North Allegheny boys, girls swim teams hoping to send coach out on top
The North Allegheny girls swim team is heavily favored to win its fifth straight WPIAL Class AAA title even though it is rebuilding.
“No one's going to touch North Allegheny,” Bethel Park coach Bill Kennedy said. “They have incredible depth.”
“It's more fun to be the underdog, but no one is close to toppling us,” North Allegheny coach Corky Semler agreed.
Semler lost what he considered one of his best senior classes.
Allie Pennetti, who won WPIAL titles in the 50-yard freestyle in 2010 and the 100-yard freestyle in 2011, now competes at Penn State.
Kally Vanderbilt, the 2010 WPIAL champion in the 200 freestyle who was second in the 200 freestyle and third in the 500 freestyle in the WPIAL last season, now swims at George Washington.
Erin Bishop, the WPIAL runner-up in the 100 butterfly last year, also graduated.
As has come to be expected during its winning run the past several years, North Allegheny has experienced replacements in seniors Arielle Krigger, Gaby Borza and Anna Seethaler.
Junior Jade Song, the WPIAL runner-up in the 500 freestyle, and sophomores Jackie Du and Morgan Soulia also return.
“North Allegheny is always loaded,” Upper St. Clair coach Dave Schraven said. “They lose good kids and have others ready to step in.”
Added Mt. Lebanon coach Tom Donati: “North Allegheny has a great feeder program through its (USA Swimming) club.”
Krigger, the team captain, said the Tigers have extra incentive this year.
“We'd be honored to be the last group of seniors to win a WPIAL title for our coach,” she said.
Semler, who has headed the North Allegheny boys and girls teams for more than 30 years, plans to retire after this season.
The Tigers boys team is favored to repeat as WPIAL champion as well after easily defeating Upper St. Clair in a dual meet last week.
North Allegheny and Upper St. Clair, the WPIAL runner-up a year ago, are considered the top teams in the WPIAL.
Upper St. Clair was WPIAL champion in 2011, the only year in the last three North Allegheny did not win the title.
North Allegheny was WPIAL champion five straight times from 2006-10.
“Beating Upper St. Clair gave us a large dose of confidence, but it's early,” junior Zach Buerger said. “I'm sure they'll get better as the year goes on.”
“Upper St. Clair is still a powerhouse,” Semler said. ‘'They weren't (as) up to it (in the dual meet) as our kids were.”
Buerger leads North Allegheny after placing second in the 200 individual medley and third in the 500 freestyle in the WPIAL last season.
In the 200 individual medley, he was runner-up to his brother, Matthew, for the second consecutive year.
Matthew Buerger now swims at Notre Dame.
Sophomores Greg Arnold and Casey Melzer and junior Sam Rutan are other returning swimmers for North Allegheny.
Senior Christian Wrigley, a two-time WPIAL finalist in one-meter diving, is back after missing last season while participating in a foreign exchange program.
“If we win (the WPIAL championship), it will be on the strength of our diving,” Semler said.
Bethel Park senior Erik Brinkhoff, the two-time defending WPIAL champion in the 50 freestyle, considers himself a better swimmer after competing against North Allegheny the past several seasons.
“They lift teams and individuals alike,” Brinkhoff said. “Even if you don't beat them, you gain respect by doing well against them.”
Bethel Park is a dark horse for the WPIAL title after nearly upsetting the Tigers in a dual meet last week.
In Class AA, the Mars boys team has high hopes of dethroning two-time defending WPIAL champion Indiana.
The Planets have all but one swimmer back from a team that was state runner-up a year ago.
“I think the kids are still pinching themselves after doing so well,” coach Heidi Brandon said.
“We call ourselves the dream team,” sophomore Francis Folz said. “Our next dream is to be WPIAL champion.”
Mars finished fourth in the WPIAL last year.
The West Allegheny girls team expects to be a serious contender for its third straight WPIAL title.
“We lost some girls, but still should be good,” West Allegheny coach Bob Miller said.
Karen Kadilak is a freelance writer.