SWIMMING: West York girls hope to make some history

  • Courtney Harnish will return to the West York girls' swim team after a two-year hiatus.
  • Harnish is considered one of the top swimming recruits in the nation. She's committed to Georgia.
  • The Bulldogs are coming off a York-Adams Division II co-championship with York Suburban.

There really isn’t much of a track record for the West York High School swimming program.

To be honest, a lot of the students in the West York School District — which does not have a school-owned pool — may not even know that a high school swim team exists.

That, however, can be excused somewhat since the school has been running its program out of the York YMCA's Graham Aquatic Center since joining the York-Adams League in 1996.

West York senior Courtney Harnish has given a verbal commitment to swim for the University of Georgia. She is returning to the Bulldogs' swim team this season after a two-year hiatus.

While there have been a handful of impressive individual efforts over the years, team success has been difficult for the Bulldog program to attain and sustain.

That has started to change.

After the West York girls won the school's first-ever Division II title, which they shared with York Suburban last season, the Bulldogs and coach Nicole Flowers are looking to make an even bigger statement this season.

“Absolutely,” Flowers said when asked if this was the best girls’ team in West York history.

Flowers has every right to be excited about her team’s chances. After a 47-47 draw in a dual meet against the Trojans last year earned the Bulldogs a share of the division crown, Flowers and company have their sights set on ruling the entire league.

That includes perennial Division I favorite Dallastown.

The Wildcats clipped the Bulldogs by a mere nine points in their dual meet a season ago. That’s a bittersweet memory that both Flowers and her team have in the back of their minds.

Flowers also pointed out a close loss against Central York, which came on a night in which she, somewhat regrettably, allowed her swimmers to choose their own events to compete in.

If things go the way many fans and coaches expect, the Bulldogs may very well complete the team schedule unblemished this year.

So why are the Bulldogs so pumped up for what could be another history-making season?

Nicole Flowers

Talent — and lots of it.

Last year’s group returns almost completely, save for the graduation of standout Taylor Hoover. Hoover helped to set the West York school record in both the 200 medley and 400 freestyle relay events back in March.

Return of Harnish: While Hoover will be missed, the Bulldogs more than made up for her loss with the addition of the most outstanding swimmer in school history. Courtney Harnish, who is widely regarded as one of the nation’s top recruits, will re-join her high school team after swimming exclusively with the prestigious York YMCA club team the past two years.

As a freshman, Harnish obliterated many of the program’s records. The University of Georgia recruit owns seven school records and a pair of PIAA records and gold medals in the 200 free and 500 free.

Could being away from the high school team for those two years be an issue for Harnish and Flowers?

Not really. In fact Harnish was voted one of the team’s captains for the upcoming season.

“It’s working very well,” Flowers said. “She’s friends with a lot of the swimmers in the school. And even though she’s way faster than any of the other swimmers in the program, she’s not cocky. She’s amazing.”

The impressive part of Harnish as a swimmer is her versatility. While she earned her PIAA records in the freestyle events, she’s more than capable of winning in the butterfly, the backstroke and the breaststroke.

“I know that she’s going to be a big help with our relays,” Flowers said. “But she’s going to be a huge asset, just all-around. I joked around with her that I was going to use her in some breaststroke and she was like ‘Oh, no! That’s my worst stroke!’ And that got me thinking that her worst stroke is probably … well it probably doesn’t look that bad.”

Thomas set to make high school debut: While Harnish is a big addition, the Bulldogs will welcome another highly touted individual in freshman Tesia Thomas to the squad.

The daughter of former Penn State football player Tisen Thomas, Tesia has already impressed with her abilities on the volleyball court. While Thomas showed flashes of dominance in leading the Bulldogs to a berth in the PIAA Class 3-A volleyball semifinals, the sport in which she really excels is swimming.

Tesia Thomas excelled on the volleyball court for West York last fall as a freshman. She's hoping to have an even bigger impact this season as a sophomore.

