Mars shines bright at state swimming championships
There were no team titles for the Mars boys and girls swimming and diving teams at the PIAA Class AA championships this year.
However, the Fightin' Planets brought back an impressive collection of medals from Bucknell University.
Mars senior Francis Folz captured a pair of championships in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle races, and sophomore Taylor Hockenberry claimed the one-meter diving title. Senior Reed McDonough medaled in the 50-yard freestyle as well.
“I am really proud of all our swimmers,” Mars coach Hans Bergh said. “I thought they gave everything they had. That's all we can ask.”
Folz was thrilled to come away with a pair of gold medals.
“It's definitely a dream come true,” he said. “I couldn't be happier right now.”
Folz, who captured the WPIAL championship in the 50 free, finished first in 21.41 seconds to edge Bloomsburg's James Orzdek (21.63). McDonough placed eighth in 22.25.
“In prelims, it was really close. When I saw I was first, I knew I had to defend it in the finals,” Folz said. “There was a lot of emotion, from being very excited to nervous, but I had the confidence in how I practiced this year. At the same time, everyone was so close.
“Some people added time and some people dropped. The kid who finished second moved up more than five places, so I knew the race could change at any time. If one person does everything right, they'd win. I just prayed that I wouldn't make a mistake, and there were no mistakes made.”
Folz, who finished fourth at the WPIAL meet in the 100, won a state title in the event in another close race. He was seeded second, but finished first in 47.03 and edged Salisbury's Mahlon Reihman (47.06).
“That was the race I had the most trouble with the whole year,” Folz said. “I started to get a head cold right before it, too. At dinner before the race, I started to get the chills. I just prayed for a miracle. It's different when you're second coming in. When someone is ahead of you, you know that you have to go all out and beat someone.
“I just concentrated and really tried to give it my all. It was a close race. I touched the blocks and looked up and saw the No. 1 by my name, and it was a dream come true. It was a storybook ending for my high school career.”
Bergh was happy to see his swimmers excel.
“It's phenomenal for Francis to win two golds his senior year,” he said. “The competition was fierce this year. He went into it knowing it was going to be tough competition, and he wanted to possibly break a state record time, but he walked away with gold and held his head high knowing he did everything he could.
“Reed has done very, very well for himself. The competition was so intense. I can't say enough with how proud I am. He is such a hard worker.”
Hockenberry finished sixth in the one-meter diving competition at last year's state championship meet. She captured a WPIAL title this year in record fashion and ended her high school season with PIAA gold. Hockenberry, who led throughout the preliminary and semifinal rounds, registered a final score of 426.75. Riverside's Brittany Hart was second at 411.30. They were 1-2 at the WPIAL meet as well.
“It's really great to win. I kind of figured I was in the lead throughout the whole competition,” Hockenberry said. “My first dive in the finals, I really missed it pretty hard. I knew I had to nail my last two to securely win. Brittany is a very good diver. I dove against her at the MACs and WPIAL championships. It was just hard competition all around.”
Bergh was extremely happy with Hockenberry's performance.
“It was absolutely incredible to see a sophomore walking away with a state championship, especially when a lot of the competition came from the eastern part of the state and a lot of officials were from the eastern part of the state,” he said. “To see her holding her own with the divers from there was just awe inspiring.
“She is always one of those people that sets the bar high and is always reaching for the next goal.”
Joe Sager is a freelance writer.