Daniel golden in 500 free District Swimming
By: BRUCE MORGAN Record Express Sports Editor, Staff Writer
Paige Daniel tried not to look.
But by the same token, it was difficult not to know that Wilson’s Amber Cortazzo was cutting into her lead in the District Three Triple-A girls 500 freestyle last Saturday.
"The only reason I knew that (Cortazzo) was close was because I saw her coaches freaking out on the side of the pool," the Manheim Central senior said. "They were jumping up and down and cheering and screaming."
Ultimately, however, Daniel had enough to hold her off, as she claimed her first District gold medal by touching the wall in 5:00.04 at Cumberland Valley High School. Cortazzo, who finished just over one second behind, won the silver medal in 5:01.17.
"I think the strategy was just for her to go out and get a good lead and keep the pace and she really was wanting to win that gold," Manheim Central coach Heather Fittery said. "She did a good job."
Daniel, who will continue her swimming career at Bucknell University on a partial scholarship, also did a good job en route to winning the District silver medal in the 200 free in 1:52.49 during Friday’s session. Both finishes carried automatic berths to the PIAA State Championships, to be held next Wednesday through Saturday, March 13-16 at Bucknell University’s Kinney Natatorium.
While Paige is preparing for her fourth appearance in Lewisburg, her younger brother, freshman Matthew Daniel, clinched his first trip to States by placing fifth in the District Three Double-A boys 500 free (4:47.78) and fifth in the 200 Individual Medley (2:04.22). Only the top two finishers in each Double-A event earned automatic bids to States, but Daniel’s times were still good enough for him to advance.
"He did a good time, so it might give him a good shot at getting in," Fittery said following Daniel’s performance in Friday’s 200 I.M. "But he was pleased."
Paige, too, did a good time while bringing home the gold in the 500 freestyle, dropping more than 10 seconds off of her third-place seed time of 5:10.30. Knowing that she had already qualified for States in the 200 free on Friday allowed her to swim pressure-free.
"I wasn’t really swimming for times," she said. "I was trying to relax and I didn’t really care because I already made States from (Friday), so really anything like top eight, I would be fine."
She got a lot more than that after taking the lead from the get-go with a split of 27.31 seconds in the first 50. Her advantage, though, was razor thin, with Cortazzo touching in 27.33.
"I was just hoping that she could close to that and not go up too much or fall behind at all," Fittery said. "As we were watching her splits coming around, she was hanging in the 30’s with all of them and just kept a little bit ahead of (Cortazzo). I was just hoping that she would see her over there (in lane six) and just keep going. I think she did see her."
As things progressed, Daniel and Cortazzo began to pull away from the rest of the pack, with Cumberland Valley junior Sabrina Mortell placing third in 5:04.67. But despite Cortazzo’s best efforts, she couldn’t reel in Daniel, who won silver in the District Double-A 500 free last year in 5:07.88.
"I probably looked more than I wanted to (for Cortazzo), but I didn’t really know exactly where she was," Daniel said. "I probably caught sight of her every once in awhile, but not enough to really gauge where I should be."
Although Daniel, swimming Triple-A again for the first time since her freshman season, entered the event as the number three seed, Fittery wasn’t all that surprised to see her capture the gold medal.
"We know what she can do when she puts her mind to it," Fittery said. "Coming in as the third seed, you never know. It’s anybody’s game. It’s all on how everybody comes in and swims."
Daniel also had a challenge on her hands in the 200 free, but not for the gold, which was locked up early by Hershey’s Meaghan Raab. The Lady Trojans’ junior built a commanding lead and touched the wall in 1:45.93. That left Daniel, Cocalico’s Samantha Marino and Hershey’s Maggie Lee to battle for the silver, and Daniel (1:52.49), in lane three, edged out the Lady Eagles’ sophomore (1:52.57), who was competing in lane three, for the runner-up spot. Lee was a close fourth in 1:52.60 from lane six.
With Marino and Lee pushing her, Daniel was pleased with her time in that event.
"Definitely," said Daniel, who won District silver in the Double-A 200 I.M. last year. "I haven’t done a best time for, like, two years. I haven’t swam the 200 free that much, but I was happy to be able to go fast. The other side of the pool wasn’t even close to us and then after the first 75 or whatever, I was like, ‘Alright, this is the race and then I just buckled down and sprinted."
"She did very well," Fittery said. "I was a little nervous for her. I don’t think she realized the other girl (Lee) out there in lane six and how close it was, but she was smiling. I think that’s the happiest I’ve seen her all season."
Matt Daniel was no doubt very happy as well. In his first-ever District appearance, he dropped two seconds from his seed time of 2:06.28 in the 200 I.M. on Friday, placing fifth in 2:04.22. Lancaster Catholic’s Everett Albert won the gold medal in a time of 1:55.54.
"We were pleased with that and he seemed to be pleased with his time," Fittery said. "We talked to him before he went up and he said, ‘I just want to at least drop a second,’ and he dropped two seconds, so that was good. And being a freshman, that’s doing a good job."
Daniel had an even bigger drop in the 500 free on Saturday, shaving nearly 10 seconds off his seed time of 4:57.46 while earning a fifth-place medal in 4:47.78. Millersburg junior Cole Davis edged him at the wall in 4:47.58. More DANIEL, page B-3