Westmoreland County swimmers starring at Westminster

Doug Gulasy
| Tuesday, Feb. 4, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

On a recent trip to Florida, the Westminster College swimming and diving teams had a brush with Olympic royalty.

While training for a meet at Rollins College in Orlando, Fla., in December, the Titans shared the water with Michael Phelps, a 22-time gold medalist, and other Olympians who were training for a meet in Texas. The Westminster swimmers could barely believe it.

“When he walked in, he was wearing normal clothes and looked so small,” freshman Samantha Tower said. “We (said), ‘Oh, there's no way that's Michael Phelps.' Then he got in (the water), and we were like, ‘Holy crap, that's him.' It was so exciting to get to swim in the same pool as him.”

Tower asked to take a picture with Phelps before remembering her coach's instructions not to make a big deal about his presence.

Outside of unexpected meetings with famous Olympians, the Westminster swimming teams haven't exactly been star-struck by anybody who happens to share the same pool with them. Entering the week, the Westminster women's team held an 9-3 record, including 4-1 in Presidents' Athletic Conference competition, while the men's team was 9-2 and 5-0.

“I think this is probably one of the most successful in Westminster's history, and definitely the best season we've had since I got here,” junior Sarah Waszyn said. “For the most part this season, we haven't struggled to keep up a winning season. There's been some tough meets, but they weren't as tough as they have been in the past.”

The 2012-13 season saw the men capture their first PAC championship since 2007, while the women finished second.

“I know we had a couple conference championships last year, individually and as a whole team,” sophomore Matt Baurle said. “We don't have the same numbers as last year, but we're still gunning for that championship.”

The Titans feature several swimmers from around the WPIAL, including a few from Westmoreland County. On the women's team, sophomore Darian Baker and Waszyn swam at Norwin and Tower went to Franklin Regional. On the men's side, sophomore Matt Baurle graduated from Penn-Trafford and junior Jimmy DeBone went to Hempfield.

Those swimmers are contributing greatly to the team's success. Baurle won conference championships in the 100- and 200-yard breastroke last season, earning All-American honors in the 100, and holds Westminster records in both events. DeBone was named to the all-conference second team last season, while Baurle earned first-team status.

Baurle set two pool records in a recent meet at St. Vincent and was named PAC Men's Swimmer/Diver of the Week.

“After last year, (when) I finished the season, I was like, ‘Oh, man, it's over,'” Baurle said. “I wanted to keep going and see how far I could actually take it. This year, I'm definitely gunning for a lot more.”

Tower stepped in as a freshman this season and is swimming breaststroke and relays for the Titans.

“I like that I have such an important role on the team,” she said. “It's a lot of pressure for a freshman, but I think I've done a pretty good job handling it.”

Waszyn, a specialist in backstroke, also swims medley relays.

Baurle and Waszyn said the men's and women's teams feed off each other's success. With the PAC Championships coming up next weekend in Grove City, the teams are confident they can win the top spot.

“I feel a lot more confident than I did at the beginning of the season,” Baurle said. “On the guys side, there were significantly less guys. But the way we've shown ourselves in the conference, I think we'll do really good at the end.”

“It's always been our goal to win the championship, but this year I think we have the best chance that we've had in a while,” Waszyn said.

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at 412-388-5830, via email at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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