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EHS boys seek 14th straight district title

The 2019-2020 winter swimming season ended in an unusual fashion. Teams were assembled at Bucknell University for the PIAA championship events when midway through the second day of the four-day competition, this unknown thing called a coronavirus put an immediate halt to the meet.

Plans were being made to finish the meet in a couple of weeks, but that never happened, and the start of this season has been delayed.

Canceling finals cost Emmaus’s Nick Soares a shot at gold in the 100-yard backstroke. Soares, at that time a junior, finished just over 1.5 seconds behind the top time in preliminaries placing him fourth going into the finals and keeping him there in the official scoring.

Soares was also a part of the 400-yard freestyle relay team that finished fifth in preliminaries. Devin Metzger was the lone senior on that team, partnering with Soares, Luke Rautzhan and Connor Shriver.

Before states, the boys team won its 13th straight team gold at districts, giving the Hornets gold medals in 15 of the last 16 seasons. Diver Brendan McCourt also set a district diving record with a score of 562.70 easily besting his 2018 district record of 520.80. McCourt also repeated as state champion with the finals at Bucknell being completed before the shutdown.

This year’s team has what may be the most anticipated class of seniors in a while. There are seven seniors – Davin Glynn, Michael Iacobelli, Owen Mont, Luke Rautzhan, Nick Soares, Connor Shriver and Dylan Strella - on the roster and they have been contributing since early in their high school years. This year, though, they are the leaders of a formidable team and it will be interesting to see how they compete this season.

“We’ve been following this class for four years,” said Emmaus head coach Tim O’Connor. “We knew when they got here as freshmen that they had raw talent and were already ahead of where most freshmen are at that point. They’ve continued to develop and refine their skills and they’re an exciting group.”

There are also five juniors, seven sophomores and four freshmen on the roster. O’Connor went with a slightly smaller roster this season than he normally likes to do so that it would be easier to control the numbers and keep under limits that were set for keeping the coronavirus at bay. The development of the seniors and smaller practices sizes gave O’Connor an unexpected outcome.

“Since we have such a great upper class, we were able to devote most of our time to the younger swimmers and work with them in smaller groups,” O’Connor explained. “That gave us the opportunity to really tailor their training to focus on specific things and I think it really helped the younger swimmers a lot.”

While the team appears poised to make a serious run at their 14th straight district title and another strong showing in states, O’Connor is realistic about the season and how it may play out.

“The truth is that we don’t know what to expect,” said O’Connor. “With the pandemic, we can’t count on districts or states or even a season. I’m optimistic that we’ll get to at least go through the season even if it is an abbreviated one, but from there, you don’t know what anything after that will look like.

“I do know that we have a very good team and there’s no reason why we can’t achieve a lot, but there are a lot of question marks that are outside of our control.”

The East Penn Conference season was delayed and condensed this season as a coronavirus precaution. The Hornets will swim dual meets against only Lehigh Country schools. They open the season with two in a row against Dieruff, then follow that with a pair of meets each against Allen, Central Catholic and rival Parkland (Feb. 16 in Orefield and 18 at Emmaus) to finish out the season.

PRESS PHOTO BY NANCY SCHOLZ Emmaus senior Nick Soares was one of several swimmers who performed well in state championship preliminaries but didn't get to swim in finals because the meet was shut down.