Swimming

Strath Haven's Sydney Bergstrom competes in the 200 freestyle at the Central League Championships earlier in the season.

On paper, it wasn’t the usual states meet for Strath Haven’s Sydney Bergstrom.

For one, she’d only be swimming one event, after finaling in both the 200 and 500 freestyle as a freshman and sophomore. It’s been a long time since she last approached a meet of such magnitude with just a solitary swim to prepare for.

But the junior took that in stride at the PIAA Class 3A Championships at Cumberland Valley High School Saturday. Any lingering disappointment wouldn’t just be useless; it could get in the way of something Bergstrom felt deep down: That she could win a state title in her signature event.

So Bergstrom took the altered meet-day plan and put it to use. And when she and training partner/Haverford High sophomore Katya Eruslanova turned for the final 100 of the 500, the pair clear of the field, it was clear how well it paid off.

Bergstrom finished the deal with a winning time of 4:55.91 to earn the gold medal. It’s the first in Strath Haven girls’ program history and the first for a Panthers boy or girl since 2002 (TJ Southmayd).

“I felt like toward the end, I was by myself and I just tried to get to the wall as fast as I could,” Bergstrom said by phone. “On the turns, I saw all of them and I could see Katya on the turns getting a little closer than the other people. But I just tried to swim as fast as I could and stay ahead of them as much as possible.”

Bergstrom finished exactly two seconds ahead of Eruslanova, who took silver in 4:57.91. Both North Allegheny’s Molly Smyers and Wilson’s Shelby Kahn closed fast to get within a second of Eruslanova, but for much of the race, it was clear that the two training partners were in control.

“At the 350 point, we both started going really fast, pulling ahead of those two,” Eruslanova said. “I knew in my head I could stay ahead of them.”

It’s the third straight time Bergstrom has medaled in the event, finishing fifth as a freshman and third last year. At states last year, where finals the second day was canceled due to COVID-19, Bergstrom thought she had a chance to win it after the third-fastest time in prelims. She was the only underclassmen among the top four then, making this certainly her year.

She got to share it not just with Eruslanova, but with her lap-counter through all three states trips, teammate Mia Yancey, who finished 13th in the 200 free.

“She was so happy and waving her arms and stuff,” Bergstrom said. “She was so happy for me.”

Eruslanova may have been surprised with silver in the 500, but then her main quarry was the 200 individual medley. Like Bergstrom, she entered feeling she could win it. Like Bergstrom, she went out and did.

And it was a suitably dominant win. Eruslanova went 2:01.81, exactly a second quicker than she was at districts and 1.03 seconds quicker than Smyers, the top seed. Eruslanova finished with a flourish, a final 50 split of 28.70 that was the fastest in the field and a stirring exclamation point.

“It was definitely one of my goals and I knew it was pretty realistic because I was the second seed,” she said. “And I haven’t really dropped (time) this year, so I thought I could drop in that swim. I was nervous the whole week, just like last year at districts, but before the race, the nerves just went away when I heard the music and it was getting fun at that point.”

Eruslanova’s gold was the first for any Delco swimmer since 2016 (Maddie Hart of Haverford). Eruslanova is 4-for-4 in career medals after finishing fourth in the IM and seventh in the 500 last year.

Those were just the tip of the medal haul for Delco swimmers.

Garnet Valley senior Catherine Weaverling produced the best states meet of her career. The Navy signee trimmed time off her 100 butterfly to take home third place in 55.51 seconds. She’d been fourth as a sophomore and eighth as a junior.

She likewise added a career-best sixth-place finish in the 100 back, trimming nearly a second to a time of 56.01. Her previous best placement in the event was ninth as a junior.

Casey Cullen continued to rake in the medals. The Radnor junior finished fourth in the 200 free, going a tenth slower than districts in 1:50.67. After finishing third each of the last two years in the 100 fly, Cullen settled for fifth this year, albeit dropping time to 55.87.

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