in the individual events were Zimmerman, Emma Wydevan and Sturgeon (200 freestyle), Courtney Sellig and April Huang (200 IM), McClintick, Ashmead and Booz (50 free), Bernstein (diving), Kolluru and Ackerman (100 butterfly), Sturgeon and Maxine Felker (100 free), Carolyn Riggs, Jessica Mongeluzi and Anna Koblish (500 freestyle), and Klemens, Lizzie Hollinger, and Huang (100 breaststroke).
Strong showing in the relays included a 200 free relay 2-3 finish by the teams of Grace Wydeven, Anula Jonnalagadda, Jennifer Henry, and Abby Mack, followed by Emma Wydevan, Booz, Mia Borger, and Ashmead. To cap off the evening, the girls swept the 400 free relays with McClintick, Nikita Roa, Katherine Elkin, and Zimmerman touching first followed by the quad of Janashree Jonnalagadda, Kolluru, Anna Mack, and Sellig, with third going to Borger, Alexandra Gillis, Koblish, and Emma Wydeven.
- Leslie Jay contributed to this article.