NETHER PROVIDENCE — When they started their high school careers, Camille Jablonski and Summer Martin weren't quite sure what to expect.
They knew they had the swimming part of the equation down, coming from a club background with Suburban Swim Club. But the vagaries of the high school season — the complex task of integrating with older teammates and their established roles — were something about which the freshmen had their doubts.
As District One heads to its championships Friday and Saturday at La Salle University, the Strath Haven freshmen are but two representatives of a youth movement from the Delco contingent.
Delco freshmen aren't just qualifying for districts, an accomplishment in and of itself. The deep class of Delco rookies constitutes a significant faction of the pack vying for qualification for states.
And whatever happens at La Salle, they've proven through the season that age doesn't mean all that much on the blocks.
"I think that it's impressive about how well our grade is doing at dual meets," Jablonski said Monday before practice. "I think it will be fun once we get older and we're juniors and seniors to see how we're doing and if any other grades below us have something similar to what we've been able to do this year. I think it shows about our work ethic and how hard we're working at practice."
The common thread running through the group is obvious: Club swimming. Martin and Jablonski train at Suburban with Garnet Valley's duo of Jordan Stansfield and Nikki Cannon. The Ridley Rays have supplied Ridley High School's Gab Rudy and Springfield's Georgia Apostolu. And the Main Line freshmen standouts like Haverford's Ilira Zherka and Radnor's Sasha Smolyansky and Emily Moyher also trace their swimming foundations to clubs.
Those aquatic upbringings have put them well ahead of the high school curve.
"It's more comfortable to know that you're competing with people your age, knowing that you're not the only freshman who's up there at districts or Centrals or whatever," Martin said. "It makes things a lot more comfortable and less awkward."
Their success has precedent: Two Delco freshmen qualified for states from the District One meet last year, Haverford's Maddie Hart (in two events) and Ridley's Kiera Wadsworth.
Should the seeds hold, this year's crop could outstrip that number. Rudy enters as the second seed in both the 100 breaststroke and 200 individual medley, with a very good chance to race for the title in the former. Martin is seeded second in the 50 freestyle and third in the 100 free, and a bevy of freshmen have seeds in the low-to-mid teens. A solid taper, a little luck and they could enter the conversation.
With automatic qualifying spots going to the top four finishers and at-large bids to the next 16 fastest times statewide, District One can get anywhere from five to nine swimmers in per event, opening the door for plenty of state debutants.
The task then for Martin, Jablonski and their classmates countywide is to keep doing what they've been doing. Both swimmers have flourished in the high school swimming atmosphere, one that differs greatly from what they're used to on the USA Swimming scene.
Where the marathon club meets are all about beating time standards, predetermined goals on the individual level and strangers in the lane next to you, high school fosters a more familial atmosphere. The team becomes more important than the individual, and Martin and Jablonski quickly warmed to that emphasis on the collective.
"It's a lot different because it's a lot more team-oriented during dual meets because they're only one heat of each of the races and the energy level is higher because there's only one heat swimming," Jablonski said. "It's a lot more fun to swim with relays during dual meets because it's really just you against another team instead of people that you don't normally know."
Part of the equation has been a welcoming environment furnished by their fellow Panthers. One of the biggest links between Panthers new and old has been Frances Resweber, a grizzled veteran as a sophomore who burst onto the scene a season ago much like Martin and Jablonski. Both freshmen commended her efforts as a resource to bring them into the fold.
Those efforts have certainly paid off, with Jablonski and Martin playing important roles on the Strath Haven 200 free relay that set a school record and won a Central League title two weeks ago. They're seeded fourth in the district.
Whatever happens at La Salle, the aspects of the high school experience that most stick out to Martin will remain: The cheering, the camaraderie, all those factors that have fueled her stellar season.
"I didn't go into it thinking that I would make as many friends as I did,"Martin said. "I didn't think older girls would be as nice as they were and accepting. It's not the most fun thing to bump a girl off an A relay, especially a senior. But everybody's so nice, and I wasn't expecting it to be quite as fun."
And that fun might not be over yet.
For more on the District One Championships, Click here.
Freshmen in the Limelight
A plethora of Delco freshman have earned high seeds for this weekend's District One Championships and could figure into qualification for states:
- Gab Rudy, Ridley, second in 200 IM, second in 100 breast
- Georgia Apostolu, Springfield, ninth in 200 IM, 11th 100 back
- Camille Jablonski, Strath Haven, 25th in 200 IM, 11th in 100 breast
- Nikki Cannon, Garnet Valley, 37th in 200 IM, 23rd in 100 breast
- Summer Martin, Strath Haven, second in 50 free, third in 100 free
- Emily Moyher, Radnor, 14th in 50 free
- Jordan Stansfield, Garnet Valley, 16th in 50 free, 14th in 100 free
- Ilira Zherka, Haverford, 21st in 100 free
- Sasha Smolyansky, Radnor, 18th 100 back
- Cassandra Reed, Haverford 22nd in 100 breast