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Super Six savor swim championship for Mars

Stephanie Strasburg | Tribune-Review
Mars swimmer Francis Folz, shown in a 2014 photo, will be returning to the PIAA swimming championships, competing in the 50 and 100 freestyle events

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By Joe Sager
Saturday, March 22, 2014, 2:44 p.m.

The Mars boys swimming team won a state championship.

And it did it in style.

With only the 400 freestyle relay remaining at the PIAA Class AA championship meet, the Planets needed just a conservative eighth-place finish to wrap up the program's first state crown.

Problem was, the 400 freestyle relay was the team's bread-and-butter event all season, and the squad hoped to not only win gold in that event, but possibly challenge the PIAA record. Knowing that an overaggressive start could result in a disqualification and cost Mars the overall team championship, the four swimmers proceeded with some caution — and they still won in 3:12.57, which was better than their WPIAL-championship time of 3:13.72.

“That was the icing on the cake. We only needed to take eighth in it to win the overall championship, but they were not going to let it go down that way,” Mars coach Heidi Brandon said. “They wanted to go out with style. We stressed just safe starts. Their time would have been about two seconds faster had they not been extra cautious.”

Salisbury took an early lead in the relay, but eventually finished third in 3:13.12. Southern Lehigh took silver in 3:13.07. The Planets' foursome of Reed McDonough, Tom Pierre, Christopher Georgiadis and Francis Folz overcame both teams for the gold.

“We knew Salisbury always swam that relay with their fastest swimmers first and their slower swimmers go last, so they can try to build a lead and hold on,” Brandon said. “We have four solid guys who push each other. We know that Francis hates to lose. He is our anchor. If he is close to you, he'll catch you. Reed and Tom needed to be as close as they could be for Christopher and Francis to bring it home for the win.

“It was amazing they still won it. It was a team effort for all four. They all stepped up and did their job.”

Mars won the third team state championship — and first boys title — in school history, joining girls cross country in 1976 and girls soccer in 2011. The squad did it with only six swimmers, as well. Joe Folz and Jimmy Pierre are the other two Planets swimmers.

“I am very thrilled,” Brandon said. “I am so proud of those boys. It's hard to put it into words. Two years ago, we had five guys and finished second. This year, it took six guys to win it.”

On the first day of competition, Georgiadis won an individual gold medal in the 200 individual medley in 1:54.22. Tom Pierre finished seventh (1:57.84) and medaled.

“Many swimmers get to the state meet, and they have a hard time really putting in a good event because they feel so much pressure representing their school,” Brandon said. “Those two did a great job in the 200 individual medley. All the guys did so well.”

The Planets' 200 medley relay team of Tom Pierre, Francis Folz, McDonough and Georgiadis finished fourth. Francis Folz finished eighth in the 200 freestyle (1:44.67), and McDonough was 11th in the 50 freestyle (22.02).

On the second day of the championship meet, Francis Folz took fourth in the 100 freestyle (47.04), Tom Pierre was sixth in the 500 freestyle (4:44.56), and Georgiadis was 11th in the 100 breaststroke (1:00.8).

“Our first goal coming into the season, we thought we had a chance to win a section title and we had never won one before,” Brandon said. “Once we did that, we thought we might have a shot at WPIALs and maybe even of winning it.

“To go to the state meet and feel we were in contention as well is exciting. It took a lot of effort out of everybody, including the parents, families and coaches to get them focused. There were a lot of days they were looking past dual-season meets.”

On the girls side, Mars freshman diver Taylor Hockenberry finished sixth (369.4).

“She did really, really well for a freshman,” Brandon said. “She did a nice job.”

Joe Sager is a freelance writer.

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