BUCKTOWN - Like a video game that is challenging right from the start and extremely difficult in the later stages, Owen J. Roberts' swim schedule has been tough for the first three-quarters of the dual meet season.
But it's bound for a brutally tough final stretch.
On Thursday afternoon, the Wildcats enjoyed their final marginally difficult meet of the season with a pair of wins over a struggling Reading High team. The Owen J. boys swam in exhibition mode - sans scoring - for the final three events and still eased to an 89-59 victory in Central Penn Interscholastic Swim League competition.
In the girls meet, the Wildcats finished with two exhibition events and came away with a convincing 104-69 win. The Owen J. girls are now 8-2 overall and 3-1 in CPISL competition, while the boys are undefeated at 9-0 overall and 4-0 in the league.
Next week, Owen J. faces Pioneer Athletic Conference and CPISL rival Boyertown on Tuesday and Governor Mifflin, always one of the top teams in the Central Penn, on Thursday. The Wildcats will conclude their regular season on February 6 with a meet at perennial state powerhouse Wilson-West Lawn.
In Thursday's home meet, Owen J. student-athletes touched first in 10 of 11 swimming events with six different individual winners: Alex Diehl (200-yard IM, 100 breaststroke), Cory Schutz (200 freestyle), Ryan Budinger (50 freestyle), Bill Gordon (100 butterfly), Mitch Scherer (500 freestyle) and Mike Volpe (100 backstroke).
"Backstroke went pretty well for me today," said Volpe, a senior. "The 400 free relay went well, too, so I'm happy about that. I just did back and the 400 free relay in this meet. It was an easy day."
Volpe teamed with Alex Maugle, Trevor Engle and Evan Deakyne on the triumphant 400 free relay, and Deakyne joined Schutz, Chester Czuj and Matt Bauer on the winning 200 free relay. The Wildcats' victorious 200 medley relay featured Gordon, Budinger, Diehl and Ian Friel.
"All my races were all right," said Diehl, a junior. "The IM was my best race. I don't usually swim it, so I felt pretty good about it. All the strokes felt as good as they expect to feel and the time was what I expected."
Scherer didn't add any relay points but did chip in with a runner-up finish in butterfly in addition to his victory in the 500 free.
"My races weren't the ones I usually do," said Scherer. "I tried to switch it up a little bit, which is good. My race in fly was good - but a little painful. That last 50 is when I lose it."
In the girls meet, the Wildcats' victory was fueled by a number of key scorers - especially individual double winners Katie Valentine (first, 100 fly; first, 50 free) and Allison Schafer (first, 200 IM; first, 100 back).
"My IM time - 2:26.89 - was a personal best," said Schafer, a freshman. "My backstroke (split) felt better than usual. It seemed like, overall, my stroke was just better. The 100 back wasn't my best but still one of my better times. I'm getting closer to qualifying for districts."
The Wildcats went 1-3 in the IM when Crysler, another talented freshman, touched third at 2:43.33. Later in the meet, Crysler clocked a 1:18.61 in the 100 breaststroke.
"Breaststroke was a pretty good race," said Crysler, "but it got hard at the end. I always take it out as hard as I can. My IM time was one of my best. My backstroke (split) felt strong today."
Valentine was the meet's only quadruple winner. She pooled her talents with Kristin Bauer, Crysler and Gregory in the 200 medley relay, and with Gadzicki, Bauer and Hale on the winning 200 free relay.
"Fly felt good," said Valentine, a state meet veteran. "I hadn't swum butterfly in awhile. I was just swimming around today, spicing it up a bit."
In the final event - the 400 free relay - the Owen J. girls logged the fastest time with the quartet of Haile, Gadzicki, Schafer and Kristin Drumheller. Gadzicki finished with a point contribution of 15 - just one shy of the maximum.
"My 200 free time was good for this part of the season," said Gadzicki, a sophomore. "I felt like the end was good. We've been doing a lot of training getting prepared for districts."
The Wildcats will find out next week just how well their preparations are going, as the answers will materialize in cold, hard numbers.