Vineland's Rachel Bernhardt swims the 100 meter Breaststroke. Sunday February 27 2011 Vineland loses to Westfield in the girls State Public A Swim Championship at The College of New Jersey. (The Press of Atlantic City / Ben Fogletto) Ben Fogletto

Vineland High School senior Rachel Bernhardt, who is considered one of the area’s top breaststroke recruits, signed a national letter of intent to swim for Drexel University on Nov. 15.

Bernhardt chose the Philadelphia school over Towson and Loyola, both in Maryland, and East Stroudsburg, Pa. She said she received almost a full athletic scholarship to attend the Division I school.

As a junior, the two-time Press All-Star first-teamer, took second in the 100-yard breaststroke at the Meet of Champions in 1 minute, 03.15 seconds and placed 14th overall in the 50 freestyle (24.84). She also contributed to Vineland’s fourth-place finish in the 200 freestyle relay.

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“I liked all the schools, but what I really liked about Drexel was its physical therapy program, which I’m going to go into,” the 17-year old Vineland resident said by phone Saturday. “Plus I’ve loved the city (of Philadelphia) since I was a little girl, so that meant a lot to me.”

Bernhardt will join a program that competes in the Colonial Athletic Conference under coach Shawn Markey. The Dragons are off to a 0-6 start.

Bernhardt said that Markey expects her to score points right away in the 100 and 200 breaststroke events, along with the freestyle relays.

The National Honor Society student briefly set the state record in the 100 breaststroke (1:03.08) at the MOC in the preliminaries last March. Atlantic City senior Colleen Callahan, the three-time state champion in the event, reset the record at 1:01.29 in the final.

The record at Drexel of 1:05.64 was set by Andrea Gaber in 1997. Bernhardt said her personal best is 1:02.98, which she set recently accomplished at a USA Swimming event, the West Shore YMCA Thanksgiving Invitational in Mechanicsburg, Pa., on Nov. 9-11.

“She’s definitely going to make an impact right away with the times she’s already put up,” Vineland coach Mike Schneider said. “All the coaches that recruited her were interested in her ability to bump up and add the 200 breaststroke to her repertoire. That is something she worked on a lot in the off-season.”

“We’re excited to see what she can do,” he added. “She has a world of upside and the sky is the limit. We’re really proud of her and happy for her.”

Since Schneider took over three seasons ago, Bernhardt is the third Vineland swimmer to receive a scholarship to swim at the next level. Lauren Carastro, a 2011 graduate, and 2012 graduate Annemarie Ruberti are at Division II West Chester University in Pennsylvania. The three played big roles in Vineland’s South Jersey Public A title win over Mainland Regional 99-71 in 2011.

“It felt amazing getting that all out of the way,” Bernhardt said. “I can go back and focus on my schoolwork and the Vineland team now, since it’s my last year.”

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