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Burrell swimmers working to make mark in school history

| Thursday, Feb. 13, 2014, 12:01 a.m.

Darcy Foster and McKenzie Gordon always expected to be captains of the Burrell girls swim team. The assumption wasn't a product of optimism or arrogance, though. It was just simple math.

Since they first suited up for the Bucs, Foster and Gordon have been the only girls from their grade to stick with the program. Now seniors, this team was theirs to lead.

“We both knew we were going to be captains since we were freshmen, so we were prepared for it,” Foster said.

However, it was difficult to anticipate how well the season would unfold with only two seniors on the squad.

Burrell has made up for a lack of experience with talent and hard work as the Bucs sit at 9-2 overall and 4-1 in Section 4-AA entering Thursday's regular-season finale against Valley.

“It's incredible. We didn't expect it,” Foster said. “We have some really amazing freshmen that came in and helped our team out. Everybody stepped up. We knew we had the potential to have a season like this.”

The Burrell boys (8-3, 3-2) also have enjoyed a solid campaign behind senior captains T.J. Swigart and Ben Johnson.

T.J.'s mother, Diane Swigart, is in her third season as coach of the Burrell swim teams. She credits the strong seasons to her swimmers' dedication. Many of them juggle additional extra-curricular activities.

“They really work hard. For morning practice, they get up and are in the water at 6,” the coach said. “They have a good work ethic and we have good leadership from our captains.

“It's a great team to work with. They push through practice and their times are right where I want them at.”

Thursday's dual meet against Valley will serve as somewhat of a homecoming for the coach. She is a Valley graduate and coached there for 24 years.

Swigart's transition to Burrell was a smooth one.

“The kids were real receptive,” she said.

Well, except one: her son, T.J.

“He wasn't going to swim for me. He told me, ‘If you take over the swim team, I'm going for basketball,' ” she said with a laugh. “I'd say everything worked out pretty well.”

Swigart is one of three Burrell boys poised for a return trip to the WPIAL Class AA championships, which are Feb. 27-28 at Pitt's Trees Pool. Johnson and junior Josh Wertkin also qualified last season.

Coach Swigart said Burrell will take 20 swimmers to WPIALs and compete in all but two events.

“You never know what to expect down there,” she said. “I have a lot of faith in these kids. I would love to see them go to states.”

Some swimmers have their sights set on more than just a WPIAL medal. They're aiming for a piece of Burrell history. The boys 400-yard freestyle relay is about four seconds away from the school record, while the girls 200 free relay is approximately two seconds short of Burrell's all-time standard.

“There are some school records that have been up there for a while,” Coach Swigart said. “We'd like to knock them off the board.”

Foster believes the key to a strong relay is familiarity.

“You have to know each other well. You have to all trust each other,” Foster said. “You have to have your timing down.”

Even if records fall, swimming often goes under the radar during winter sports. Burrell wrestling won its eighth consecutive WPIAL championship earlier this year, and the girls basketball team went undefeated during the regular season and is the No. 2 seed in the WPIAL playoffs.

“The wrestling and girls basketball teams have been phenomenal, so sometimes I don't feel (swimmers) get the recognition they deserve,” Swigart said. “It's not an easy sport. You hold your breath, swim as fast as you can and then there's someone like me yelling at you to do it faster.”

Despite some difficult practices, Foster will remember her senior season fondly.

Sophomores Mackenzie Bindas and Kayla Decker, who already earned a taste of the WPIAL meet as freshmen, are among the reasons to believe the program has a bright future.

“I'm really proud of this season. I didn't think we were going to be here. The fact that we are shows how hard we worked,” Foster said. “I'm going to come back to as many meets as I can. I'm hoping they can take section champs one of these days.”

Jason Orfao is a freelance writer.

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