Gina Cantoral almost had her mind made up.
But Ally McHugh put a cap on it.
Cantoral is a senior swimmer at Little Flower High School, and after shadowing at Little Flower when she was in grade school, she decided she was going to become a Sentinel. That decision was cemented when she was in seventh grade and she attended a Little Flower swim meet.
“I remember I was there and after the meed, Ally McHugh came over and gave me a Little Flower swimming cap,” Cantoral said of McHugh, who swam at Penn State and was one of the top swimmers in the nation. “I knew her, I met her because I swam with her sister, so I knew how great she was. I was going to Little Flower before that, I loved shadowing there and it felt like home, but that was really cool. It meant so much to me.”
McHugh isn’t just a great swimmer.
She also has a great eye for talent.
Because during her four years at Little Flower, Cantoral was one of the best swimmers in the Catholic League, qualifying for the state meet in each of her four years while swimming for the Sentinels.
This year, she swam in the 200-yard individual medley and the 500-yard freestyle at the PIAA 3A Swimming Championships, held on the campus of Bucknell University.
Cantoral was able to finish her events before the PIAA suspended the meet because of the coronavirus outbreak.
Cantoral wasn’t the only swimmer from local teams who competed in the event. Allison Henry, of Archbishop Ryan, finished fourth in both the 100-yard breaststroke and the 200-yard freestyle, and Nikita Timoshenko, of Father Judge, took seventh in the 100-yard backstroke.
Cantoral capped off her Little Flower career by dropping three seconds off her IM time, which moved her from the 32nd seed to a 20th-place finish. She held steady with her top time in the 500 free.
“It’s good to make states because you get to swim against the best, it really pushes you,” said Cantoral, who lives in Pennypack. “It’s good when you can drop time. I’ve made it since my freshman year, and it’s the most competitive meet of the year. You get to meet different people. It’s a great weekend. This year was stressful, but it was fun.”
Cantoral is a club swimmer, doing most of her practices with Lower Moreland, but she loved swimming for Little Flower because she loved representing the school.
This year the team was on the young side, so many of the swimmers looked up to their older classmate who had three trips to states before the season. And she enjoyed teaching them.
“Whenever someone would ask me for help, I love helping them,” Cantoral said. “But I tried to encourage them. I swam with some really good teammates when I was younger, so I wanted to be the same for them. When I was there, I tried to show them what I learned. And they were really good. They all dropped time as the season went on.”
It was nice to have an elite-level swimmer in the program, because it set a high standard for the younger girls. And Cantoral more than lived up to her end of the bargain. According to Little Flower coach Sean Clothier, that’s the type of swimmer Cantoral was for her entire career.
“When I heard Gina was coming to LF, I knew what kind of swimmer I was getting,” Clothier said. “What I didn’t know was the person. Gina is the most humble, elite swimmer I have ever known. She never makes excuses. She never takes the easy route. I’m so thankful for Gina. Definitely for the swimmer, but more so for the person, and that’s a testament to her and the job her parents have done raising her.”
Next year, Cantoral won’t be around to help Little Flower, although she’ll never be too far away for a phone call to help where needed. She’ll be at Marshall University in Huntington, West Virginia, where she’ll continue her swimming career. She’ll likely do many different events for Thundering Herd.
And she’s not just bringing impressive times with her.
Cantoral is ranked 11th in her senior class, and she’s planning on majoring in biochemistry.
“I like that because it encompasses many different sciences,” Cantoral said. “I want to work in a lab, I’m one of those types of people. I know it will be challenging, but it will be good.”
Now that swimming season is over and it’s hard to find pool time because of the coronavirus, Cantoral fully intends on staying in top shape, even if she can’t get in the water.
“I’m working hard on core stuff, trying to work out just to get workouts in,” Cantoral said. “It’s hard, nobody is really getting in the pool. You can’t do it. But I’m still working out. That helps.”
Her swimming career at Little Flower is over, but she still has days left as a Sentinel. And she’s going to enjoy every moment of it.
“Going to Little Flower was a great decision, I’ll miss everything about it,” Cantoral said. “I’m really glad I went there. The people, the teachers, the coaches. It’s just been great. I love everything about it, but the people are the best part.”