Swimmers ready for WPIAL championships

Published Feb 25, 2014 at 4:36 pm (Updated Feb 25, 2014 at 4:44 pm)

Think the WPIAL swimming championships have been fast in the past?

Well, aquatic fans are in for a treat Feb. 27-28 when the District VII finals are held at the University of Pittsburgh’s Trees Pool. Action begins at 10 a.m. with Class AAA racing and at 3 p.m. for the Class AA competition.

“The sport keeps getting faster and faster,” said Mt. Lebanon head coach Tom Donati. “The meet is going to be awesome.”

Donati should know. He was part of Bethel Park’s record-setting clubs in the mid-1980s when the Hawks strung together 20 titles in a row from 1981 through 2000. After excelling at Westminster College, Donati broke into coaching. After a stint with the Seneca Valley girls’ team, he steered Upper St. Clair to a WPIAL title in 2011 before moving over to Mt. Lebanon, the community in which he resides.

So after 23 years in the business, Donati is familiar with the competition, which is North Allegheny. The Tigers have won five straight girls’ team championships while the boys have claimed seven of the last eight titles.

“NA and USC are battling for trophies. That is a given,” said Donati of the boys’ competition.

Alex Hardwick and Ryan Dudzinski make USC a formidable opponent. Each is a defending champion. A senior bound for Emory University in Atlanta, Hardwick won the 100 free last year. He is also seeded first in the 200 free. A junior, Dudzinski owns the top times in the 100 butterfly (50.35) and backstroke (47.57). Ranked in the top 10 among recruits in the Class of 2015, Dudzinski set the USA Swimming Junior National world on fire when he shattered four Allegheny Mountain Swimming records last December.

“Obviously Ryan and Alex have targets on their backs as they are coming off seasons where they each won two events at WPIALs,” said USC skipper Dave Schraven.

“Frankly, Ryan is simply at a different level than his competitors. Alex is also favored to win but—like Ryan—he is preparing to be his best at states rather than at WPIALs. He is well aware that people are coming after him and he is not taking any of his competitors lightly. He is a great competitor and I know he will fight like crazy to defend his titles.

Schraven agreed with Donati’s assessment that the boys’ competition should be a two-way battle between NA and USC. But, Schraven predicts Mt. Lebanon, in part because of No. 3 seed Braedon Wong in the back and Brian Ramsey (No. 2 in the breast) is poised to crack into the top two if either NA or USC falters. “NA is definitely the favorite,” Schraven assured. “But we certainly have a chance to win if we swim really well.”

Another reason USC is in contention is the addition of Fynn Minuth to the club. The junior from Germany is seeded first in the 500-yard freestyle. He is also seeded third behind NA’s Zachary Buerger and Casey Melzer in the 200 IM.

“USC got back into the picture with (Minuth),” Donati said. “They now have three superstars. A team with three of the best swimmers in the state is hard to beat.”

Add Patrick Lersch, Tomos Williams, Nathan Novak and Nikhil Narayanan in combination with the trio and USC boasts formidable relay teams. The Panthers are seeded first in the 400 free and second in the 200 medley and free relays.

USC’s other high seeds, individually, include: Braedon Wong (second in the back, fifth in the fly), Williams (second, 50 free, fourth, 100 breast), Jake Johnson (third, fly), Novak (third, 50 free) and Kevin Liu (fourth, back). Schraven also anticipates Novak (100 free), Johnson (500 free) and Liu (IM) will exceed expectations in their “off” races.

Among the other swimmers who could move up and make a difference for USC are: Marty Bacik in the fly and back, Lersch in the 100 and 200 free, Robbie Weaver in the 200 and 500 free, Christian Kelly in the 200 IM and 100 breast and Narayanan in the 50 and 100 free.

Relays could prove the difference and Schraven believes USC needs to win at least two to ensure a team title. But Donati cautions not to overlook the team already at the top.

“NA will be ready though,” Donati predicted. “They are still champion until someday beats them. And, their girls are awesome. I think USC and Oakland Catholic are battling for second. It should be a fun meet.”

Donati will have plenty of fun watching his own swimmers perform. In his second season at the helm at Lebo, he qualified 35 swimmers and divers. Plus, the Blue Devils had 110 qualifying cuts.

Katie Ford and Meghan Schilken are expected to be Lebo’s top performers. A senior, Ford is the defending champion in the 50 free. The North Carolina recruit is also seeded first in the 100 free. A senior, who will attend the College of William and Mary next fall, Schilken is seeded second in the back and fourth in the 200 free. Kathryn Nicholson, Megan Doody, Veronica Bogdanski and Emma Buerger give Lebo depth and add to their strength in relay action.

“We have one expectation for every swimmer at Lebo,” said Donati. “That is for their best effort and our goal is a best time every time they dive into the water. The rest will take care of itself. You cannot worry about anybody else but yourself.”

