Three area swimmers to compete in PIAA Championships at Bucknell
Marian’s Danny Berlitz, competing in the backstroke leg of the 200 IM at last year’s PIAA State Chamionships, returns to Bucknell University as the No. 1 seed in the event at this year’s meet. NANCY SCHOLZ/TIMES NEWS FILE PHOTO.
Marian junior Danny Berlitz is a veteran when it comes to high school swimming’s biggest stage.
Marian’s Maddie Dando and Tamaqua’s Lexi Kerstetter are rookies.
The three District 11 champions will represent the Times News area at Bucknell University in the PIAA State Swimming and Diving Championships this weekend.
Berlitz, the reigning 500 freestyle state gold medalist, headlines the group.
“I’ve been to states twice before,” Berlitz said. “Just knowing the intensity and how you’re going to feel, and already being there — I feel like I have a little bit of an advantage over some younger competitors that are there.”
Berlitz is the top seed in the 200 IM and second seed in the 500 freestyle after becoming a District 11 champion in both events a couple of weeks ago.
“I came into the season hoping to be the top seed in both of the events, so I’m right there. I’m going to go for gold in both of them, and hopefully not get DQ’d,” Berlitz said with a grin.
The junior, who has had a ton of success and is always working on his craft, was disqualified from the 200 IM at Bucknell a year ago, but mentioned that he has grown from that mistake and is willing to share his advice with others.
“At the time when I got DQ’d, I was obviously sad because it was states and I would have had a silver medal,” he said. “But I put it behind me and I won the next day in the five-free. Every time I swim the 200 or any IM, I always think about that moment and it pushes me to go faster and keep trying.
“I know that it’s one little mistake. It’s not going to affect my whole career.”
The other pair of TN swimmers headed to Bucknell will be making their first appearance at states.
The Fillies’ Dando, who is just a freshman, was the D11 backstroke champion earlier this month and will be seeded 26th out of 32 competitors in that event this weekend.
“I always dreamed of winning a district gold medal,” Dando said. “I always say to myself when I jump in the pool to practice hard, because you’re practicing for a district medal. I still can’t believe that I won, it really hasn’t sunk in yet.
“I’m really happy with the outcome. I wasn’t too happy with my time, but I’m hoping to get it done this weekend. I’m so happy to be going to states freshman year. ”
And for Dando, there might not be anyone better to turn to for advice than her teammate Berlitz, who is making his third-straight state appearance — and has grown about a foot taller since his first one.
“I go to Danny, how do you do this,?” said Dando. “You come in seeded first every meet. How do you keep it up? He said to me to ‘just do my race, and do what you need to do.’
“Now I say that to myself all of the time. I’m really practicing my turns and my underwaters. If I really improve in that area, that’s where I can cut down some time. I’m hoping if I can go 59-something I can qualify for finals. I’m really excited. Not nervous yet, but I know I will be.”
Tamaqua senior Kerstetter will also be making her first-career appearance in state competition. She was crowned the D11 champion in the 200 freestyle and will be seeded 30th out of 32 when her event takes place on Friday.
“I went into districts with a good mindset, even though I was seeded second in the 200 and the (top-seeded) girl was three seconds faster than me,” Kerstetter said. “Time means nothing though, if you work hard and set your mind that’s what you can achieve.
“I just dove in the water and it worked out in my favor. I’m working hard in practice with my technique and I’m hoping to get a good time at states.”
The Tamaqua senior also had a few people with a wealth of experience and knowledge to look to for some insight.
“My teammate Rebecca Kanaskie went the past couple of years, so I asked her what it was like,” said Kerstetter. “And at districts, Mary Zimmerman (a 2017 Schuylkill Haven graduate who was a three-time state qualifier during her high school career) was giving me some tips.
“It’s my first year there and I have no idea what to expect, so I’m a little nervous. But with a such a big support system behind me, I know I can do well.”
The tip that Berlitz was willing to share was simple and meaningful.
“Stay composed, no matter what you hear from other people or how they look,” he said. “Calm, cool, and collected is the best way to enter it.
“No matter what happens, always be happy about yourself, keep your head up and just smile.”