With the temperatures plummeting outdoors lately, it's quite difficult to think about swimming. However, at Panther Valley High School, the athletes that participate in the winter sport have been doing more than imagining it…they're doing it and doing it well.
As the pre-season opens, the girls' and boys' varsity swim teams have been training hard all year long and are hopefully tapering to get this season underway. Panther Valley head coach Geri Vavra is excited to see what unravels as the season progresses for her student-athletes, as the returning letter winners are faced with the challenge of replacing graduated talent with more-than capable swimmers to duplicate, or even improve upon the excellent standard that Panther Valley swimming has set in recent years.
"I believe we are capable of having a good year with the amount of talent we have returning this season," Vavra said. "Numbers-wise, we don't have a lot, but it's a huge amount of talent. We have a ton of experience coming back for us in the water, starting with a whole group of seniors that have been with me for what seems like forever."
Last year, Tricia Janowiak, Christa Mantz and Kayla Nunemacher graduated and moved on to the next phase of their lives. Spear-headed by seniors, this season's PV swim team is going to be 'making waves' as they move on their way through the pool to hopeful new standards of excellence.
"Individually, they all seem to be focused on their own goals," Vavra mentioned. "They have an amazing work ethic and are such intelligent swimmers. They'll say, 'that was a great practice because…' and that shows me that they're focused and determined to improve."
Individually, there are a core of seniors returning in Lexi Follweiler (Fly/IM), Lauren Cormier (Free/Breast), Karoline Vavra (Breast/Free), Brittany Erbe (Back/Distance), Sarah Baranchide (Fly), Celine Yelito (Breast/IM), Jason Gates (IM/Breast), and Michael Sloboda (Fly/Free).
Also helping out the Panthers will be sophomore Kristyn Gates (Free/Back/Breast), and three freshmen: Richelle VanHorn (Breast/Back), Cassie Baranchide (Free/Back) and Michael OConnell (Free/Breast).
"Each of these kids is definitely dedicated to the sport," Vavra said. "I want them to swim with pride towards each of their individual events. I believe we will have strong relays, but it's just a matter of knowing where, in which area, we are capable of improving our times and getting better as the season goes by."
If the past few seasons have proven to be any form of indicator as to how this season is going to progress, expect the Panthers to replicate some great performances, both individually, and as a team. They have developed into a perennial power in the Schuylkill League and District Eleven, and this year should prove to be no different.
"The majority of these seniors have all spoken to colleges and that is just wonderful to me," Vavra related. "And these are legitimate swimming colleges, so to have that aspect is nice for us."
With the loss of Mount Carmel and Shamokin from the schedule, the entire roster of opponents has been flipped and some adjustments need to be made for the Panthers. However, with strong coaching and a wealth of talent and 'pool IQ,' look for the Panther Valley swim team to remain among the sport's elite.