USC swimmer feels right at home in the water

Published Jan 10, 2013 at 5:36 pm (Updated Jan 15, 2013 at 2:10 pm)
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When it comes to physical activity, on land, Brittany Dudzinski sports two left feet. In water, however, those limbs turn into fins.

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“I am not good at land sports,” admitted the Upper St. Clair High School senior with a hearty laugh. “In fact, I’m not too coordinated.”

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Find that incredulous? Dudzinski offers two examples.

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As a youth, she attempted to play soccer, but she broke her foot. She shattered her ankle on the growth plate. Two screws hold the joint together to this day.

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More recently, only her white dress concealed her missteps while waltzing during the Medallion Ball, which recognizes young teenage women for their community service.

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“I was reprimanded,” Dudzinski said. “Because I was a at swim meet, I missed a practice when we were learning a waltz. Dancing is not my strength, but really nobody could tell if you did it right or were going in the right direction because I was wearing a big puffy dress.”

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Swimming though is Dudzinski’s strength. And, when she slips on her Speedo, cap and googles, everybody can tell she is doing it right. See, Dudzinski is usually out in front and touching the wall first.

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The 18-year-old daughter of Chet and Linda Dudzinski is a multiple WPIAL champion and PIAA qualifier not to mention a three-time All-American and a two-time Junior National Qualifier.

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And, she recently committed to swim collegiately for Miami of Ohio, which regularly dominates the MAC Conference. Dudzinski picked the Red Hawks over Notre Dame, Duke, Indiana and Penn State, all of which she visited on recruiting trips.

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“Actually it came down to Duke and Miami,” said Dudzinski. “Miami was super welcoming. They wanted me. They reached out to me. That made me real excited. I feel like I can make a difference.”

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During her four years at USC, Dudzinski has made a difference. She helped the Lady Panthers go from 11th to fifth to third place as a team in the WPIAL. A WPIAL winner in the 100-yard butterfly in 2011, she is the defending district champion in the 100 backstroke.

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Because Miami graduates two seniors who specialize in those strokes, Dudzinski enters the university as one of its top recruits. A prospective business major, she has plenty of goals once she becomes a Red Hawk but she puts her senior season first.

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“Academically,” said the National Honor Society member and honors student, “Miami is absolutely a good school. Athletically, I want to improve my times. Not stay stagnant. I’ll be happy if I can do that. But, I want to finish my senior year first.”

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Though she lost in her specialty to rival Katie Ford in a dual meet back in December, Dudzinski is on pace for a successful WPIAL meet, which is set for Feb. 28 and March 1 at the University of Pittsburgh’s Trees Pool as well as the PIAA championships, set for March 13-16 at Bucknell University.

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Losing to Ford, who was the 50 freestyle champion as a freshman, says Dudzinski was not a shock. “Katie has been swimming really well,” she said. “I am in the exact place I was last year. But that’s not where I expect to be.”

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While winning WPIAL titles is nice, it’s not the ultimate goal. According to Dudzinski, her times are more important than place. “It would be nice to win the fly and the back, but I’d be happy with the time rather than the place because the goal is states.”

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Last winter, Dudzinski placed third in the state in the backstroke with a 56.37 time. She did not place in the fly.

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“I want to improve upon that,” she said. “I’m looking for a 55, maybe 54. That would work,” she said enthusiastically. “I’d be happy with that. And,” she added, “I want to place in the fly this year.”

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Though the Panthers lost two key seniors, including Natalie Johnsen, who is swimming now at West Virginia, Dudzinski expects the team’s 200 individual medley and 400 freestyle relays to be competitive enough to make states and perhaps final. Among the relay standouts are Victoria Schaeffer, Jessica Reilly, Betsy Erlanger, Carissa Hentosz, Meg Haggerty and Meghan Reilly.

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“Our relays are strong but there is room for improvement,” Dudzinski said.

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Though Dudzinski experienced a coaching change this season, she says that she has noticed improvement under new skipper Dave Schraven, who came to USC via Mt. Lebanon.

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“At the beginning of the year, it’s taken some getting used to a new coach, but I’ve noticed that I have built up endurance and am in better shape. We’re not resting as much. I think that will help. Ultimately we’ll drop more time.”

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Dudzinski also noted the difference in USC’s dry-land training. In the past, the Panthers emphasized yoga and pilates, but this year the focus has been on cross-fit training, including kick boxing. “It’s fun and good cardio,” noted Dudzinski, who started swimming at age 6 at the Valley Brook Country Club before joining the USC Swim Club two years later.

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In addition to swimming, Dudzinski is heavily involved in her community. To earn the St. Lucy’s Medallion, given by Diocese of Pittsburgh Bishop David Zubik and awarded for community service, Dudzinski volunteered as a swim coach and instructor at Valley Brook Country Club as well as at the Outdoor Classroom, affiliated with the recreation center.

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“I’m proud of that accomplishment,” said Dudzinski, who was escorted at the ball by Matthew Buerger, a standout at North Allegheny who is currently a freshman at Notre Dame. “When the Bishop hands you the medallion and thanks you for your service, it’s an amazing moment. To me the goal is to give back and the community from which I come has giving me so many opportunities.”

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Giving back is one lesson that Dudzsinski has culled from swimming.

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“Swimming is not a social sport. Your head is always in the water,” said the USC team captain, “but you can be there for other people by staying positive. Being positive makes a big impact. Its affect can cause a chain reaction.

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“Through swimming,” Dudzinski continued, “I’ve learned to reach out to others. For example, the freshmen are a big part of the team and eventually they will be seniors so you show them how to step up and lead. You always are looking to help somebody.”

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Swimming has helped define Dudzinski. It’s an activity she will continue to participate in long after her competitive years.

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“I enjoy working out. Even going to the gym,” said Dudzinski, who is a member of the USC recreation center’s fitness facilities. “But swimming is a lifestyle. It’s a great way to keep healthy. It’s a good exercise to do when you get older. It requires physical activity but I’m used to it. It will be easy to pick up even if I stop for a time.”

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Dudzinski does not stop dreaming. She has plenty of goals for the future. Tops among them are going to the NCAA finals for swimming. “That would be awesome. (NCAAs) are the Super Bowl of swimming,” she said enthusiastically.

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Brittany Dudzinski

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Age: 18

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Birth date: June 29

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Parents: Linda and Chet

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Siblings: Kyle and Ryan

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School: Upper St. Clair

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Year: Senior

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Sport: Swimming

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Achievements: WPIAL butterfly & backstroke champion. Two-time Junior National qualifier. Three-time All-American. National Honor Society, St. Lucy’s Medallion Award winner.

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College choice: Miami of Ohio

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Recruited by: Notre Dame, Duke, Indiana and Penn State

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Career choice: Business.

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Favorite color: Purple

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Best beverage: Chocolate milk

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Favorite food: Ben & Jerry’s Chocolate Therapy Ice Cream

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Recent read: “The Poisonwood Bible.” I read a lot for school, but during the summer it’s more for relaxation and pleasure.

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Favorite subjects: American Law & Justice and AP English

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People might be surprised to know: I had Taco Bell for the first time last weekend.

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Happy for hockey: I’m glad the NHL is back. At least we have somebody to root for now. I love hockey.

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Other than Sidney Crosby, who is your favorite Pen? Evgeni Malkin & Tyler Kennedy.

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