At Bishop McDevitt High School, the swimming tradition is running as deep as the pool in which their student-athletes have competed at a high level for the past several years. Names like Josiah Lauver and Patrick Hemingway are among those who have helped forge the Crusaders in quests to win PIAA hardware and their now sixth consecutive District 3 Class AA championships.
And now, there are additional names in the record books, as Bishop McDevitt’s boys’ 200 free relay team of John Haskins, Rocco Solimeo, Lucas Hancock and Isaac Hancock dismantled the previous state record by nearly half a second, establishing a new top time of 1:24.30 during the PIAA Swimming Championships at Bucknell University on March 15.
The 400 free relay team, consisting of Haskins, Solimeo, Lucas Hancock and Robert Dempsey, also captured gold at states, and their performances – along with solid swims in the 200 medley relay, the 50 individual free and the 100 butterfly – solidified an overall team silver for the Crusaders in Boy’s 2AA competition.
Competing for, and winning, state titles isn’t foreign to the Crusaders; Haskins and the Hancock brothers were critical to the overall PIAA team title in 2021. This year, however, they were surprised at setting a new state record in the 200.
“The team goal was definitely to win the 200 free. We had that on our minds last year when we placed third, and we knew coming in that we had improved a lot. So yes, we had it on our mind to win,” senior Lucas Hancock said.
But they had no idea about the time they had posted until several minutes later.
“We didn’t know we set a new state record until ten minutes after the race. We didn’t even know what the state record was, and that was probably for the best because we didn’t feel as pressured going in,” said Isaac Hancock.
In fact, Isaac was congratulating his older brother on swimming a blistering 19.75 to anchor the relay – the fastest time of any swimmer at the meet in both AA and AAA competition.
“When we were going up to get our medals, (assistant) coach (Jacob) Whipple came up to us and told us we broke the record. We thought he was joking, until he showed us the papers and we realized we had actually done it,” Isaac said. “It was really surprising. Beating it by almost half a second is a significant margin.”
Head Coach Kurt Sprowls offered some context: “In the history of the 200 free record for AA and AAA, when it’s broken, it’s usually by a tenth, if that,” he said.
Pleasant surprises for the Crusaders at states also awaited the 400 free relay team, which entered as a fifth seed.
“I think we knew we’d be competitive in it, but I don’t think we knew we’d get gold in that, too,” said Rocco Solimeo, a senior.
Coach Sprowls saw it differently.
“I was not surprised that they won the 400. They were surprised, but I had a deep suspicion that they had a really good chance,” he said.
Swimmers like Dempsey, Ian Shyk, RJ Duffy and Isaac Hancock are tasked with carrying the torch, as McDevitt graduates five swimmers this year. Solimeo will swim next year for Penn State Altoona, while Haskins and Lucas Hancock will swim for Mount St. Mary’s University.
“There have been a great number of swimmers who have come through this school, and so it’s awesome to get to have our names up on the banner in the gym, too,” Solimeo said. “It’s great, as a senior, to go out with gold medals.”
The underclassmen are ready to take the reins.
“I’d say that, including myself, Ian and RJ, I can see a few of us who have potential to keep this winning tradition going and getting more championships,” Dempsey said.
Boys’ swimming at Bishop McDevitt is the winningest team when it comes to state titles, according to the school. And yet, trophies and medals aren’t their focus. Instead, it’s dedication to 5 a.m. practices during the week, pool time on the weekends and a commitment to teamwork.
“It’s really about the individual. I don’t talk about championships,” Sprowls said. “When we have our team meetings before practice, we talk about the quality of the set, the specific mechanics that we’re focusing on in the water, the energy systems that we’re trying to push that day. It’s a step by step, day by day process. They have to show up on Monday and then again on Tuesday, and it’s just a pattern. It’s never about what we’re going to try to achieve in March; it’s individually about what John can do that day on that set, and if John’s not feeling well, how Lucas or Rocco or any of his teammates can support him and each other to make sure that each practice is a quality practice.”
For Sprowls, who has been coaching at Bishop McDevitt since 2012, it’s a strategy that works.
A dose of fun doesn’t hurt, either.
“We’re always laughing and joking with each other,” Dempsey said. “Up until the point that John jumped into the water for the relays, we were just relaxed and laughing.”
A good-natured attitude is also part of the Crusaders’ tradition of pushing Coach Sprowls into the pool after winning championships.
“We tell him to bring extra clothes, even though he knows it’s coming,” John said. “Falling in last time was the most athletic thing I’ve ever seen him do, but I really wanted to see him do a racing dive this final time.”
(Photo by Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness.)
By Jen Reed, The Catholic Witness