RADNOR - Whenever Conestoga High School swims a dual meet against Radnor, it's destined to be a special event.
Conestoga's boys' and girls' teams are always favorites to win the Central League and Radnor's teams are frequently the Pioneers' top challengers. And, the schools are heated neighborhood Main Line rivals with campuses that are just a few miles apart.
Radnor hosted Conestoga on Monday afternoon in a Central League co-ed meet and the audience that packed the stands in Radnor's Henry Hiemenz Natatorium was expecting another exciting meet in the latest edition of the long-running rivalry.
The teams did not disappoint the fans -- especially the boys' teams.
Heading into the final event -- the 400-yard freestyle relay -- Radnor's boys held a slim 86-85 lead. That meant it was winner-take-all in the 400 free relay. The win belonged to whichever team touched first -- second and third place didn't matter.
Conestoga made sure that it was the team that touched first. Michael Ashmead, Raju Kolluru, Chris Wang and Alex Schon combined for a winning time of 3:15.14 while Radnor finished second at 3:22.62. With the victory, the Pioneers were able to return home with a thrilling 95-90 league win.
The girls' meet featured a lot of close swims and a lot of good times but not nearly the same excitement. The Pioneers, who are closing in on their 14th consecutive Central League crown, swam exhibition in the last two events and still won with ease 103.5-77.5.
Conestoga's boys were led by a pair of individual double-winners -- Michael Ashmead, who was first in the 50 free with a time of 22.03 and first in the 100 free at 47.56, and Alex Schon, who started with a win in the 200 IM at 1:55.76 and came back later to win the 100 butterfly with a time of 51.18.
"Both were good races,' said Schon. "My IM was my all-time best. This meet is important for both teams and we've been getting ready for it. When the time came for the IM, I got up and raced my hardest. I felt really good in all the strokes.'
Ashmead said, "The 100 free surprised me. It was my best. My all-time best was 47.7 -- and that was rested and tapered. I was working my turns -- making sure I got far off my walls. In the 50, I didn't even realize how close the race was. I just put my head down and tried to get to the wall first.'
Other top swimmers for the Pioneer boys were Raju Kolluru, who was first in the 100 backstroke at 54.35 and second in the 100 butterfly at 52.33; Brian McKenrick, who was first in the 200 free at 1:46.56 and second in the 500 free; Lucus Fanucci, who was first in the 500 free and third in the 200 free; and Tim Caulfield, who was second in both the 100 free and the 200 free.
"My time in 100 back was an all-time best and that's without a shave or taper. I didn't think I was going that fast. I'm amazed at where I am right now. The last 25 -- I had nothing left. Now, I know what I need to work on. My back 50 needs to be faster.'
McKenrick said, "The 1:46 in the 200 free was my best high school time. I dropped two seconds. I think the difference was that I brought it back harder in the last 50. In the 500 free, I took it a little easy near the end because I had to get right back and swim the next event -- the 200 free relay.'
Conestoga's girls were paced by a veteran trio of individual double-winners -- Nikki Bookwalter, Amber Zimmerman and Grace Wydeven.
Bookwalter took first in the 200 IM at 2:14.99 and first in the 100 backstroke at 1:00.47. Wydeven swept the free style sprints with wins in the 50 free at 25.50 and the 100 free at 55.93. Zimmerman touched first in the 200 free at 1:57.62 and came back later to win the 500 free with a time of 5:13.36.
"The IM was a better race -- a season's best time,' sasid Bookwalter, who will swim for Boston University nest year. "I've never gone this fast during the season. I've been doing a lot of work on fly and that's helped. And, my backstroke was really good.
"The 100 back was O.K. I'm glad I won but I wanted to take it a little faster. I also swam a 28.4 back split in the medley relay and that's my best split of the season.'
Wydeven, another Pioneer senior, said, "My 50 free was good. It was close to my season best. Same with the 100 free -- it was a good race and close to my best this year. I'm happy with both races. I'm not tapered or shaved so these times are really good. I was really happy with the 50. In the 100, I was just looking to get the win for the team.'
Conestoga 103.5 Radnor 77.5 (GIRLS)
200-yard medley relay -- Conestoga (Bookwalter, Zimmerman, Ab. Mack, McClintick 1:51.52; 200 freestyle -- Zimmerman (C) 1:57.62; 200 IM -- Bookwalter (C) 2:14.99; 50 freestyle -- Wydeven (C) 25.50; diving -- Cohen (R) 170.80; 100 butterfly -- Ab. Mack (C) 59.48; 100 freestyle -- Wydeven (C) 55.93; 500 freestyle -- Zimmerman (C) 5:13.36; 200 freestyle relay -- Conestoga time not available; 100 backstroke -- Bookwalter (C) 1:00.47; 100 breaststroke -- Cai (R) 1:10.21; 400 freestyle relay -- Conestoga (Benjamin, Ashmead, Zimmermasn, Wydeven) 3:47.67.Conestoga 95 Radnor 90 (BOYS)
200-yard medley relay -- Radnor (Freedman, Gartland, Avart, McKeon) 1:37.47; 200 freestyle -- McKenrick (C) 1:46.56; 200 IM -- Schon (C) 1:55.76; 50 freestyle -- Ashmead (C) 22.03; diving -- Martin (R) 170.55; 100 butterfly -- Schon (C) 51.18; 100 freestyle -- Ashmead (C) 47.46; 500 freestyle -- Fanucci (C) time not available; 200 freestyle relay -- Radnor (McKeon, Gianella, Doyle, Caulfield) 1:30.58; 100 backstroke -- Kolluru (C) 54.35; 100 breaststroke -- Gartland (R) 1:00.41; 400 freestyle relay -- Conestoga (Ashmead, Kolluru, Wang, Schon) 3:15.14.