In the world of sports, the thing that often separates great athletes from good athletes is their ability to perform at their best when it matters the most.
DuBois’ Gabi Wayne was the epitome of that belief Wednesday at the PIAA Class AAA Swimming and Diving Championships, as the Lady Beaver junior put together the best swim of her career in the 200 freestyle in the most important race of her career in that event to this point.
That performance in the morning’s 200 free preliminaries landed Wayne in Wednesday night’s consolation finals, where she finished in 12th place to earn an honorable mention all-state certificate at Bucknell University. Wayne, now a three-time state qualifier, is believed to be the first female swimmer in DuBois history to ever earn honors in the pool at the state meet.
Former Lady Beaver standout Kristin Day placed 10th in the Class AAA 1-meter diving as a senior in 2011. Last year, senior Auckie Fenstermacher placed 11th in the 200 freestyle to become the first DuBois swimmer, male or female, to earn honors in the pool since Matt Bojalad finished 11th in the Class AAA 50 freestyle in back-to-back years as a junior and senior in 2007 and 2008.
Medals are awarded to the finalists (spots 1-8), while certificates are given to athletes who finish in spots 9-16 in the consy finals.
The DuBois athletes could see their chances of landing on the podium next year increase as they will be dropping to Class AA as part of the new two-year PIAA cycle.
Wayne, who broke her own record in the 200 free (1:55.02) in winning the District 9/10 meet, bested that time by 1.31 seconds Wednesday as she touched the wall first in her preliminary heat in 1:53.71. Her first 50 split time of 25.90 was the third fastest of the 32 competitors in the event.
Wayne, who posted the 12th fastest time in the prelims to land in the consolation finals, nearly matched that new school-record time in her night race as she touched the wall in 1:53.80 to maintain her 12th-place standing. She got off to a strong start in her night race, with her opening split of 25.69 once again being the third fastest if the Top 16 swimmers.
“When I went to the blocks, I was really nervous, but I told myself, ‘You can do this.’,” said Wayne. “When I got on the block, I was thinking the same thing and just had the confidence in myself. My goal today (morning session) was to place first in my heat, and when I touched the wall I was happy when I knew I achieved that goal.
“After states my freshman year, my goal was to make it back down here and get into the finals. Last year when I didn’t achieve that goal, Coach and I really made some changes in how I approached things in and out of the pool. And, today it was great to see all of that hard work pay off. It feels really good to be able to represent the team and school like this.
“And, without my teammates, I’d never be able to accomplish this. They help push me and we’ve really had a great season.”
The most impressive thing about Wayne placing 12th might be the fact this was her first year truly focusing in the 200 freestyle, along with the 100 free, a point not lost to head coach Mike Gressler. Wayne had spent most of her career competing individually in the 50 and 100 free events.
“Gabi had swam the 50 free most of her life,” said Gressler. “However, after her freshman year, and especially with how she swam last year at districts and states and then at YMCA district and states, we felt the 200 was a better race for her to concentrate on rather than the 50.
“And, that decision certainly paid dividends today. We’re real excited and proud with what Gabi has been able to do. She’s the first girls swimmer I’ve had win something down here, and while I’m not totally sure, looking at our past records (time-wise) I’d have to say she’s probably the first girl (swimmer) to ever do so. She’s at least the first in recent memory.”
“Coming off last year, we knew she had a pretty good chance to make the night session, whether it was in the finals or consy finals. And, she had a great swim this morning to do that.
“This meet has been the key all along this year. We didn’t fully rest going into districts, and I think she was a little nervous going into that meet. But, we were confident she’d swim well there and make it down here, and with some rest after that it was a different story here today.”
Wayne’s two-day stay at Bucknell will be a busy one outside of the 200 freestyle.
She also competed in the 200 freestyle relay Wednesday, teaming up with seniors Franki Henrichs and Melia Andrulonis and junior Kiersten Pearce to post a time of 1:42.31 to place 21st in the prelims. That time was .70 seconds off their school-record mark set at the District 9/10 Championships.
Wayne also will hit the pool in two more events today — the 100 freestyle and 400 freestyle relay. Wayne finished 27th last year in the 100 free with a then school-record time of 53.54. However, she has dropped nearly a second off that mark this year, having won districts in 52.77, and has some extra momentum built with her 12th-place finish in the 200.
“This performance gives me more confidence for tomorrow (100 free today),” said Wayne. “I would really like to make it to the night races, but it’s kinda questionable because the race is just so close.”
DuBois had girls compete in three other events Wednesday as well.
Individually, Pearce finished 31st in the 200 IM prelims (2:22.53), while sophomore Julie Marchioni was 31st in the 100 butterfly prelims (1:02.38). Pearce and Marchioni also joined forces with Andrulonis and sophomore Lauren Usaitis to place 22nd in in the 200 medley relay (1:55.75).
“The girls have really seemed to approach this meet different this year,” said Gressler. “Last year was a great learning experience for them, but this year they have been so much more aggressive in their approach. I know most of them are finishing around the same places, but their approach has been so much better. It’s been a fun meet so far.”
Along with Wayne in the 100 free, Andrulonis will compete in the 500 freestyle today at Bucknell. Wayne and Andrulonis will also team up with Pearce and Marchioni in the 400 freestyle relay.