Senior leadership key for Derry swimming

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Tuesday, January 4, 2022 | 10:50 AM


Derry coach Jeff Kelly hits his young swimmers with a dose of reality right off the bat.

“My freshmen all know that they’re going to swim the 500 (yard freestyle),” said Kelly, in his 29th season leading the Trojans. “That’s a joke on the team, you have to do your freshman 500. Because nobody likes the 500.”

But that early endurance has led Derry to what Kelly believes can be a successful group of swimmers this season, even if there aren’t as many bodies hopping into the pool as there used to be.

“My team size has been down because our class sizes are dropping at Derry,” Kelly said. “That makes it difficult. The largest team I’ve ever had, I had 60 boys and girls together. I’m down to about 24 this year. We’re seeing a decline in our numbers, and that hurts us.

“But the kids that I have are awesome.”

Kelly is optimistic about the leadership on the team, particularly on the girls’ side with seniors Makenzie Eades and Keely Siko, who made up half of the quartet that qualified for the WPIAL Class 2A championships in the 200-yard freestyle relay last year.

“(Eades) is probably my top 50 (yard) sprinter right now. She’s a good breaststroker and probably our second-best breaststroker right now. She’s just a super kid who works hard and does everything you want in a leader,” Kelly said.

“(Siko) is the same way. They have a little different personalities. One comes across as a lot more serious, and the other comes across as the icebreaker when things are crazy. But (Siko) is a really strong backstroker and is doing a really great job for us leadership-wise, as well.”

Delany Gordon is another female swimmer who adds experience as a senior on a team that does not have a junior swimmer, according to Kelly.

Chloe Buhite, who swam the 200 IM and the 100 butterfly in the WPIAL meet last year, is the team’s top sophomore performer.

“She can swim anything, and does,” Kelly said. “She’s already qualified in the butterfly, the IM, as well as all the relays. A quality kid, but very, very quiet. Her leadership style is, ‘do what I’m doing.’ ”

Gianna Gruska, Regan Repak, Mikah Horwat and Sophia Doherty are other girls Kelly is looking forward to watching develop this season.

Some misfortune hit the boys team during the fall when one its top swimmers, Carson Chamberlain, suffered an injury that will keep him out of the pool.

“He would’ve had a promising year,” Kelly lamented.

There are, however, six athletes on the boys side, including four swimmers and two divers.

“Jake Hauser is a top quality diver who is on as a freshman,” Kelly said. “Our top swimmer is Avery Haake. Avery likes the 500 and is a strong swimmer. He’s improved his strength greatly. He got serious after last season when he realized what he can do.”

Chase Marco, Dylan Cowan and Cameron Humberger also will play major roles on the boys team.

Overall, Kelly is impressed with the maturity of his swimmers despite the variety of ages in the mix.

“I don’t have any knuckleheads,” he joked. “Usually you get somebody on the team who is just a little bit goofy.

“I really don’t have any of those. Across the board, it’s just a wonderful team.”

He hopes that translates to success in the lanes and on the diving board but knows that, ultimately, leading the team is not exclusively about times and medals.

“They have to learn, for life, the lessons we teach,” said Kelly, who is now coaching the children of some of his former athletes. “Whether it be work ethic, finding success, what you do to stay successful. Those are the things we talk about every day, life lessons.”

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