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Veteran Loughner shining on Penn-Trafford's relay teams

| Wednesday, Feb. 6, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

From last year's WPIAL and state swimming successes to this year's county championship, Penn-Trafford senior Matt Loughner has collected plenty of trophies and medals over the last two years.

One of P-T's captains this season and a recently crowned county champ in two events, Loughner has been a big part of bridging the gap from last year's highly decorated team to this year's squad, which has shown that rebuilding doesn't necessarily mean taking a step back.

As a junior in 2012, Loughner was the lone underclassman on the Warriors' 200-yard medley relay team that placed third in the WPIAL championships and advanced to the PIAA meet. Now, as a senior, he's helping to keep that relay in contention for a spot at states while emerging as a WPIAL medal contender on an individual basis, as well.

“We lost quite a few people from last year, but we've had other guys that stepped up,” Loughner said. “The hard work in practice is paying off for everybody, and guys are taking advantage of spots that were open from last year.”

With the graduations of Christian McCurdy and Matt Baurle — both individual WPIAL champs in 2012 — Loughner has emerged to be the same sort of versatile swimmer as his predecessors.

Just as those two were, Loughner is qualified for this year's WPIAL meet in every event. That gives him the freedom to choose the events where he thinks he can make the most impact, which at the moment, seems to be the sprint events.

“I'm leaning toward the 50 and 100 free,” Loughner said. “It seems like those are my two this year.

“I'm also going to swim the butterfly leg of the medley relay and one of the free relays, but I'm not exactly sure which of those I'll swim.”

Having those choices and being able to swim in almost every event has been a hallmark of P-T's top swimmers in recent years. This year, Loughner is the only one, boy or girl, to have reached every WPIAL qualification mark, though a small group of others are close with the section finale against Norwin coming up on Monday.

“I think it's better to be a good swimmer all around,” Loughner said. “If you focus on all the strokes, it helps you find what you're most comfortable with and get the confidence level to swim well in all of them.”

Versatility is why P-T's medley relay is its strongest group, and even with the graduations of McCurdy, Baurle and Alex Plimpton from last year, the relay has barely fallen in performance.

Entering last year's WPIAL meet, Loughner and the three seniors had a seed time of 1 minute, 39.48 seconds, which was the third-best time in the district. This year's group, with Loughner joined by Anthony Montalto, Tony Sekowski and Jake Marino, won the Westmoreland County championship in the event with a time of 1:41.09, and that time will almost surely drop before the WPIAL meet at the end of the month.

Because he is the common thread between those two relays, Loughner has tried this year to set the example that McCurdy and others set in prior years.

“Those guys showed that you have to work hard to get where you want to be,” Loughner said. “Christian swam so much. Matt did, too. We knew the season was going to be different without those guys, but that has been something the coaches emphasized in practice. You have to put the time in, and this group of guys has been putting in the time for moments like (the county championships).”

Loughner just missed out on an individual WPIAL medal last year, as he placed ninth in the 100 free and 10th in the 100 fly.

Naturally, reaching the medal stand on his own and with one or more relays is a big goal for the senior in his final district meet, which also would help P-T try to get near its fifth-place team finish of a year ago.

“We all have some big shoes to fill, and in a few weeks at WPIALs, we want to prove ourselves,” Loughner said. “We all swim hard in practice, and we're there for each other.”

Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or mgrubba@tribweb.com.

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