LEWISBURG — North Penn’s Mason Potts cheered so loudly for his teammates that he lost his voice.
This weekend at Bucknell University, the Knights gave everything they had to each other.
“All the training we’ve done, all the dedication, our depth and focus. We ground, ground, ground all season, and in the end we made it. We got the job and we got it done,” Potts conveyed with a smile and a raspy whisper. “I tried to hold back the tears in the car (drive by) because I thought it was going to come down to it, to the end. And we had such a good time and were super hyped. I held back tears in the car because I was super excited. And now I can’t even have tears because I’m just here.”
“Here” was the mountaintop as North Penn scaled his way to his first state title in boys’ swimming and diving since 2004. The Knights amassed 212 points, which were boosted by the Jumpers on Saturday afternoon and brought to the thrilling end of the 400 Free Relay early evening by the Jumpers.
The Knights overcame the solid efforts of La Salle (189.5) and Conestoga (161) to top the Class 3A.
“Ever since the first week of November, when the preseason started, we knew we had a good chance,” said Aidan Faikish, a bronze medalist in the 400m relay, along with Potts, Danny Dunigan and Macek Vandermolen. “We just kept working day in and day out — in the pool, out of the pool, trying to perfect our skills by the time we get to this meetup.”
Faikish anchored the 400 free home as the reality of a state title began to decline.
“It was fun to see everyone cheering. Good ending to the meeting,” he said.
Faikish was actually born the same year the Knights last won the state title. His father Brian was the head coach of that team and his uncle Jeff was at the helm of the 23-team.
“I’m definitely happy to be a part of it,” said a smiling Aidan.
“It’s kind of a legacy for most people here,” said Potts, whose parents both swam for NP.
A theme for this year’s titular team was everyone doing their part, or in the Knights’ terms, understanding and completing the task.
“It feels great,” said Dunigan. “We finished third last year and came up a bit short. We have high hopes for this team as well. We knew earlier this year that this was the goal and it feels great to finally achieve it.
“It’s great to end my senior season like this. It’s just a great way to go out there and win as a team.”
Contributions came from many for NP: Dunigan was fifth in the 200m free, third in the 500m free and fifth in the 200m free relay and bronze medal in the 400m free relay; Faikish finished fifth in the 200m IM, placed eighth in the 100m breaststroke, and took fifth place in the 200m free relay and the bronze medal in the 400m free relay; and Potts finished third in the 100 m fly and fifth in the 100 m free and was awarded bronze medals in the 200 medley relay and the 400 free relay.
The jumpers came out big: Brady Stanton pinned his inner double to win the championship in his sixth and final jump of the meet.
Stanton said of his clutch effort: “That 404 at the very end there – my inner double. I knew I had to get good results to win and I got just enough.”
Stanton (306.30) jumped past Seneca Valley’s Isaiah Clerkley (302.95) for top honors, while Central Bucks East’s Connor Thurston was fourth with 268.40 and North Penn’s Joshua Gratton with 256 .80 ended up in seventh place.
The knights were on their way.
“The personality of this team was incredible,” said coach Jeff Faikish, who has led both boys’ and girls’ teams to state crowns. “Just day by day they were on a mission. The greatest thing about this team victory is that everyone contributed. Every part of this state championship was incredible. And when the boys and girls teams work together, the great thing is that they feed each other.
“They feed each other emotionally, they feed each other every day while training in the pool.”
Golden Girl – Madeline Faikish fell in love with the 500 Free when she was 12 and has never looked back.
North Penn’s outstanding runner-up stormed to the gold medal on Saturday in 4 minutes and 49.63 seconds.
“I had to dig really deep into my pocket for that,” she said happily. “I saw (Haverford’s Katya Eruslanova) in districts and she outperformed me, so I really tried to dig deep, try to finish the race and just put my head down and just go for it.”
Faikish accepts the challenge of the 500.
“It’s going to hurt. You know it’s going to hurt. It’s your event, but you’ve done it so many times. And it’s not something I can’t do,” she said. “So I just had to let go and swim my race.”
Hats off to the Hatters — The Hatboro-Horsham girls finished the States with a scintillating 400 free relay, beating the field by more than four seconds.
A team of Annie Jia, Kathy Jia, Emmy Erikson and Sarah Parker captured the gold medal in 3:23.63.
“It was amazing. My sister is a senior, it’s her last year,” said Annie Jia, a sophomore. “So to be able to win two seasons with her is really emotional and great for her and it brings us together as a team really together.”
The Hatters savored their state title from a year ago with a second-place finish in the team standings.
“We did it with four people. We all swam really well,” said Annie Jia.
Jia’s weekend was one for the ages: four gold medals, including two individual competitions (200 IM/100 flies) almost back-to-back on Friday.
“Quite exhausting, but I think it’s really worth it,” she said. “It’s really a mental thing – you just have to recalibrate yourself. If you did well (in the first event), don’t let it go to your head. If you haven’t done well, it’s not the end of the world. There are always other events that you can swim later.
“It feels good. There are things I could have done better, but there are also things I was really good at. So I go back home and train more. The ride never really stops. You have to keep working hard and be consistent.”
A warrior’s mentality – Methacton’s Christopher Groff broke new ground on Saturday in the biggest race of his senior season.
“It feels really good. It was one of those swims where whatever I did I would be happy, but going under 50 for the first time made me even happier,” he said of his bronze-medal swim 100 backstroke (49.75 ). “I couldn’t ask for a better race. And everyone in this heat I’m good friends with. It was great swimming with them and overall a good time.
“(The atmosphere here) is amazing. It’s one of those things, no matter how you feel, you’re going to swim a great race. The audience is incredible and it’s just an incredible atmosphere.”
Twice as nice – Phoenixville’s Kenzie Padilla, another Pioneer Athletic Conference standout, followed up her bronze medal in the 100 m fly (55.08) on Friday with another trip to the medal stand on Saturday: she rose to sixth place in the 500 in 4 to: 57.80.
“I am very happy that I made it. The 500 is kind of a new event for me – I don’t swim it all the time,” she shared with a smile. “But I’ve worked on that for high school swim districts and states because the 200 Free is before the 100 Fly, which is my main event. So I have to do something the next day. I’m very happy with my swim – it was fun.”
The 200-person free relay team also qualified for the States, and although the Phantoms were DQ in the prelims in Friday’s race, their trip to Bucknell was quite the journey.
“That… was amazing to have some teammates there,” Padilla said. “Last year we were the last ones at the district meeting. And this year we were the last to come to the national meeting. So we were really looking forward to it – we were watching our time and following the other districts to see if we could make it.”