Tamaqua boys look to contend for title
JOE PLASKO/TIMES NEWS Tamaqua boys swimming and diving team members are, front row from left, Tyler Butkus, Ricky Clemson, Dane DeWire and Steven Kupetz. Second row, Nathaniel Leibensperger, Corey McCann, John Scheitrum, Devin Smith and Daniel Starry. Third row, Evan Stoll, Calvin Troxell, Ben Tuckett, Sam Tuckett and Zachary Yachera. Billy Breiner and Brandon Clemson are also on the team.
The Tamaqua boys swimming and diving team captured its first Schuylkill League championship two years ago, but last season the Blue Raiders came up one win short of a repeat.
This season, the Raiders are hopeful of returning the Schuylkill swim crown to Stadium Hill.
Meanwhile, the Lady Raiders are looking to build on what they established last season.
The Raider boys have 13 letterwinners back from a squad that posted a 9-5 overall mark last year, including 7-1 in Schuylkill competition, with the lone setback to perennial champion Pottsville.
Tamaqua will look to replace graduates Alex Jones and Harry Stoll, as well as Brock Stein, who is sidelined with an injury, but returns plenty of experience.
Coach Eric Lech feels the Raiders have put in the work necessary to lower their times and are coming into this season with momentum.
"This is a very dedicated team that put in lots of time and work in the offseason," said Lech, who enters his 10th season with the Raider boys with an 84-42 record. "We achieved many personal bests during summer league."
Leading the returnees is junior Dane DeWire, the defending Schuylkill League diving champion. Other top point-earners include senior diver Billy Breiner, seniors Ricky Clemson (freestyle, backstroke) and Corey McCann (backstroke, freestyle), junior Calvin Troxell (individual medley, breaststroke) and the Tuckett brothers, senior Ben (IM. backstroke) and junior Sam (butterfly, freestyle).
Others who earned letters include senior Brandon Clemson (freestyle, breaststroke); juniors Nathaniel Leibensperger (breaststroke, IM), Devin Smith (freestyle, IM ), Daniel Starry (backstroke, freestyle), and Evan Stoll (butterfly, freestyle); and sophomore Zachary Yachera (IM, breaststroke).
Freshman Tyler Butkus shows promise in the freestyle and buterfly events. Seniors John Scheitrum (diving) and Steven Kupetz (freestyle, butterfly) add depth.
Lech expressed that the potential is there for the Raiders to make another run at the Schuylkill title.
"This team is going to continue to challenge top league and District opponents and should have its best results by the end of the season," he related. "Many of these swimmers want to make this season last as long as possible."
On the girls side, the Lady Raiders return 12 letterwinners from a team that went 8-6 last year, splitting its eight Schuylkill meets. Tamaqua graduated Shellie Witcofsky from that squad.
"This is a dedicated group of swimmers with a strong work ethic," said Lech, who has a mark of 75-55-1 at the helm of the Lady Raiders. "They are very goal oriented."
Topping the returnees for the Tamaqua mermaids is senior Katie Hummel, the defending Schuylkill diving champion, as well as seniors Megan Amey (freestyle, butterfly) and Sam Digilio (freestyle, breaststroke); juniors Deana DeWire (butterfly, freestyle ) and Jordan Norwacki (freestyle); and sophomore Chey Bates (butterfly, backstroke). Junior Schuyler Schmidt returns after a year off and will bolster the Raiders in the IM and freestyle.
Other returning letterwinners include juniors Chloe Hartung (breaststroke, IM), Alaina Reese (diving), and Aleida Van Buren (butterfly, breaststroke); and sophomores Ashley Van Buren (diving, backstroke), Megan Wagner (IM, backstroke) and Andrea Whitley (freestyle).
Others who can help out are senior Katie Wagner (breaststroke) and sophomore Brittany Fick (breaststoke and freestyle), as well as freshmen newcomers Carolyn Kanaskie (freestyle, backstroke), Brynn Lehatto (diving) and Emily Bumbulsky (IM. breaststroke).
Lech feels the Raiders are looking for a strong leader to emerge and will need to develop depth to compete among the Schuylkill League elite, but mentioned that the pieces are in place to build on last year's finish.
"This is a very promising squad that is looking to surprise opponents," he said. "This team should improve over last year's record and end of season standings."