Kittanning swimmers move into new home

Bill West
| Friday, Dec. 7, 2012, 12:56 a.m.

Kittanning's swim team has a new pool to call “home.” And it has a new person to call “Coach.”

The Wildcats, able to use the pool at the seven-month-old Richard G. Snyder YMCA Campus, will follow the guidance of first-year coach Mary Ann Lundgren, who received official approval from the Armstrong School District a month ago.

Lundgren, a 1985 Kittanning graduate, replaced Joe Olinger, who stepped down due to time constraints after two years in charge.

“I love swimming, and I like working with the kids, but I will tell you that a lot of it has changed since I last coached,” said Lundgren, whose previous swimming and coaching experience came at the YMCA when she was in her teens and early 20s. “It's a lot more technical these days. So I'm learning as well as them.”

Lundgren inherits a program that has found some stability after a few trying seasons. In 2009-10, the team included just six swimmers. The following season, the former YMCA building in Kittanning closed its pool, so the Wildcats, numbering in the low 20s, traveled to Highlands for practices. Then last year, the practice site was switched to Burrell.

This winter, participation numbers aren't expected to reach the high 20s, as they did a season ago. Lundgren actually continues to wonder how many swimmers will show up for practices. Partially because of the coach's late hiring, mandatory sessions began Monday, more than two weeks after the WPIAL start date for winter sports. She anticipates between 15 and 20 for boys and girls combined.

“I think they're all pretty awesome,” Lundgren said. “They all wow me, but yeah, there are a couple that are really, really good.”

While she welcomes swimmers of all abilities and experience levels, Lundgren asks all of her athletes take the practices and meets seriously.

“She's a little bit more strict with us (than Olinger),” junior Morgan Joseph said. “There's a lot more structure with the team, and I think that'll be good for everybody.”

A local pool and a business-like coach create an optimal setting for Joseph, Kittanning's only WPIAL Class AA championship meet qualifier a season ago. The junior hopes to improve her finishes at the district meet, a result that will ultimately get her to the PIAA finals.

“I'm working harder this year than I ever have,” said Joseph, who placed seventh in the 100-yard backstroke and 11th in the butterfly last winter. “It's my junior year, and I really want to make states and look good for college. Looking good for college is really important for me right now.”

Joseph lifts weights in the morning and attends swim club practices at Kiski Area High School after Kittanning's afternoon sessions end. The proximity of the new YMCA facility, opened in May, provides the junior a convenience she lacked the past two seasons.

“Having a home pool is wonderful,” Joseph said. “The only thing I wish is that we had more lanes here. … But it's really nice to just come over after school.”

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