Every Lancaster-Lebanon League swim team is ready for a more normal season following the previous campaign of delays and changes because of COVID-19.
Yet no school is looking forward to the 2021-22 swim year more than Penn Manor, which is finally back home in the natatorium at Millersville University.
Last season, the Comets were unable to use the Millersville facility as it remained closed because of the pandemic, sending coach Eric Urban and the Penn Manor athletic staff scrambling to find places to practice.
Urban has seen a difference in early workouts as the Comets athletes are comfortable close to home.
“Already two weeks into the season, it is nice to see the swimmers starting to build endurance,” he said. “Our times are adjusted through the season but at least we have a place to call home for the season.
“Penn Manor typically likes Millersville’s pool and swimming half our meets at a familiar site will hopefully result in improvements.”
How tough was not having a pool to call home last season for the Comets?
“Last year we had our first week of practice on our track and field because we were searching for a pool,” said Urban. “When we found a pool, we swam until after 10 p.m.
“It was more of a mental workout than physically trying to keep them motivated. It was also challenging to condition so late at night while being mindful of academics. I didn’t want to burn them out.
“By our first meet this year, we will be two practices shy of our total amount of practices all last season.”
The coach added that his sophomores are most excited because they missed out on the “full swim experience last year.”
Starting his fifth season coaching Penn Manor, Urban knows there are some challenges ahead as graduation took its toll.
Gone are Wes Kendig, Everett Barry and Pan Kunyu, who made up three quarters of the boys’ 200-yard medley relay that placed third at the L-L championships in February.
Kunyu, who was also third in the 100 freestyle and Kendig were a part of Penn Manor’s bronze-winning 400 free relay, and Kendig placed fifth in the league in two individual events.
Coming off a terrific rookie season, Jayden Sanchez is back, along with fellow sophomore Spencer Barry, who will be counted on as well.
On the girls’ side, junior Bella Fulmer and sophomore Catherine Repko are among the top returnees.
“It will be a rebuilding year,” Urban said. “We lost our largest senior class since I started coaching. We have talent both on the girls and boys side this year, but our numbers are low. It will be difficult to fill lanes.”
Competing in Section One will be tough, but there’s always positives to look for.
“Our focus for this season is improvement and drops in time rather than wins and losses,” Urban said. “The swimmers are focused and ready to get a full season in this year and definitely appreciate what we have moving forward. We are just excited to have a place called home.”
Heading into the season, Manheim Township looks to be the Section One favorite on the boys’ side as the Blue Streaks return an outstanding foursome in Graham Calhoun, Henry Gingrich, Ryan Maietta and Brady Schwartz.
Township returns plenty on the girls team, including Gabby Stramara and Brynn Magrini. However, entering his 36th season, coach Dan Graybill said graduation hit the girls hard.
The Warwick girls look strong with Kendal Eby, Lydia Hocker, Izzy Miller, Jaimie Nolt, Jenna Ober, Melanie Hahn and Tenra Adams back in the mix. The Warriors boys won’t be an easy out either.
Ephrata won both the boys and girls section titles last season and the Mountaineers look primed again. Colby Simes, Chad Jones and Ethan Lloyd are back on the boys team, while Kauri Parsons, Sami Ehrhart and Sarah Heberlig headline the many returning girls.
However, Ephrata coach Mickey Molchany is wary of Elizabethtown boys and girls, as well as Lampeter- Strasburg on the girls’ side.
Cocalico coach Wendy Enck agrees with Molchany’s assessment of the Section Two frontrunners. Entering her fourth season, Enck has solid returners, along with an influx of freshmen that will make the season more exciting.
Elizabethtown coach Chad Houck has what he called a “gigantic senior class” back, joined by a large group of fast freshmen, so filling lanes won’t be a problem for the Bears.
“I think they’re really looking forward to a full season format and more than just five meets with weird staging and relays,” he said. “The seniors are ready for their last hoorah and the freshman are ready to begin making names for themselves.”