La Salle proving its big-meet prowess

Posted: February 23, 2013

Frank Lichtner says his La Salle swimming team has fared very well on the sport's biggest stages.

His coaching colleagues in the Philadelphia Catholic League would nod in approval.

They know. They know. For 25 years, La Salle has pounded that fact into their heads.

The Explorers have dominated the last quarter-century of Catholic League championship meets, winning every one since 1989. They also won the Class AAA state meet last year, in their fourth season in the PIAA. They'll defend that title March 15-16 at Bucknell.

"Every year from the beginning of the year, you're looking forward to states, but about three weeks ago, everyone starts getting excited because it starts in PCLs," said Joe Maginnis, a senior who will attend Duke on a partial swim scholarship.

"It's sort of like a big get-together. Everyone supports us. Winning for 25 years is definitely something to celebrate."

The 25th was a runaway. La Salle won nine of the 11 events last Saturday at La Salle University and finished with 1,014 points, more than double the second-place total.

Such a long streak isn't unprecedented in area swimming. Germantown Academy coach Dick Shoulberg says that his girls' team has won 31 consecutive Inter-Ac League championships, sharing it in 2009, and that his boys' squad won 27 straight starting in 1975.

Two longtime Catholic League coaches - Frank Morris, who has guided Archbishop Ryan for 34 years, and Charlie Stillwell (Archbishop Wood, 15 years) - credit Lichtner for much of La Salle's success. Lichtner, who swam at Council Rock and the University of Florida, took over the Explorers program in 1990 and has added 23 titles to the run.

Morris said "La Salle has always been, since I've been associated with the league, coached by extremely talented and dedicated individuals." Stillwell said Lichtner "came from a high-end program, so he knows how to coach high-end swimmers, get the most out of them.

"And I think the program itself," Stillwell added, "because it's successful, just attracts a better-quality swimmer."

Lichtner considers this one of his best and deepest teams. It is led by seniors Maginnis, Sean Regan, Evan Holder, Brendan Koch, and Greg Rogers, and junior Mike McBryan.

The program has 28 boys, including 12 seniors, and only a varsity team. The school's facilities help limit the roster number.

The Explorers practice in a small pool - four lanes, 25 yards - at the school. Lichtner says the team works out on average six days a week, three hours a day.

A banner on the back wall of the pool heralds the Catholic success. It lists six champions from 1967 to '72, and titles in '74, '79, '80, and '83 before the current run.

"It's a really important thing for our team," Holder said of the streak, "not only for the present team but for all the alumni who have won in the past 25 years."

The Explorers are in an almost four-week break between the league and District 12 meets, held the same day, and the state championships. At Bucknell, Lichtner expects his Explorers, Upper Dublin, Hershey, and Upper St. Clair to be in the mix for the AAA crown.

"I tell the team this: I don't ask, I demand that they perform in the big meets, because why are we doing this? We're doing this to do our best, to see how fast we are," Lichtner said.

"When we go to big meets and we perform at our best, we are very, very, very tough. And if we can go to the meet at Bucknell and perform like we have in the previous four years, we're going to be right there."


Contact Lou Rabito at 215-854-2916 or rabitol@phillynews.com.

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