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Two close friends help fuel Dallastown girl swimmers

When you look at the Dallastown girls’ swimming team, you will likely find Jena Woods and Emma Balderson near each other on the pool deck.

Friends since kindergarten at Ore Valley Elementary School, the two are inseparable, except when they are in the water.

But the two co-captains took notably different paths to their senior seasons with the YAIAA perennial power Dallastown girls.

Woods came up through the Wildcats age group program, but Balderson didn’t start competitive swimming until she entered high school.

In fact, Balderson said her friend is why she took up swimming.

“I did gymnastics and she was like, ‘You should try swimming,’" Balderson said. "Ever since then, she has been my role model. I wanted to be like her in swimming.”

Off to a great start this season, Woods excels in the 200-yard individual medley and 100 breaststroke, events she won against Central York on Thursday, plus on Wildcats relays.

And Balderson, who posted the fastest 100 backstroke swim during the regular season last year, has already topped that time when she swam a 1:01.99 versus the Panthers.

Woods, a two-time all-star who was instrumental on Dallastown’s YAIAA champion 200 medley and 400 free relays, is impressed by her friend’s steady rise in a relatively short period of time.

“Emma has honestly improved so much since freshman year and I think she is not only an amazing swimmer, but she helps the team and is a fantastic captain,” Woods said. “She is always there for me and anybody else on the team.”

Despite not having grown up in the sport, Balderson was accepted right away, even as she joined the team in the midst of what is now a 12-year Division I team championship run.

“It’s amazingly special,” she said. “Coming in I was so scared I wasn’t going to fit in. Everyone was so welcoming, It was like a family right away. We are always together and it is just great.”

While the two appear to be a dynamic duo of sorts for the Wildcats, plenty of others contribute to the girls’ success.

Sophomore Sydney Hoover made a name for herself as a rookie in 2015-16, and freshman Morgan Merrifield has followed suit this season. The sprinter Merrifield also won two individual events and was on two winning relays against Central.

Juniors Isabella Wise and Lindsey O’Rourke, and another freshman, Araby Marston, and others help Dallastown score points during meets.

The Wildcats’ depth makes them hard to beat in a meet. For example, in December’s YAIAA cross-over meet against West York, the Bulldogs won nine of the 11 swimming events, but Dallastown won the team score.

“It’s really special,” Woods said. “I think that has a lot to do with Dallastown. Every year, it’s the same thing. We are all so close it’s like family and we all encourage each other.”