Schraven concurs with that philosophy. He genuinely tries not to have “expectations” of his swimmers in terms of how they will place because to an extent that is out of their control. “Instead,” he said. “The focus is on ‘what do you need to do in order to perform your best in each event.’ I find that taking that approach helps calm the nerves and gives the swimmers more of a sense of control of their destiny.

“Ultimately, we are laser focused on being the best we can be, independent of how other teams swim,” he said. “Certainly the competition will bring out the best in us, but if we just do what we’re capable of doing, then all of the team accolades will take care of themselves.”

While the consensus is the NA girls are in a class by themselves, Oakland Catholic, Greater Latrobe, Lebo and USC have an opportunity to grab the runner-up trophy. Among the top individuals for the Lady Panthers are expected to be: Victoria Shaffer, Maddie Yoos, Emily Yoos, Maeve Lersch, Lindsey Choate, Meg Haggerty and Carly Olsakovsky.

“My hope is to qualify at least five girls and three relays for states,” Schraven said. “We also have a number of girls who are seeded to score points and my hope is that they can move up and help their team.”

At Bethel Park, the Lady Hawks will be looking to send their long-time coach Bill Kennedy out with a meet to remember. He is retiring after this season.

Allie Brinkhoff, Kelly Kramer, Megan Dougs, Jessica Hirsh, Jennifer Kramer, Maria Vighetti, Brenna Doyle, Cassie Shelpman, Ashley Arzillo, Emily Russell and Mallory Wright are among the qualifiers for the Lady Hawks.

In the backstroke, Brinkhoff has the opportunity to make states and break her own school record. BP hopes to also sent two relays as well as individuals: Douds, Hirsh and Kelly Kramer; to the PIAA championships.

“Bottom line is they all need great swims to move on to states,” Kennedy said. “They have all done a great job this year preparing to swim fast and achieve best times at WPIALs. If they can get lifetime best times, the rest takes care of itself.”

Over at Canon-McMillan, Lee Caffrey is excited for his swimmers to drop time. Though the Big Macs are young, they are enthusiastic. “We look forward to the meet. This will be the first time for this group of boys to swim at WPIALS,” Caffrey said enthusiastically. “We just missed qualifying last year.

“We have had a great season. We have seen lots of improvement this year.”

For the second year in a row, Brittany Byer qualified. The sophomore will compete in the 200 free and 100 back. Samantha Orlowski makes her first trip to Trees Pool. The junior competes in the fly. Freshman Turner Gill will compete in the 50 and 100 free.

CM qualified three girls’ relays. Byer, Orlowski, Lauren Vidmar, Maria Montouro, Emily Sulc, Harley Steele, and Rachael Paquin comprise those units.

The boys qualified in the 200 and 400 free relays. Gill, Parker Roach, Ashutosh Sharma, Jacob Viviano, Kenny Sible, Sean Herman, and Evan Chase make up those teams.

Desiree Kline qualified in diving. During dual meet competition, says Caffrey, Kline typically started the Big Macs off with a win.

At Peters Township, Saoirse Palu-Benson is one of the top seeds in the fly. The senior owns the third best time in the WPIAL with a 58.90. She is also ranked fourth in the 500 free. Connor Martin is ranked eighth in the boys’ 500 free.

For the Bethel Park boys, Mitchel Stahara is the highest seed. The senior is ranked fourth in the 100 and 200 free events. Vinny Tavoletti is seeded eighth in the 100 fly and back.

Visit www.wpial.org for complete rankings and seed times for all area swimmers and relay teams in the championships.

SF girls set to defend title

For the first time, South Fayette won section titles for both boys’ and girls’ swimming. “To do that together was great,” said head coach Matt Tucker.

Great, too, for the Lady Lions would be retaining their title. They are the 2013 Class AA champions. While Tucker says there is pressure to repeat, his girls are “focused on the task at hand” and regardless of whatever happens, he could not be more proud of them.

Blackhawk, West Allegheny, Quaker Valley, and Riverside all look to be competitive with the Lady Lions.

“These teams will be pushing on us to try and take the title so it will be a matter of how we respond,” Tucker said. “To retain our title we need to swim the way we know how.”

Tucker expects Maddie Bartrug, Tiana Marrese, Sydney Briner, Sophia Hestad, and Jocelyn Colussy all to do well and lead the Lady Lions.

Additionally, Sarah Benton, Carrie Torre, Brianna Hambright, Emma Hestad, Sarah Hertzler, Miranda Mozick, Maddie Planinsek, and Maddie Zombek should contribute to a high team finish.

On the boys’ side, Chartiers Valley, with two-time defending champion Drew Damich in the distance events, Quaker Valley, Shady Side, Indiana, Mars, and Hopewell are expected to chase the title.

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