By John Knebels
Special to The CS&T
It was a typical practice session early in the season for Archbishop Carroll’s swim team. Cardiovascular exercise was the main focus, although some swimmers were working on sprints while others focused on technique.
And then it happened.
Somewhere along the way, a teammate inadvertently kicked Mollie Walsh’s thumb. Jammed it hard. Walsh knew that something wasn’t right, and later an X-ray confirmed that she had torn a tendon.
While that might appear innocent enough and manageable for many sports, a torn thumb tendon is a nightmare for competitive swimmers, akin to a broken ankle for a runner or an injured shoulder for a wrestler.
“I went to the gym every day and worked out aerobically,” said Walsh, a junior at Archbishop Carroll High School. “But my head and heart were still in the pool, and I wasn’t able to practice for six weeks,” she said with a sigh.
“I love swimming,” said Walsh, a graduate of Nativity B.V.M. School in Media and now a parishioner of St. Denis in Havertown. “It’s a part of my life that I really need, something I started doing when I was 8 years old and doing year-round since I was 12. Believe me, those six weeks were hard. I didn’t know what to do with myself.”
After returning to the pool, it took Walsh a while to regain the form that had produced numerous All-Catholic awards during her first two years of high school. Then came last month’s Catholic League swimming championships – which this year doubled as the PIAA District 12 title meet. Swimming with confidence and feeling no effects from her thumb injury, Walsh seemed like her old self in front of an impressive crowd at Widener University Feb. 20 and 21.
After placing second in the 100-yard backstroke and third in the 100-yard butterfly, as well as leading off a pair of second-place finishes for both the 200 medley relay and 200 free relay, Walsh helped Archbishop Carroll accrue 362 points to win both the Catholic League and District 12 Class AA girls’ title.
“It’s a very exciting time for our school,” said Walsh. “It was great to be a (AA) champion. It’s a huge deal. We never won anything that big before. It meant a lot to everyone. I think it shows how much the program has improved over the years.”
According to most Catholic League swimmers, this year’s inaugural district competition was unanimously embraced in a positive manner.
“In the past, the high school season was over and the only thing you had to look forward to was if you were on a club team,” said Walsh. “Now, there is a lot more still to come for my teammates.”
The same could be said for the entire Catholic League, which dominated the district meet. As for establishing a Catholic League champion, that was determined by eliminating non-Catholic League times from each event and then scoring accordingly.
For the 21st consecutive year, La Salle College High School emerged as the Catholic League boys’ champion. The Explorers did so in dominating style.
Their 895 team points included several team and league records. Junior Rhoads Worster and senior Ted Walker were particularly successful. Worster set a team record in the 200-yard inspanidual medley and was a member of the 200 medley relay and 400 freestyle relay teams that established league records. Walker was also a part of the 400 freestyle relay, and he set a team and league record in the 100 freestyle and a team record in the 200 freestyle.
“There was definitely an added incentive with districts,” said Walker. “This was new to all of us, and we’re excited to see how well we do in states.”
Meanwhile, Archbishop Wood, behind Grace Cochrane’s three gold medals and one silver, edged Archbishop Ryan to snare the Class AAA girls’ Catholic League and district titles, while Carroll’s girls and Lansdale Catholic’s boys did likewise in the Class AA.
Next weekend at Bucknell University, the first-place inspanidual winners in both classes will compete in the PIAA state championship because they automatically qualified. Runners-up will find out if they qualify after their times are compared to the rest of the state swimmers.
“I think the Catholic League will do great,” said Walsh. “There is so much dedication to the sport and a lot of sacrifice. If you are not willing to give 100 percent, you won’t get any better. There are a lot of Catholic League swimmers who give 100 percent.”
Always great to get a thumb’s up, especially from now-healthy Mollie Walsh.
John Knebels can be reached at email@example.com.