Lou Rabito: Swimmer is happy he's going to Penn State

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Haverford High's Shane Ryan works on his backstroke. Of Penn State's child sexual abuse scandal, Ryan said, "It has nothing to do with the swim team . . . so I'm not worried about it."

Shane Ryan committed to Penn State on a swim scholarship around late October, in a simpler time, back when the university was viewed merely as the bedrock of an otherwise sleepy town in the heart of the Commonwealth.

Some things, of course, have changed dramatically. Ryan's resolve hasn't. The Haverford High senior - all 6-foot-6 of him - has stood firm in his commitment to the Nittany Lions, signing a letter of intent a few weeks ago.

"Once that went down," Ryan said of the Jerry Sandusky child sexual abuse scandal, "I was, like, it has nothing to do with the swim team. It has nothing to do with anything you do with the swim team. . . . It has nothing to do with me, so I'm not worried about it.

"It sucks because Penn State was such a school that went by the book, basically, and had such a good reputation and one man had to bring it down. But, I mean, Penn State is still Penn State. Awesome academic program up there, and to be up there, it's just unbelievable."

Ryan, who swims for the Fords and the Radnor Aquatic Club, has qualified for next year's U.S. Olympic trials in the 100-meter backstroke, and he is a two-time PIAA state champion, having won the 100-yard backstroke as a sophomore and the 200 freestyle last season.

He went on three official college visits: to Penn State, Tennessee, and Auburn. The Nittany Lions and Tennessee extended full scholarships, he said, and Auburn offered 75 percent.

Not wanting to come out of college with debt - especially in this economy, Ryan said - he chose Penn State.

"All the guys there are really friendly," Ryan said. "I just felt like I was already part of the team when I took my trip up there. The campus is awesome. We're getting a new pool soon, and I'm really excited about that. I just felt really comfortable with the coaches. They really pushed for me to get me on their team, and I really liked that."

After Ryan's commitment, and after the scandal broke, Nittany Lions coach John Hargis called him to make sure his decision was steadfast.

Hargis said he told Ryan that "success with honor's never been more important than it is going to be now. I asked him if he or his family had any questions from our standpoint, and just wanted to reassure him that Penn State swimming and diving as well as the university are moving forward, and at the end of the day, it's going to make us all stronger and better."

Asked if the accusations against Sandusky had affected recruiting, Hargis said, "No, they really haven't. At the end, I think it was more of parents and kids just wanting to be reassured that everything was going to be OK, and once you told them everything was just going to be fine, it was."

Ryan said he also heard from Tennessee coach John Trembley after the allegations surfaced.

"He's a great guy. He's really funny," Ryan said. "He sent me an e-mail: 'It's not too late to sign with Tennessee. You can still be a Tennessee Vol.' "

Ryan has been swimming for as long as he can remember. Both his parents have swum, and they're tall, too - his father, Thomas, 6-51/2; his mother, Mary Beth, 5-10.

Shane Ryan thinks he's still growing. He said his doctor has told him he could reach 6-8 or 6-9. At 185 pounds, he is very lean.

"If you could ever design a natural swimmer, he's it," Hargis said. "He's got the length. He's got the wingspan. He's got the feel for the water, the big feet. He's just an extremely talented and protypical swimmer that we as coaches love to find."

Ryan recently began lifting weights to add muscle and strength, and his goal is to weigh 235 by the end of his sophomore year in college.

Hargis said that might be too much muscle mass. He thinks Ryan should be up to around 200 pounds after his freshman year and maybe 210 after his sophomore year.

As a sophomore at Haverford, Ryan made his breakthrough in swimming.

Somehow, he said, after he returned from a bout with mononucleosis, his times started dropping. He went on to win the Class AAA state title in the 100 backstroke in a state-record 48.67 seconds.

This past March, he won the 200 freestyle in 1 minute, 38.36 seconds and tried to defend his 100-backstroke championship. He surpassed his state mark with a 47.53 in the finals, but Hershey's David Nolan, now a freshman at Stanford, won in a blazing 45.49, a national high school record.

Haverford coach Matt Stewart thinks Ryan can win state gold in both the 200 freestyle and 100 backstroke this season.

The expectations aren't as high for the Olympic trials, scheduled for early summer in Omaha, Neb. Ryan thinks he will make a stronger bid for the Olympics in 2016. Stewart agrees.

"He is definitely technique-oriented, which I love," Stewart said. "That's what I think really separates him, that he really focuses on the how, how to do the stroke right. He'll watch videos of the best swimmers in the world and say, 'I notice this guy is doing this. Can I try this out?' He's really good with that.

"I don't have to bring him to the water for that. He does that himself."

 


Contact staff writer Lou Rabito

at 215-854-2916

or rabitol@phillynews.com.