Two State medals for Mitchell
Warwick swimming coach Mark Daum has a nickname for the Wednesday forenoon session at the PIAA State Championships.
‘Black hole morning’ is what he likes to call it.
“The kids aren’t used to competing, let alone at that level, on a Wednesday morning,” Daum said.
To Warwick senior Justin Mitchell’s credit, he rose above the challenge in the 200 free prelims.
The three-time State qualifier, seeded 13th, managed to drop his time and advance to the A-final, guaranteeing himself his first PIAA medal.
Mitchell ended up capturing a seventh-place medal in the 200 free in 1:41.40, then struck again with an eighth-place medal in the 500 free in 4:38.54 on Thursday, making his final trek to BucknellUniversity a memorable one.
“It was definitely a good trip,” Mitchell said. “Last year, I wanted to medal in at least one of my events and after I hadn’t, it kinda set that motivation for (2014). So it was definitely good this year. Again, I just wanted to get one medal, but it was nice coming out with two and both my times were lifetime-best times, so that’s another good accomplishment.”
As Daum pointed out, Mitchell also extended an impressive lineage of State medal-winners for the Warwick boys swimmers.
“(Justin) keeps the tradition going,” Daum said. “(Matt) Nuffort passed to (Scott) Pusey, Pusey passed it to (Colin) Schouten, Schouten passed it to Justin. In all but his last swim, every time he touched the water he did his best time. In a sport that you can quantify it, you can’t ask for any more than that … It’s an insanely fast meet and you’ve got to bring your A-game every time.”
With his lifetime-best performance in the 200 freestyle, Mitchell missed the school record of 1:41.36, currently held by Schouten, by just four one-hundredths of a second. Following his Warwick career, Schouten went on to swim at Georgia Tech.
“It was (disappointing),” said Mitchell, who plans to continue his swimming career at either the University of Delaware, EmoryUniversity (Atlanta, Ga.) or Pitt. “In the 200, I’d wanted to go 1:40. Obviously, I didn’t do that, so I thought I would pretty easily get that record. I didn’t notice I was that close to it until after I swam. It’d be nice if you could know that while you’re in the pool that I was that close. But I’m happy with the time. Colin Schouten has the 200 and 500, those are two pretty solid records and he was a great swimmer. I might not be on the record board, but hopefully I’ll be remembered as being close to that time.”
Colin’s younger sister Emma, a freshman at Warwick, made her first trip to States last week and placed 24th in the girls 500 free (5:10.00) and 100 breaststroke (1:07.31).
“It was her first time there and you have to experience it,” Daum said. “Her times went up a little bit, but more importantly, she got great experience. After her 500, she said, ‘OK, now I’m ready to swim.’ So it’s just getting the nerves and everything else under control, which bodes well for the future because now she’s been there.”
Senior Nick Beard finished 18th in the boys 100 breaststroke, shattering his own school record with a time of 58.94 seconds, and senior Morgan Haney tied for 19th place in the girls 50 free in 24.44 seconds. Beard missed qualifying for the B-final by just 26 one-hundredths of a second. Gateway senior Alex Caprara took the 16th and final spot in 58.68.
Mitchell, meanwhile, moved up six spots from where he was seeded in the 200 free with his time of 1:41.95 in the prelims. Fortunately, the Warrior senior competed in the fourth of four heats, so he knew pretty quickly that he had achieved his goal of getting into the top eight for the A-final.
“I knew I was going to have to give it my all at prelims just to get into that A-final,” said Mitchell, who finished 10th in the 200 free and 15th in the 500 free last year at States. “Once I got in there, I was just real happy. In years past, I was pretty nervous about swimming in the final. This year, I still had some nerves, but I was actually smiling when I was standing back there. It was kinda nice to be a bit more relaxed this year.”
When he returned to Kinney Natatorium later that evening and began preparations, part of his focus in warm-ups was to do a better job on his turns than he did in the preliminaries. Ultimately, it made a difference in him dropping another .55 off his time.
“The depth perception at Bucknell is a little bit different with the bulkhead and all. I definitely knew I could improve on that,” Mitchell said, “because I had two turns (in the prelims) where I just touched with my toes.”
Admittedly a little sore from swimming two races in the 200 free when he got to the pool on Thursday morning, Mitchell dug deep once again for the 500 free preliminaries. Seeded 18th in 4:38.88, he dropped more than two seconds off his time while touching the wall in 4:36.27.
“I finished well. I had some kick left at the end and I picked it up,” Mitchell said.
That was in the second of four heats, which meant Mitchell had to wait before finding out if it was good enough to get back for the A-finals. Turns out he got the eighth and final spot, just 25 one-hundredths of a second in front of Hershey senior Zach Luttrell (4:36.52).
“It was a little nerve-wracking,” Mitchell said of the waiting period. “Once I saw in that last race that I was going to get into the A-final, (coach Daum) and I just kinda looked at each other and high-fived. That was definitely a sweet moment. It was definitely nice getting into (the A-final) and getting that second medal.”
In the finals, Mitchell got a solid start, recording a time of 24.99 seconds after 50 yards and 52.13 at the end of 100.
“That’s right about where I wanted to be,” Mitchell said. “It’s always nice when you can go out a good pace and feel good about it and still have a pretty fast time. The first 100 or so, you don’t really think about it much. Those second, third and fourth are the ones you’ve really got to watch as far as keeping your pace because the last 100 is just all guts.”
His next splits of 55.56, followed by 55.94 and then 56.84 were still within his range, and he finished a split of 57.98 over his final 100.
“I was trying to hold 55’s or 56’s for all the hundreds,” Mitchell said, “and then obviously you want the last hundred to be down near 55 and I couldn’t do that at finals. But it was still a better time than I had done at Districts, so it’s nice that even when I went up, it was still close or below my District time.”
Bruce Morgan is the sports editor for the Lititz Record Express. He welcomes your questions and comments and can be reached at email@example.com or at 721-4451.