LEWISBURG — A day after setting a state record in the 200 free, Clearfield’s Luke Mikesell was flirting with another new standard at the PIAA Class AA Swimming and Diving Championships at Kinney Natatorium at Bucknell University.
Mikesell swam a 4:24.52 in the 500 free to easily break his own team record in the event and came just 0.10 second away from the state record of 4:25.52.
Unfortunately for Mikesell, the career-best swim and near state record wasn’t enough to take home the gold in the 500 free as Marian Catholic’s Danny Berlitz touched the wall in 4:24.07 to dethrone Trevor Scheid of Shady Side Academy as the new record holder in the event and claim the gold in the 500 a year after Mikesell beat him to the wall in the finals of the same event.
Berlitz took a slight lead early in the race and stayed ahead of Mikesell by about one-half to three-quarters of a body length for a little over half the race.
Mikesell began gaining ground around the 12th lap and eventually caught Berlitz on a fantastic tun before the pair spent a couple laps neck-and-neck. Mikesell got out in front on the last lap and looked to hold off Berlitz, but the Michigan recruit was able to close the gap in the final 15 meters and used his long reach to out-touch Mikesell at the wall to win the race in front of a raucous crowd that showed their approval of the Instant Classic with a deafening roar during the final 50.
“I saw him coming on and I tried to hold him off, but he has a taller reach on me and there is nothing I can do about that,” Mikesell said.
“I expected that,” Clearfield head coach Jackie Morrison said of the race.” Obviously someone was going to win and someone was going to lose, but it was going to be one of those two that won.”
The duo finished 17 seconds in front of third-place Adam Morrison of Deer Lakes.
“We knew it was going to be between the two of them and knew it was going to be an epic battle, and it was,” Morrison said. “I was concerned about Danny’s height. When I first got there and saw him and saw he grew another couple inches I thought, ‘that’s rough.’ There are definitely physical advantages in that particular race, and he’s tall.
“But I thought they both swam a brilliant race. Somebody got to the wall a little faster than the other. It could have gone either way and Luke got the short end of the stick that time. But you can’t take anything away from them. They both swam All-American times. You could not tell who won that race until you looked up at the scoreboard. There was never a dull moment for 4 minutes and 24 seconds.”
Mikeselll beat Berlitz in the 500 free last year, swimming a then team record 4:28.28 to win by 0.39 second.
“I’d say we have a friendly rivalry,” Mikesell said. “I don’t know if it’s the same for him, but he definitely motivates me throughout the season to swim faster in the 500.”
Mikesell cruised into the finals with a time of 4:34.95 in his preliminary heat, besting Berlitz’s prelim time of 4:35.53.
Both were over 10 seconds faster in the finals and each beat their seed times by over five seconds.
While the battle for first was the headline grabber, Clearfield had another layer of interest in the 500 as Bison Leif Hoffman also made the finals.
He recorded a time of 4:48.91, which was a couple seconds slower than his preliminary swim, but his eighth-place finish marked the first time in program history that two Clearfield swimmers finished in the Top 8 in the same event.
Hoffman swam a 4:46.54 in the same preliminary heat as Mikesell to earn his way into the finals.
“Leif was the only freshman in that heat,” Morrison said. “That was his second fastest time (in the 500). He hit a 4:48 last week at YMCA districts and turned around and hit a 4:46 (in the prelims) and that’s tough.
“He had a great first year for us. He learned a lot. He was a great swimmer, but he was a club swimmer and a YMCA swimmer and I’m not taking anything away from that. Some of my kids would not understand that philosophy or that program. But to come out of that program, which is a little bit different, and join more of a team concept, he did very well.”
After Mikesell and Hoffman swam the 500, they had to turn around a short time later and compete in the 400 free relay with teammates Isaac Swanson, who also had a short turnaround after swimming the consolation finals of the 100 back, and Elliot Thorp.
The foursome put together a solid time of 3:14.33 in the finals, but had to settle for fourth behind a very fast Bishop McDevitt team, which won with a time of 3:08.89, as well as Central Columbia (3:13.17) and Lower Moreland (3:13.19).
“I think we all did what we needed to do,” Mikesell said. “We all swam how we needed to swim. I think we all had good splits and we’re happy with how we ended it.”
Clearfield was in seventh when Mikesell hit the water and he was able to close enough ground with a split of 45.59 to catch three teams and help the Bison finish fourth in the event,
“I still think that relay can go faster. I just couldn’t get them where I needed them to be,” Morrison said. “It did take a Herculean effort by Luke there at the end to get us closer, but I’ll tell you what Isaac did the best that he could. That was a pretty good leadoff for him. To go 48.8 was a good leadoff for him.
“And I thought Elliot swam very well. He has just had a really good final month of his career. He really stepped up to the plate. He really made a difference and had an impact the last month.”
The 400 free relay team was in a brawl with Bishop McDevitt in the preliminary round. The Bison touched just behind McDevitt, which swam a 3:14.14 to get the second seed.
Clearfield’s time of 3:14.46 was almost two seconds faster than its District 9 championship, but only good enough for the fourth spot in the finals.
Swanson just missed a spot in the 100 back finals after swimming a time of 53.75, putting him ninth. He was only 0.10 second away from making the finals.
He then bettered that mark in the consolation finals with a 53.61. That time put him in a tie for tenth overall. His time in the final was also faster than the eighth fastest time in the prelims, giving him all-state status in the event.
“I thought Isaac had a good back stroke, He tied the team record which he set in this exact same race last year. And most importantly he became all-state, and he was very excited when I told him.”
Thorp competed in the preliminaries of the 100 free. He was in the same heat as DuBois’ Tucker Fenstermacher, who he beat in a swim off in the D-9 title race. Fenstermacher made the event as an at-large bid and St. Marys’ Kevin Kuhar joined them after he was selected as a replacement Thursday morning for a scratched swimmer.
Thorp swam a 49.89, which was just a little slower than his seed time (49.25), to put him in 27th place. Fenstermacher swam a 49.40, which put him in 22nd. Kuhar was 32nd with a time of 51.28.
Thorp and Swanson swam their last races for the Clearfield swimming program. Swanson was a key cog on many state qualifying relays in his career. He was part of two third-place relays in 2017 and another third-place relay in 2018 and had two Top 16 finishes in relays in 2015. He added a second-place medal for a relay last year as well as a 10th-place finish in the back in 2018.
“Isaac has been overshadowed. Its’ been the Chase (Bietz) and Luke show for a long time. But we are going to miss Isaac. We are going to miss his versatility because he really could swim any event. He was an IMer at one time, he could do the 200 free, he could go five minutes in the 500 free if we needed him to.
“He always did an event without a complaint. Never ever said, ‘no, I don’t want to do that.’ He was the ultimate team player.”
The Bison’s performance earned them a fifth-place finish in the overall standings, just 1.5 points behind fourth-place Belle Vernon. Cathedral Prep won the team title.