Central League Swimmers Sweep 11 Events at Pennsylvania 3A Boys Championships

Conestoga High School swimmer Jake Wang; Photo Courtesy: SW Staff

Central League Completes Sweep at PIAA 3A Boys Championships

The group of swimmers from high schools in the Central League moved about the deck at Bucknell University like they owned the place.

At the very least, they had sole dominion over the most important real estate at Kinney Natatorium: The top step of the podium for the Pennsylvania Interscholastic Athletic Association Class 3A Championships.

When all was completed in the larger of two classifications of Pennsylvania’s high school championships, the 12-school league in the Philadelphia suburbs had completed an unprecedented sweep by winning all 11 boys swimming races.

The achievement has been on the swimmers’ radars since they combined to win eight events in 2023. It was fueled by an interconnected group that calls a couple of training hubs home.

“It’s absolutely crucial that we completed the Central League sweep,” said Conestoga High senior Jake Wang, the meet’s Most Outstanding Male Swimmer. “Everybody in the Central League knows each other. … In a sense, the Central League, we’re all like a family, too. We all come from one area, so it’s super important that we all support each other even though we’re on different teams.”

The rundown:

  • Springfield won the 200 medley relay in 1:30.04, then was the runner-up in the 200 free relay, both on Wednesday, the meet’s opening day. The latter race was won by Conestoga.
  • Splitting 19.64 off the end of the medley relay was Jake Kennedy, an Alabama signee, who won the 50 free in 20.25 seconds. He split 19.54 on the 200 free relay.
  • Also on Springfield’s medley relay was Jacob Johnson, who swam 20.49 as a fly split (and 19.77 on the 200 free relay). In the 100 fly, Johnson torched the state record, set in 2020 by Matthew Jensen, with matching times of 45.70 in prelims and finals to repeat as champ. The Minnesota signee went 44.30 to win the 100 free Thursday.
  • Conestoga’s Can Yeniay won the 200 free in 1:33.66. Thursday, he made the Central League 8-for-8 in the riskiest installment of the sweep, from second seed in prelims to a dominant 4:20.60 in finals.
  • Wang routed the field in the 200 individual medley in 1:44.20, then set a Bucknell pool record by going 52.36 to win the 100 breast.
  • Yeniay, bound for Penn, and Yale commit Wang were on the Conestoga 200 free relay that went 1:22.03 and the 400 free relay that won in 3:00.12. Brock Whitaker and Liam Haas were on the 200 free relay; Whitaker and Hutch Wood the 400.
  • That just leaves the 100 backstroke, won by Shane Eckler of Ridley. The reigning champ in the 50 free didn’t get a chance to defend his title, despite having gone 20.07 in season, thanks to a false start at the District 1 Championships, the sole states qualifier. He persevered for the 100 back crown in 47.81. Third was another swimmer from the Central League, Penncrest’s Jonathan Hoole, Kennedy’s runner-up in the 50 free. Eckler, Kennedy (who finished fifth) and Hoole had been the top three seeds out of prelims.

The Central League comprises one slice of District 1, which is one of 12 districts statewide. The schools hail from Delaware, Chester and Montgomery counties, with nine of the 12 in Delaware County. In all, 56 schools scored points at the PIAA Boys Class 3A Championships, seven from the Central League. The team title went to North Penn, another District 1 school, with Conestoga second and Springfield fourth. It was not the most memorable accolade of the week, though.

For one league – not a district – to dominate that thoroughly is a historical oddity.

The Central contingent first discussed a state sweep at last year’s meet, when it won eight of 11 events. Wang won two, Eckler had two, plus one each for Johnson and Kennedy. Yeniay had been second in the 200 free and fourth in the 500. Springfield won the 200 free relay, and Conestoga the 400 free relay. The Pioneers were second in the medley relay, while Springfield had an emerging breaststroker to aim at the medley relay in 2024.

“We were talking about this since last year,” Johnson said. “We were going to get the Central League sweep at states. Even at Centrals (league championship) this year, we were like, ah whoever wins these events are probably going to at states just because the competition in that league is so high. It goes back to the really high competition level in these practice groups within these teams.”

There’s no historical precedent for such domination. In the 2022 meet, District 1 won all 11 swimming events in the Girls Class 3A championships. But it came from five schools in three leagues. (One of those leagues, Suburban One, is a 24-team mega-conference split into three divisions.) District 7, in the Pittsburgh suburbs, won nine of 11 events in the 2018 Boys Class 3A meet – the only blockade was a Conestoga swimmer, now Indiana star Brendan Burns – and District 1 won nine at the 2016 Girls 3A meet. When District 3 won nine titles at the 2014 Class 3A girls meet, it was all one school, Hershey.

The Central League group has a geographical edge, at the intersection of several clubs with national profiles. Hoole, Eckler and Kennedy train together at Ridley YMCA, where they comprised three-quarters of the national record-setting 200 free relay at Y Nationals last year. (The fourth was Ben Kutufaris, a freshman at Alabama.) Wang, Yeniay and Johnson train at Suburban Swim Club, a legendary generator of talent for decades. All but Hoole are seniors, the lone junior of the group already committed to join Kennedy at Alabama.

The inspiration they provide each other in training on a daily basis is clear.

“I’ve been swimming with all these guys since I was eight, nine, 10 years old,” Johnson said. “Just trying to soak it all in, enjoy every moment we have. I just cheer for everybody, have a positive attitude about the whole thing, best times or not. We try to keep it fun.”

“When we see everyone else go faster, it makes us do better,” said Kennedy, who won a state relay title last year with older brother Jake, . You never want to be the one who doesn’t do better. You all want to do better together, especially in relays.

Conestoga has had plenty of recent success at the state level, counting Burns and USC’s Caroline Famous among its recent graduates. But it’s been slimmer for the other two schools. Eckler’s sprint double last year were the first swimming medals for Ridley, though it won pair of diving crowns in the early 2000s. Springfield had never won a PIAA swimming title before 2023, and it has the added challenge of lacking a scholastic pool in its district.

All of the swimmers have grown tremendously in a short time. At the District 1 Championships, Wang downed a meet record from Brendan Hansen, another SSC alum who attended Central League school Haverford High, that had stood since 2000. Wang called the achievement, “the sprinkles on top of the cake” of a tremendous postseason. Eckler, a Notre Dame signee, and Johnson both won arguably their weaker events at states this year in the 100 back and 100 free, respectively, in a trend that bodes well for their college versatility.

It’s a sign of growth, on they relished together in an unforgettable way.

“We knew we could do it,” Eckler said. “I’m really happy we were able to get the job done. It’s really cool that we’re all a close group. They’re not just my competitors, they’re my friends.”

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