By Pete Chiodo
Meadville’s Mackenzie Webber and Warren’s Elin Smith were locked in a neck-and-neck battle during the final length of the girls 100-yard backstroke.
Last season, Smith took first place in the event at the District 10 championship meet. Webber was third.
During Saturday’s session at the Class AAA finals at Penn State Behrend’s Junker Center, it was the senior Webber’s final chance to pick up an individual gold medal. And over the first 50 yards, she gained a nice lead over the defending champ.
Then Smith started to rally.
“Coming home, I kind of saw her in the corner of my eye,” said Webber. “So I said to myself, ‘I need to pick it up. I need to pick it up.’ And when I touched the wall I was like, ‘I hope I won.’
Her and Smith both glanced up at the scoreboard to check their times to see who finished first ...
“But the times didn’t show,” said Webber. “So I didn’t know.”
A scoreboard malfunction left the Bulldogs senior and everybody else wondering.
Not for long, though. Coach Pete Coppelli quickly gave her the good news.
“He said, ‘Yeah, you won.’ So I was excited.”
Webber grabbed the first district gold of her career, and the second for the Meadville swim team during the 2013-14 D-10 finals, finishing the 100 back in a personal-best time of 1:01.08. Smith was second in 1:02.15.
“I’ve been working so hard the last four years, and it’s finally paid off,” said Webber.
Webber will now join teammate Heather Sternby — who won the 100 butterfly on Friday — at the PIAA state swim meet, which takes place March 12 to 14 at Bucknell University’s Kinney Natatorium.
“She’s been working really hard,” Coppelli said about Webber. “She’s basically been training for this meet since, essentially, right after last year’s championship season. She swam throughout the spring and summer and fall. She was focused on what she wanted to do.”
While Webber was the only Bulldog to win a title, she was not the only one to place in the top six.
Sternby added a third-place medal in the 100 freestyle, finishing in 57.26. That gave her three medals for the meet, including the gold in the 100 fly, a silver in Friday’s 200 freestyle relay, and a bronze in the 100 free.
For the boys team, Eric Ziegler added a fifth-place finish in the 100 breaststroke. Ziegler dropped nearly four seconds from his seed time to finish in 1:04.92.
It was the second significant drop for Ziegler during the D-10 meet. On Friday, the junior shed three seconds from his time in the 200 IM.
Meadville’s Morgan Leung also swam the 100 breast and dropped two seconds from his seed time, finishing the event in 1:08.76, good for ninth place.
“Both (Ziegler) and Morgan just had really good focus,” said Coppelli. “They went after it aggressively. I really like how they both saved a little bit of turnover for the last length. Especially Morgan, he really kind of locked into hitting just a little bit of a stretch with each stroke on the first 50 so that he had some turnover to spare on the last length. And he really did pull past some people on that last length.
“And Eric was just strong throughout. He was really powerful. His pull looked outstanding, he executed everything well, smart turns, underwater pull-outs. And coming off the IM (Friday), I don’t think that hurt his confidence having that kind of swim in the IM.”
Also swimming for the ’Dogs on Saturday was Kerwin Moreland, who was ninth in the 500 freestyle in 5:19.26; and Matt Lazusky, who was 13th in the 100 backstroke with a time of 1:08.46.