Last season, the Panther Valley girls' swimming team captured the Schuylkill League Championship by going undefeated in the league and suffered just one non-league loss the entire season.
The Lady Panthers lost just three swimmers from that team and the returning swimmers have all gained solid amounts of training and experience in hopes of continuing on that path of excellence.
Geri Vavra returns for her fourth season as the Panther Valley coach and has some good feelings about her team's potential for the upcoming season.
"They know what it takes to pull out wins," Vavra said. "This is the experience that I think will come into play for us this season. In Districts last year, where we won by half a point and in other meets throughout the season, where we won by just a few points. These girls know what it takes and that should help us out a lot."
Gone from that league and district championship squad from a year ago are Sami Vavra, Danielle Erbe and Danielle Gildea. Although the three contributed valuable points, coach Vavra is confident the training in the off season, coupled with the desire to replicate the program's recent success, should aid the 2009-10 squad.
Spearheading the Panthers are a core of talented seniors.
Tricia Janowiak should contribute plenty of experience and leadership and will excel in the backstroke, freestyle sprints and the butterfly.
"She's pretty versatile and will definitely help us out," Vavra said.
Classmate Christa Mantz will be aiding in the IM and backstroke, Kayla Nunemacher tends to the distance events and Kaylynn Covine heads up the breast stroke to spread the experience throughout the pool.
The Panthers also have a wave of juniors who spark excitement in coach Vavra's eyes.
"The really cool thing is that our numbers are down this season, but I have a whole core of what were sophomores last year that now make up my junior class," Vavra said. "They saw and were well aware of how points counted last season and they stepped up for us big time last season. So hopefully they are able to pull off that same level of performance for us this season as well."
The noticeable negative factor this season is that a lack of divers is going to hit the locals hard.
"In a lot of the 'bigger' meets such as Tamaqua, Pottsville and Blue Mountain, we're going to be at their places to swim," Vavra said. "So we lose 13 diving points right off the bat."
As for goals and expectations for the Lady Panthers as a team, there never have been any in the past heading into the season. This year, things won't change, but according to the coach, they have their individual goals to look ahead to.
"Every year, the kids come into the season and say, 'this is what they would like to do' and this year, they came in with goal times that they'd like to set by the end of the season," Vavra said. "They know where they left off at last season and know where they need to be at this point. So I'm glad that they understand swimming because they know pace clocks and know what it takes to get times down."
"The girls also have the drive and personal motivation to get better and (the coaches) have done some research and asked other coaches about things to do to improve the girls' times, other than just swimming and practicing in the pool. We've done a lot of dry land training this season that I think will make them strong in the water. Also, even when they're hanging out in the side of the pool, they'll be doing pull-ups on the side of the pool and they're using every little 'time out' to train in some sort of way."
Coach Vavra also talked about the boys' team and their improvement
"I commend these guys to have the drive to want to be a part of the team," Vavra said. "Hopefully in a few years we'll have a bigger crew of boys so we can be competitive with the team scores.
"Even though we only have four guys on the team this year, they mesh well together and I give them a world of credit for wanting to be a part of the swimming program."