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Oakland Catholic swimmer commits to Virginia

| Monday, Oct. 8, 2012,
Leah Smith

Less than two seconds was all that separated Leah Smith from a spot on the U.S. Olympic swimming team that competed in London.

What bothers the Oakland Catholic senior the most is that in the qualifying preliminary trials, she didn't swim to her potential. It was especially significant when just a month later in the Pan Pacific Games, she swam 1 minute, 58.56 seconds in the 200-meter freestyle — a time that would have put her in the final heat in Omaha, Neb. by 0.08 seconds.

“It was a really cool experience, but I wasn't really happy with my performance because I didn't get my best times,” Smith said. “I just kept thinking, what if I had been in that final, then I could have been in London, but I don't think it's smart to dwell on what could have been.”

Smith, a Mt. Lebanon resident, instead moved forward, looked to her future and took a lot more than two seconds to make her collegiate choice. After sifting through offers from several universities, including California, Texas, Georgia and USC, she made the decision to commit to Virginia.

“I took an unofficial visit there in July, and I really liked it then, but I wanted to go and take all of my official visits,” Smith said. “I had a really great connection with all of the girls, I really liked the coaches and the school and one of my former club teammates, Pat Mellors, went there, and he did amazing. I'm really confident I'll do well there, too.”

Before Smith makes her move to Charlottesville, she will finish her senior year at Oakland Catholic and likely compete in the WPIAL and PIAA finals. She took off her junior year to train for the Olympics, so instead of London, she will have the goals of Pitt's Trees Pool and Bucknell University's Kinney Natatorium in her sights.

In her previous appearance in the PIAA finals in 2011, Smith not only won the 500-yard freestyle, she set a Class AAA state record with a time of 4:39.96. She also finished third in the 200-yard freestyle in 2011. As a freshman, she competed in Class AA and finished second in the 200 and 500 freestyle events.

Now, Smith has proven herself to be a world-class swimmer, so the bar has been raised significantly. When she hits the pool this year, she will do so with the 20th best time in the world in the 400 meters (4:07.10) and the 22nd fastest in the 800 (8:28.01), an event that is not contended for at the high school level in Pennsylvania.

“I made the Pacific championships in Hawaii in August, and I was so happy because that was such an amazing experience,” Smith said. “Coming back to Oakland, I know now that I can do my best to help my team, and I'm really excited for it.”

Keith Barnes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at kbarnes@tribweb.com or 412-664-9161 ext. 1977.

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