Norwin, Penn-Trafford and Franklin Regional swimmers ready for WPIAL meet
The end of February is here, which means it's time once again for the WPIAL's big pool party.
More than 50 athletes will represent Norwin, Penn-Trafford and Franklin Regional against western Pennsylvania's top swimmers at the WPIAL Class AAA Swimming Championships at Pitt's Trees Pool on Thursday and Friday afternoon.
The two-day meet will feature boys and girls races in 11 different events, with the top eight in each earning WPIAL medals, and the top three in each earning automatic spots at the state meet in March. In addition, up to three more competitiors in each even can reach states, if their time is among the top 16 non-automatic qualifying times.
The sprint races — the 50- and 100-yard freestyle — often are the most exciting at the meet simply because of their quick nature, but this year, they also appear to be the local teams' best chance at sending an individual to states.
Franklin Regional junior Alyssa Ruffing is the reigning WPIAL champ in both girls sprint events and the WPIAL record holder in the 100, but she enters both this year with only the seventh-best seed time. Her sister, senior Kaitlyn Ruffing, was a state qualifier in the 50 last year and is seeded second in the 50 and third in the 100.
Both will race in the final heat of those events at WPIALs, and the defending champ is ready to go, even if it will be from an outside lane.
“I'm real excited, especially to be able to swim with my sister,” Alyssa Ruffing said. “I hope that she and all of my teammates place really well.
“This year, I'm not seeded nearly as high as I was last year, but I've been training a lot harder. I'm not too worried about it because last year, one of my competitors (in the 100), Allie Pennetti (of North Allegheny), wasn't even in the final heat, but she ended up getting second place. Seeing that makes me feel a lot better about where I'm seeded.”
Penn-Trafford sophomore Devon Davenport and Norwin freshman Rachael Smrekar are both in the second-to-last heat in the 50, which means both also are in position to battle for a WPIAL medal with a strong swim.
On the boys side, Franklin Regional senior Dale Maholage is seeded sixth in the 50 free, and Penn-Trafford senior Matt Loughner is seeded eighth, which will put the top two finishers from the Westmoreland County meet side-by-side in the WPIAL's final heat.
Loughner also has the No. 7 spot for the 100 free, which makes him the Warriors' best shot at sending an individual swimmer to states.
“I'm in two sprint races. Especially in the 50, even though I'm on the outside, I'll be able to just put my head down, go as hard as I can and use my strength to get to the wall as fast as I can,” Loughner said. “A few tenths (of a second) is going to determine the top four or five spots. I try not to think about it because one little mistake can mess the race up.”
Norwin junior Tyler Dempsey is in the second-to-last heat of both boys sprints, and Franklin Regional junior Nieko Santoro will join him in that heat of the 100.
“I'll be trying for a medal, that's for sure,” Dempsey said. “I think for some of us, especially the 200 free relay, getting on the medal stand is a real possibility if we can all swim our best times.”
The relays also will provide a good chance for local athletes to grab a high place on the medal stand.
Franklin Regional's girls and boys are seeded in the final heat of all three relays, while Penn-Trafford has a last-heat spot in the girls 200 free, boys 200 medley and boys 400 free relay. All three schools are qualified in every relay and can nominate a list of up to eight swimmers for each race, from which the four to race at WPIALs must be chosen.
“We want to try to get all our relays up to states,” Alyssa Ruffing said. “We just want to do as well as we can, and we think we can finish in the top three. First place would be awesome, but you never know how things are going to turn out up there.”
“We've all worked hard for this moment coming up,” said Loughner, who was a part of P-T's state-qualifying medley relay last year. “Our main goal is the medley because we were able to get up (to states) last year, and we're planning to drop a lot of time.”
Surprisingly, though all three schools have numerous seeds among the top 16, Franklin Regional senior Sam Tower is the only other local athlete with a spot in the final heat of an event. She enters the WPIAL meet seeded fifth in the girls 100 breaststroke.
The top 16 places in each event earn points for the team standings, however, which will give all three schools a path to try and match or improve on their finishes from last year.
Franklin Regional again is counting on top 10 finishes in both the boys and girls standings, while Penn-Trafford's boys also could be on the final leaderboard. The P-T girls and both of Norwin's teams, none of which have more than three seniors headed to the meet, also are hoping for good performances with an eye on bringing nearly the entire team back next year.
“It's exciting to know since we have so many freshman going for the first time, that we all will be able to get back there,” Dempsey said. “Even more swimmers will be able to (qualify) themselves and make the relays better next year. There's a lot of room for improvement.”
“WPIALs are a lot more fun because you get to bring a bigger team than any other meet,” Alyssa Ruffing said. “You see all the parents and everyone yelling and screaming more than any other meet. The energy level there is so much higher.”
Also on the entry lists for Franklin Regional at WPIALs are Rachel Barkey, Julianna Carolla, Megan Remaley, Maura Jacob, Meredith Easterling, Nicole Stevenson, Rosie Maholage, Hannah Barkey, Tori Frydrych, Laura Snyder, Cheyene McIntyre, Jonathan Palmer, Tyler Stevenson, David Maholage, Adam Dando, Nick Munson, Nick Whiteman, Eric Ellson, Nick Snyder and Ben Mendez.
As individuals or listed on the relays for Penn-Trafford are Hayley Muro, Cassie Szmyd, Audra Ragan, Julie Hartz, Allison Bacco, Olivia Bartamas, Emily Graziano, Bradleigh Wenger, Abigail Printz, Anna Gasparro, Elaina Koerber, Anthony Montalto, Tony Sekowski, Jake Marino, Jack Babik, Noah Babik, Patrick Reilly, Kurt Baurle, Kyle Edwards and William Mazza.
Norwin's full entry list also includes Hannah Rusinko, Amanda Kaloz, Amanda Booth, Kayla Grudowski, Casi Smith, Jessica Wunderley, Eric Booth, Spencer Blazek, Bennet Dandar, Mike Kaloz, Cole Dempsey and Joe Palmquist.
Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or firstname.lastname@example.org.