Houtz is seventh, and she’s also first

Juniata swimmer makes school history with state medal

Sentinel photo by JIMMY MAY
Juniata’s Sydney Houtz swims in the girls 100-yard backstroke during the PIAA Class 2A swim championships at Bucknell’s Kinney Natatorium Friday.

LEWISBURG –Day one was a day of soaking everything in — litterally and figuratively — for Sydney Houtz at the PIAA Class 2A Swimming and Diving Championships.

Day two, however, was a different story.

Seeded fifth in the state in the 100-yard backstroke, Houtz lost a bit of timing from her seeding — which was 57.59 seconds — and placed seventh with a finish in 58.18.

That earned her a spot on the podium for the medal ceremonies shortly after the race. Despite not finishing how she would have liked, Houtz is still most pleased with the results from her first state championship weekend — but also is bittersweet about it all.

“It’s almost like this giant weight has been lifted off my shoulders,” she said. “That was the end of my first year of high school swimming so now I have only three more. It’s kind of sad almost because it’s a fourth of the way done.”

Sentinel photo by JIMMY MAY
Juniata’s Sydney Houtz swims in the girls 100-yard backstroke during the PIAA Class 2A swim championships at Bucknell’s Kinney Natatorium Friday.

Less than five seconds — 4.15 to be exact — separated Houtz in seventh from state champion Courtney Harnish of West York. Harnish stood atop the podium with a time of 54.03.

That difference in timing may seem little, but it measures even the slightest of changes that have to be made for athletes to ensure they get to the top.

Sydney’s coach — and her mother — Amy Houtz has a few ideas of what the freshman can improve on moving forward.

“I definetly think there are things the last two week or so that we’ve seen that can be improved in her strokes and things,” Amy Houtz said. “Then just mental training too. Being able to know that you’re going up against some of the best in the country and being able to compete against them, and not letting that get into your head.”

The nerves weren’t present in the first day as Sydney Houtz was seeded 21st in the 100-yard butterfly race. Because of such, she got a record time, and jumped up nine spots, placing 12th in the state.

But because she went into day two knowing she was swimming against the top grain in the event, Amy Houtz thinks nerves played a big factor for a young swimmer that hasn’t been familiar with swimming in an event such as state championships.

“Today had a little more tension because today was her event,” Amy said. “She’s a backstroker. Not that she isn’t good in the other events, but she has been a backstroker for a couple of years. This had a little bit more stress. She had known she was swimming in the top heat. She knew who she was swimming, these are nationally ranked swimmers. … To be in the pool with them is an honor.”

It’s no secret that kind of pressure would get to most swimmers, but Sydney Houtz was quick to not only reflect on what she accomplished over the weekend at Bucknell University, but already looked forward.

For much of the year, Houtz can be seen in a pool. In the near future, she will be racing in a state tournament through the YMCA, and if things go according to plan, that will extend to a national meet.

She claims to only take two weeks out of the year away from the pool — not because she wants to, but because she has to keep her body from breaking down from overuse.

As one of just two unattached swimmers from Juniata — often swimming at Mifflin County home meets — Houtz has hopes that her success will translate to more students her age getting involved with swimming.

“I’m really really happy with how the swim program developed since Shawn (Fitzgerald) and his father started it,” Houtz said. “I want people to realize that swimming is more than just a recreational sport and that we can go and do well at states. It’s not just going to be a for fun sport.”