“She’s come in at a perfect time because we lost Taylor Hoover to graduation,” Flowers said. “Tesia is going to be kind of filling her spot as a breaststroker. And her speed on sprinting is just phenomenal.”

Sarver a standout diver: While the importance of diving is becoming less and less of a factor in swim meets these days, the Bulldogs look forward to road meets at schools with diving boards. That’s because they have the two-time defending District 3-AA champion in Erica Sarver back for her senior season.

Sarver, who already owns the West York school records in diving (six and 13 attempts), is nearly automatic for first-place points when diving is included in the team score.

Unfortunately for Sarver and Flowers, the Graham Aquatic Center does not have a diving board. So only away meets against Dover and Northeastern will allow Sarver the chance to contribute to the team score.

West York's Erica Sarver won the girls' title at the South Western Diving Invitational on Saturday.

Flowers also pointed out returners Claudia Keller, Maddi Stoner and Meghan French as key factors who will help determine if West York can produce a "dream season." She also mentioned that Maya Sarver, Erica’s sister, is looking like she could be following in her big sister’s footsteps.

Look around the rest of the league: While the Bulldogs are the odds-on favorites in Division II in girls’ action, don’t expect the Suburban girls to just roll over. The Trojans have won or shared four of the last eight division titles, including the past two.

Suburban will have to find a way to fill the holes left by the graduation of Carson Gross. The 2015 PIAA champ in the 200 free, Gross is now swimming for Duquesne at the NCAA Division I level.

Coach Craig Brennan, however, feels like his team has the ability to fill in some of those holes.

“We have a young team,” Brennan said. “We graduated a lot of very good and talented leadership. But we have a lot of tradition and depth and our team is always working hard to get better every day.”

The Northeastern girls will make the jump up to Class AAA this season. Coach Dan Schaeberle’s squad is young, but he pointed to returners such as Lauren Mummert, Katie Mummert, Caitlyn Rau and Ona Sutton as ones to watch this season.

Dallastown appears to be the team to beat again in Division I. The Wildcats have won the past 12 Division I titles and are gunning for No. 13. Coach Rich Howley’s squad features a number of key returners, including Lindsey O’Rourke, Jenna Woods, Emma Balderson, Bella Wise, Sydney Hoover, Gillian Lowe, Abby McDermott and Kelsey Jacobson.

Central York will try to take down the Wildcats in Division I. Coach James Gingerich feels like Dallastown is again the class of the division, but he knows that anything can happen.

West York's Courtney Harnish to swim for Georgia

“Both of our teams (boys and girls) will be young this year,” he said. “The girls' team will have over 24 swimmers with 10 freshmen on board.”

Dallastown also figures to be a force in Division I on the boys’ side. The Wildcats will look to a trio of outstanding returners in Jacob Stoner, Logan Brockway and Grant Wertz. Stoner, a senior, has been a stalwart in the 50 free, the 100 butterfly and the relays. Brockway, a junior, specializes in the individual medley, while Wertz, also a junior, is a terrific performer in the 100 breaststroke.

South Western, Central York and Red Lion figure to do their best to stop the Wildcats.The Panthers are led by junior Alec Peckmann, one of the league’s best in the 100 and 200 free events. Alex Sun, a sophomore at Red Lion, is a standout in the 200 IM, while Alex Yokem hopes to help the Mustangs move up in the division standings in his senior season.

Central York's Alec Peckman is one of the best freestyle swimmers in the York-Adams League.

In Division II there will be a number of interesting returners on the boys’ side. One is Northeastern junior Drew Wilson. The son of Northeastern boys’ volleyball coach Matt Wilson, Drew claimed gold in the 200 free at the league meet a season ago. Aidan Fryar, a junior, hopes to continue to be a force in the sprints and relays for York Suburban. Jared Herr, another junior, has been excellent in the distance events for Gettysburg, while Susquehannock senior Justin Reed is standout in the 100 fly.

Reach Ryan Vandersloot at sports@yorkdispatch.com.