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Fire in the Water

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Maddie Hart has always considered the Central League swimming championships a fun, team exercise that allows her fellow Haverford High School amphibians one last chance at a group competition before the best of the best begin their quest for individual glory at the district and state meets.

Hart takes all of her swims seriously, but since last year’s goal for her in the 100 butterfly was PIAA gold, the Centrals were not a primary focus. That’s not the only reason she lost to Radnor freshman Julia Culle—Cullen can really swim and is on the threshold of big things. But when it came time for the District 1 title meet, Hart was definitely motivated. “It’s the first time I saw her swim on the attack from the beginning of a race,” says Haverford coach Matt Stewart. “She doesn’t usually do that.”

That is true. Hart prefers to use her strength and endurance to track down during the last lap anybody who might be ahead of her. At Districts last year, she went out fast from the start and earned the win in 54.74, just seven-hundredths of a second off the meet record. Hart added a win in the 100 backstroke (55.60) and swam a couple legs on the Fords’ medley and 200 free relay quartets. It was a typically successful day for the then-junior and a reminder that despite her placid exterior, she has a sizzling competitive core. “I love Central Leagues, because I love being with my whole team,” says Hart. “I never look at it with great intensity. It’s not a taper meet for me. I’m having fun, and it isn’t about winning. But once I get to districts and states, let’s go.”

At the PIAA championship meet at Bucknell University last year, Hart got going. She won the 100 butterfly in 54.14, grabbing Delaware County’s first state gold since 1996 and establishing herself as one of the top returning swimmers in the state. Hart is certainly not invincible, but she is talented, determined, with great bloodlines and a scholarship to swim at Penn State beginning next fall. That’s a pretty good combination.

The Bryn Mawr resident couldn’t help but be a swimmer, even though she dabbled in field hockey and soccer earlier in her athletic career. Her grandmother, Evelyn Hart, is in Temple’s Hall of Fame, thanks to her exploits as a swimmer and field hockey player. And Maddie’s father, David, swam at Auburn University and coaches the Baldwin School’s team. Three siblings have swum or are swimming in college. What choice did she have? “It’s always been a family thing,” Hart says. “I’ve probably sat through more meets than I’ve swum in.”

With so many of her family members having spent countless hours staring at black lines on the bottom of the pool, it’s easy for someone to think Hart could be swimming simply to get a seat at the dinner table or a chance to go on vacation with everyone else. But David Hart didn’t throw his children into the pool at early ages and demand that they not emerge from the water until they’d earned soggy accolades. “My dad never forced it,” says Hart. “I don’t think he wanted us all to swim.”

Hart certainly enjoys being in the pool—although, these days, her new white Labrador puppy, Logan, has a lot of her attention. Despite her relatively long fuse, she doesn’t anticipate any problems adjusting to the higher intensity of the college aquatic world. She’s thinking about studying marketing at Penn State and looking forward to being in the pool with a collection of swimmers who will push her to bigger things. “I think I’ll be able to adjust to college swimming and step up to the challenge,” Hart says.

If last year’s District meet is any indication, she should be just fine.

EL HOMBRE SEZ: Fret not, Eagles fans. The loss to Arizona meant nothing in the big picture. The Washington NFL franchise comes to town Saturday for the really “big game,” and it’s hard to imagine Little Danny’s group winning three straight, not to mention two in a row on the road. Buy those playoff tickets now … Nice to see the Sixers have added another grown-up to the organization in Mike D’Antoni. Still don’t have a full collection of NBA players, though. It might be a good idea to get started on that.