By Eric Shultz
For The Daily Item
Many swimmers and divers from around the state will travel to Bucknell University to compete in the PIAA Class AA Swimming and Diving Championships today and Thursday for the first time.
Few, though, are arriving with the experience and resume of Mifflinburg's Adrianna Grabski.
Grabski will be competing in familiar territory, and not just because she is only about a 15-minute drive from Kinney Natatorium -- this will be her third trip to the Class AA girls state championships.
Grabski raced at the 2011 state championships as a freshman, placing second in both the 50- and 100-yard freestyle events. She struck gold in both events the following year, and her 50-yard freestyle time of 23.2 seconds nearly broke the state record, set by Bloomsburg's Stef Williams in 1998 in 23.16 seconds.
Grabski is attempting to transition smoothly into more of a mid-distance capacity this year, though. While returning to the 100-yard freestyle, she is also set to compete in the 200-yard freestyle.
The decision was a personal one; Grabski said she wanted to do it for a new challenge.
"After being blessed with winning the state title, it was time to move on to something different," she said. "The 200 has been like a work in progress, and it's nice to have that challenge."
The move was one Jerry Foley approved of, too. Foley, head coach of the men's and women's swimming programs at Susquehanna University, also coaches Grabski at Sunbury's branch of the Greater Susquehanna Valley YMCA program. Grabski receives virtually all of her training from Foley, since Mifflinburg does not have a team.
Foley said he thought the 200-yard freestyle would be the next step in Grabski developing as a swimmer.
"I think it's actually her best event," Foley said. "I think she's really going to develop in that event over the next year and into her collegiate career. I think that's the event she'll ultimately be best at."
"The way she swims, her stroke rate is really geared more toward middle-distance. You watch Adrianna swim the 50, she's not winning the race until the last 10 yards, and then she just goes by everybody," he said. "As other people slow down, she doesn't slow down; she's able to maintain her stroke rate longer than anybody else."
Grabski said that the hardest part of converting to a mid-distance swimmer is learning how to pace herself, something she still works on.
"The 50 is full-blown out; you can't hold anything back. Whereas the 200, you kind of have to figure out how to pace it," she said. "You're still going all-out, but you have to pace it right so you don't die at the end."
Despite the change in distance, Grabski still earned the third seed in her new event at the state meet. She will also attempt to defend her title in the 100-yard freestyle as a third-seed, facing strong competition in each event.
Foley said that the times that earned Grabski those seeds came before she began to taper for states, though, and expects her times to drop at the meet. While medals are nice, Grabski said her main goal is to do just that -- see her times drop and achieve personal records.
That goal might be a little bit easier to reach with a bit of home-pool advantage, so to speak.
Being a local swimmer, Grabski is used to the pool at Bucknell, having been a lifeguard there and swimming in it many times.
She will also have friends and family there to cheer for her -- not just from Mifflinburg, either. Grabski trains with other girls headed to states like Lewisburg's Caitlin Foley, daughter of Jerry, and Katie Saloky of Central Columbia, meeting them and other swimmers through YMCA practices. Grabski said it is exciting to have so many different competitors rooting for one another.
While Saloky and Grabski both swam in the 100-yard freestyle during the past two state meets, Saloky has never come within 0.6 seconds of Grabski in that event. But Saloky, now a senior, was one of Grabski's biggest competitors in the 50-yard freestyle before Grabski opted out of the event.
During the 2011 Championships, Saloky edged out Grabski by 0.14 seconds to claim gold in 23.45 seconds her sophomore year. The following season, when Grabski touched the wall first, Saloky finished in fourth place, 0.49 seconds behind.
This year, though, the two are slated to swim in completely different events and will get to watch each other race from the sidelines, rather than a few lanes over.
"We're not competing against each other, and it's going to be exciting to be able to cheer for her, and the other way around," Grabski said.
Caitlin Foley, like Grabski, also punched her ticket to her first states meet as a freshman last year and is returning as a sophomore.
Individually, Caitlin placed fifth in the 100-yard backstroke and fourth in the consolation round of the 200-yard individual medley race last year. She is competing in the same events this year, and is seeded ninth and 19th in them, respectively.
Similar to Grabski, Foley expects Caitlin to see lowered times at the state meet after tapering in practices. He said Caitlin is faster than she was at this point last season, which is the right thing to focus on.
"The only thing she can control is her swim; she can't worry about the swimmers in the lane next to her," Foley said. "But she likes to race faster kids -- it motivates her."
Besides being fans of each other and competing so close to home, Grabski, Saloky, Foley and other swimmers who are returning to states have another added advantage, the coach said.
Foley said coming into the meet already having experienced the atmosphere of states does a lot to take the pressure away from swimmers.
"It definitely helps calm the nerves. The more seasoned a swimmer gets, the more they can relax and just swim within themselves," he said. "The first couple of times you go to a big meet, you get a little too hyped up and you may or may not swim to your potential because of that. It's definitely a skill that you learn, how to stay more relaxed in big-meet environments like states."