By KELLEN STEPLER
On March 12, four of the girls on the Shippensburg Greyhounds girls swimming team were waiting at Bucknell University to compete at the PIAA Class 2A state swimming championships.
The girls had qualified for 10 events at states: as a team, they qualified for the 200-yard medley relay and 200 freestyle relay, Madison Osanitsch qualified for the 200 and 500 free, Makenna Morris qualified in the 100 free and 200 IM, Jillian Strine qualified in the 50 free and 100 backstroke and Julia Strine qualified for the 100 free and 100 backstroke.
While they waited to compete, Ship coach Chandler Johnson walked over to the team and broke the news: The PIAA had suspended the 2A swimming championships.
“At first, I thought he was joking,” Osanitsch said. “I was in shock. As swimmers, championship meets are what we work for.”
Now, the Mid Penn Colonial champions and District 3 runners-up will never get to compete at states this year.
On Friday, Gov. Tom Wolf closed schools for the rest of the academic year due to COVID-19, and in turn, the PIAA canceled the remaining winter sports championships (2A swimming and all basketball), along with the spring season.
It’s something that the coaching staff, and the girls, saw coming.
“Unfortunately, this was something our coaching staff saw as inevitable,” Johnson said. “While the idea of a postponement was ideal at the time, as events have unfolded it became increasingly clear that the championships would not happen.”
“Sitting at Bucknell, my phone kept going off with alerts that professional sports seasons were canceled,” Julia Strine said. “I tried to stay optimistic, but kind of figured we were going to get canceled, too.”
Of the girls, Morris and Osanitsch are seniors, Julia is a junior and Jillian is a freshman. Osanitsch is committed to swim at Bloomsburg University next fall, but this was the end of Morris’ swimming career.
“This would have been our best year,” Morris said. “We were hoping it would just be postponed. I didn’t know districts would have been my last meet.”
“For myself, I do have next year,” Julia Strine said. “But team chemistry is once a year. It takes away relay opportunities.”
“I feel awful for our girls, and all of the athletes,” Johnson said. “This is an unfortunate way to end a season, and high school careers. Maddie and Makenna have a lot to be proud of, and extremely bright futures in college, but not having a final state championship is devastating to them.”
Both of the relays – the 200 freestyle and the 200 medley – were seeded in the top 8 at states.
“We’ve thought of this relay (for a while now),” Jillian Strine said. “It’s sad we’ll never perform it at states. It’s all just disappointing.”
Julia Strine noted all the work the girls put in to qualify for the event.
“Swimming isn’t a sport you pick up in four years and qualify for states,” she said. “Some of us have been swimming since we were five and six years old. You work on it all the time.”
Despite not being able to compete at states this year, the team still remains optimistic.
“Makenna, Julia and I have qualified for states every year, so I try to look on the bright side,” Osanitsch said. “Jillian hasn’t, but she’s a freshman and she will next year. There’s a certain energy to states that you only experience once a year. It’s disheartening, but I’m still really happy with the season.”
While they are disappointed, they understand why the event was canceled.
“I agree (with the decision) now; I see how bad it’s been getting,” Julia Strine said. “The decision was right overall, but it’s just disappointing.”
Johnson said, “My assistant coach, Deb Hoffman, and I have set out to use this as a teaching moment for our athletes, hoping that they’ll appreciate the opportunities that are ahead.”