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Wilmington Area's Barber, Malvern Villa Maria Academy 200 medley relay team set PIAA records

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LEWISBURG, Pennsylvania — Lauren Barber of Wilmington Area High School had to beat a state champion on her way to setting a state swimming record.

Brent Benedict of Corry only had to beat himself.

Barber and Benedict took center stage at the first day of the four-day Pennsylvania Interscholastic Association Swimming and Diving Championships at Bucknell University's Kinney Natatorium.

Barber, a state champion last year in the 100 breaststroke and a runner-up in the 200 freestyle, decided to forego the latter event this year to swim the 200 individual medley.

That meant going head-to-head with the event's 2014 AA girls' champion, Allie Szekely of Gwynedd Mercy Academy.

It promised to be the most dramatic race of Wednesday's girls' finals, but Barber excised the drama from the event when she claimed the title in a blistering 1:57.76, nearly two seconds ahead of Szekely's 1:59.46.

That not only gave Barber her second PIAA swimming gold medal, it crushed Szekely's existing state record of 1:59.51. Szekely's finals time also beat her 2014 state record time.

"I've been excited for this race all year," said Barber, a senior at Wilmington, just a few miles from the Ohio border in western Pennsylvania. "I was thinking about it a lot."

Despite her outstanding time, Barber did not win wire-to-wire. She trailed Szekely, who started the race with her strong backstroke, slightly at the mid-point of the race.

"But my best two strokes of the medley are the last two, and I felt I could catch up to her," Barber said. She said when she got to the freestyle portion of the medley, "I saw that I'd pulled ahead of her."

Barber's victory was one of two Class AA girls' records set Wednesday night. The other came in the 200 medley relay where Villa Maria Academy of Malvern lowered the state record its established last year by .29 of a second.

Emily Cornell, Katelyn Chick, Olivia Giampietro and Julie Dobson posted a 1:45.52, beating Villa's 2104 mark of 1:45.81. Giampietro, Cornell and Dobson teamed up later with Maura McManus to claim the 200 freestyle relay in 1:37.20.

Benedict, last year's 100 butterfly champion, was a prohibitive favorite to repeat as champion. The Virginia Tech recruit removed any doubt in the morning preliminaries by breezing to a time of 48.41. That topped the 2009 record of 48.56 set in 2009 by York Suburban's Kevin Marsteller.

His record lasted for only about nine hours. In the night finals, he finished at 48.01, chopping four-tenths of a second off his morning time.

Then, after a short rest, he wowed the Kinney Natatorium crowd one more time when he started Corry's 200 freestyle relay with an outstanding 50-yard split of 20.69 seconds. That was just .08 of a second shy of the existing record of 20.57 in the 50 freestyle set in 2011 by Holy Ghost Prep's Daniel Gosek.

The top race of the boys' meet came in the 200 freestyle where Mahlon Reihman of Salisbury Township barely touched ahead of defending champion Jarod Kehl of West Allegheny. Reihman finished in 1:40.92, just .01 ahead of Kehl at 1:40.93.

Other Class AA girls' champions were Carson Gross of York Suburban in the 200 freestyle (1:51.71), Taylor Petrak of Ellwood City in the 50 freestyle (23.62), Alexa Fabbri of Villa Joseph Marie in the 100 butterfly (55.04), and Taylor Hockenberry of Mars in 1-meter diving (426.75 points).

Winning boys' titles were Matthew Kwalick of Quaker Valley in the 200 individual medley (1:54.58), Francis Folz of Mars in the 50 freestyle (21.41), and the relay teams of Grove City in the 200 medley relay (1:36.77) and Bloomsburg in the 200 freestyle relay (1:27.40).

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