Mars’ Maggie Gruber closed her high school swimming career with two more state titles — in the butterfly and backstroke — at Bucknell University Wednesday and Thursday.
LEWISBURG — It was one final day at the state swimming championships for Maggie Gruber to savor. And one more championship for the Mars senior to win. She did just that, finishing the girls’ 100-yard backstroke in a personal-best time of 54.15 seconds to successfully defend her title from last year by claiming the top spot at the PIAA Class AA meet Thursday at Bucknell University. The title gives Gruber six at the state level to go with her six WPIAL gold medals. She is the 14th female in PIAA history to claim six individual titles. Her feats earned her Class AA female swimmer of the meet. It was her last PIAA swim and even Gruber, who is always focused on her upcoming event, made a point to take in the sights and sounds of Kinney Natatorium. “When you are having fun, you’re smiling,” she said. “That’s what I did. I loved everything about the atmosphere. “I had my best time in the backstroke and I was very happy about that.” Gruber’s nearest foe was Villa Maria Academy’s Sarah Hitchens, who placed second at 55.24. Between preliminary and finals races, Gruber swam six times on Wednesday, including her win in the butterfly. “I was very tired (Thursday) morning,” she said. “I took a nap in the afternoon and after that, I was ready for the finals.” Gruber will take away fond memories of her four years swimming for the Planets. “Since my freshman year, I’ve made so many friends who I will keep throughout my life. “I’m going to miss a lot of people at Mars, but I’m also happy about moving on to (Virginia Tech). Hopefully, I can do some great things there.” As much as Mars has given Gruber, she has certainly returned the favor. “She put Mars swimming on the map,” said Planets’ coach Heidi Brandon. “She set lofty goals and she wanted to meet them all. And she has shown other kids how to be the total package as an athlete. “She is the nicest kid, shakes everybody’s hand and is very polite,” added Brandon. “There’s not a mean bone in her body.” Gruber’s butterfly win Wednesday came in 54.35 seconds, or .86 seconds better than Villa Joseph Marie sophomore Alexa Fabri. As a freshman, Gruber tied Nazareth’s Victoria Georger for the butterfly crown and won it outright as a sophomore and junior. “It feels great,” she said. “When I was a freshman, I didn’t expect to win all four years. It’s been a long journey and a lot of dedication went into it. I’m proud of myself.” Fabri entered the state meet seeded fourth, but managed a time of 55.32 in Wednesday’s morning session, the second-fastest preliminary time behind Gruber’s 54.33. “My time was decent for a prelim, but I wasn’t very happy with my time in the finals,” said Gruber of falling .85 seconds shy of the state record that she set just last year. Gruber was the lone WPIAL entrant to medal in the event by placing in the top eight. Her labor of love in the butterfly began long before she reached Mars’ varsity team in the fall of 2009. “I picked it as my favorite stroke when I was 10 years old and just stuck with it,” she said. “I became really good at it over the last few years. It’s a challenging stroke to train for and to compete in.” In Wednesday’s boys meet, Mars junior Chris Georgiadis placed third in the 200 individual medley with an effort of 1:56.49. Georgiadis, who finished fourth in the event as a sophomore and 12th as a freshman, had the best preliminary time earlier on Wednesday at 1:56.3.