JACKSON TWP — At the beginning of the 2018-19 swim season, Seneca Valley coach Brian Blackwell set the standards high for his team with one goal in mind.
The goal was to have 100 WPIAL qualifying cuts by the end of the regular season Feb. 14. With three meets left before the WPIAL Championships, his team is just 20 short of that goal.
“We're pretty close, right now I think we're at 79 or 80,” Blackwell said. “We have three meets left and we'll have a couple of other kids that will be tapering down and going for those cuts. I like our chances, but it is a lofty goal.”
Blackwell has been with the team for eight seasons and said this is the most cuts he has seen during his time with the Raider swimmers.
The girls team currently sits with a record of 9-1.
Sophomore Kendall Craig has been lighting up the pool as she was able to secure her eighth and final WPIAL individual qualifying cut in the 200-yard freestyle against Pine-Richland three weeks ago.
“We have high hopes for her in WPIAL and state competition,” Blackwell said. “I think last year as a freshman going into WPIALs, even though she has swam in that pool before, that meet has a whole different atmosphere. I think that was new to her and now having that experience, I think she'll do better than she did last year.”
Craig said she believes the reason for the Raiders' success this season is due to the depth they have.
“Instead of having just one person good at one event, we have multiple people good at the same event, so that gives us a greater chance of winning in the end,” Craig said. “It's also going to help our chances at WPIALs.”
Despite her recent success, the sophomore said she only started swimming in seventh grade. She was a dancer for five years, but since swimming was a big part of her family, she decided to give it a try.
Making this year's Raider team even more special is that Craig is not the only swimmer with eight individual qualifying cuts.
Junior Owen Blazer has also been able to rack up the cuts, helping guide the boys team to an 8-2 record.
“(Blazer) is really the type of kid you want to coach,” Blackwell said. “He has all the tangibles and the drive that it takes to reach the higher ends of swimming. His commitment to his teammates and the sport is unwavering.”
Unlike Craig, Blazer has been swimming for a very long time, since his kindergarten days. He said the success of this year's team has come from the younger swimmers.
“We're really young this year, so I think we have a lot of potential,” Blazer said. “We have a few freshmen boys and I think we're going to have some good relays, especially freestyle, so I'm pretty excited about that.”
Blazer has been under Blackwell's instruction since he was 9-years old, which has allowed them to develop a solid relationship.
“(Blackwell) really knows my stroke,” Blazer said. “He is a really technical person, he loves the details and I think that has really helped me become a much better swimmer.”
Craig and Blazer both had high praise for their head coach and assistant coaches, and believe they are the reason behind their success in the pool.
“My strokes are completely developed from them,” Craig said. “I mean, I have no prior swimming lessons; I think they're the reason I'm where I am today.”
“Definitely coach Blackwell,” Blazer said. “Just his technicality and the fact that he cares so much about each and every swimmer and just making sure that they care is what's really important and it just reflects on the whole team.”
Blackwell mentioned how Craig and Blazer both play different roles, due to their personalities and the structure of each team.
“Just because of the nature of the teams, having a much larger girls team than boys, I think that Kendall is able to excel, but not stand out too much from her teammates, but she's always very involved with what they're doing,” Blackwell said.
“Owen tends to be more of a quiet leader, kind of by his performance, but he also won't hesitate to speak his mind if he feels the need to do so.”
With WPIALs at the end of February, Craig and Blazer show no signs of slowing down, despite already qualifying for all their individual events.
“This is the hard point of the season, we gotta keep working hard,” Craig said.