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Freeport's Otwell set to defend swimming titles

| Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, 12:01 a.m.
Freeport sophomore Bria Otwell finishes laps during swim practice Monday, Feb. 25, 2013, at Shady Side Academy. (Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch)
Freeport sophomore Bria Otwell completes the backstroke during swim practice at Shady Side Academy on Monday February 25, 2013. Otwell is the WPIAL Class AA defending champion in the 200-yard individual medley and the 500 freestyle event. Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch
Freeport sophomore Bria Otwell completes the backstroke during swim practice at Shady Side Academy on Monday February 25, 2013. Otwell is the defending WPIAL Class AA champion in the 200-yard individual medley and the 500 freestyle. Erica Hilliard | Valley News Dispatch

Say goodbye to “Brett” and hello to Bria the beast.

As a freshman last season, Freeport's Bria Otwell used an alter ego to harness her fiery, competitive side at swim meets.

A year older and more experienced, she no longer needs “Brett” to channel the intensity that she'll need to her defend two WPIAL Class AA titles.

Otwell is in position to repeat as the winner of the 200-yard individual medley and the 500 freestyle at the WPIAL swimming championships, which begin Thursday and continue Friday at the University of Pittsburgh's Trees Pool. She enters the competition with the fastest qualifying time in the 200 IM (2:14.83), the fifth-fastest mark in the 500 (5:16.57) and a strong mind.

“I don't psych myself out anymore,” Otwell said. “Last year, I psyched myself out, and I had to create Brett to deal with it. … She's not an alter ego anymore — more of just a mentality. I can find it easier.”

So much in Otwell's life changed in the past 12 months. Home-schooled as a freshman, she enrolled at Freeport for her sophomore year. Her social life bloomed. Freeport fielded a full swim team, which only helped expand Otwell's social circle.

“I don't feel as caged like I did last year,” Otwell said. “I don't feel as much stress and anxiety. I think my friends have really helped with that.”

More Yellowjackets are around this season to share in the excitement. A year ago, Freeport had just one other individual qualifier, then-sophomore Rebecca Dudek, and two relay teams, the 200 medley and the 400 freestyle. This winter, Dudek is back, there's an additional relay (200 freestyle), and Otwell's long-time friend, freshman Zoe Pawlak, is in the mix.

Pawlak, a standout on Freeport's volleyball team, started swimming with Otwell when both were about 5 years old. But Pawlak gave up the sport when she began to devote serious time to volleyball two years ago.

Back into swimming, but “not really seriously back into it,” Pawlak is a medal contender in the 50 and 100 freestyle. She has the second-fastest 50 time (25.23) and the eighth best mark (55.97) in the 100.

“It was a sport that I was really serious about when I was younger, but it's kind of become more of a hobby,” Pawlak said.

St. Joseph senior Holly Stein, on the other hand, is a full-time student of the sport even though she swims as an independent, participating with Valley during the Vikings' meets.

“I'm feeling really good. I feel like I've prepared a lot,” Stein said. “I've prepared more for this meet than ever before.”

The senior holds the No. 2 time in the 100 breaststroke (1:09.39) and is No. 3 in the 200 IM (2:18.67).

“It's really exciting, but it adds a little pressure,” Stein said. “You have to live up to where you're seeded.”

Stein narrowly finished second in last year's breaststroke event, missing the top spot by 0.4 seconds.

“I'm more focused on it. I'm better at that event, but I really enjoy swimming it,” Stein said. “I know I have a good shot at the title. But for me, personally, it's about getting a really good time.”

Joining Stein in Trees Pool will be another St. Joseph's independent: freshman Sabrina Bowman.

Bowman has qualified with the No. 2 time in the 100 butterfly (1:00.27) and at No. 6 in the 100 backstroke (1:01.95).

“She's really good,” Stein said. “It lets me know there's someone in the same position as me.”

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