Freeport's Otwell wins WPIAL gold by slimmest of margins

| Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, 10:54 p.m.

Bria Otwell tried her best to remain calm heading into the WPIAL Class AA swimming meet. But the Freeport sophomore knew there was a good chance she would be seeing South Fayette senior Mary Rosati over her shoulder.

“I was actually so nervous because everyone was telling me, ‘You're seeded first,' but I know you can never count anyone out,” Otwell said. “I remember her from last year, and she's such a good competitor that I love having her next to me.”

As it turned out, Otwell almost had Rosati in front of her at the most inopportune time.

Otwell and Rosati were neck-and-neck when they made the flip turn on the final lap of the 200-yard individual medley, but despite the two going back and forth over the final 25 yards, Otwell touched the wall in 2:08.54 to win her second consecutive title in the event. She is the first person to repeat in the event since Aileen Smith of Oakland Catholic won in 2008-09, but she did it by the narrowest of margins — Rosati hit the wall just 0.10 behind.

It was a tremendous comeback for Otwell, who trailed Rosati by nearly two seconds after the butterfly leg. Halfway through the race, Rosati was setting a record pace at 59.96 seconds, while Otwell was at 1:01.01 heading into the breaststroke and freestyle.

“I didn't think that I could get my hand in and finish ahead of her,” Otwell said, “and then I saw it and I was excited, and a wave of relief went over me because I was really worried.”

While Otwell was busy capturing gold, St. Joseph senior Holly Stein locked up a spot in the PIAA Class AA meet at Bucknell's Kinney Natatorium on March 13-14 with a third-place finish in 2:14.00.

Only the top five boys and top four girls finishers in WPIAL Class AA receive automatic qualifying spots in the state finals. The top three boys and girls at the WPIAL meet in Class AAA reserve slots in the state finals at Bucknell on March 15-16.

Freeport freshman Zoe Pawlak almost won her first WPIAL title in the 50 freestyle, but her time of 24.85 seconds put her in a third-place tie with Danielle Pekular of Bishop Canevin. Alexis Lopez of Blackhawk won the event in 24.68.

Another freshman, St. Joseph's Sabrina Bowman, finished second in the 100 butterfly, trailing the record pace set by three-time champion Margaret Gruber of Mars. Gruber broke her own record in the event as she finished in 53.88 seconds, well ahead of the 54.63 she won with in 2011

Bowman touched the wall in 58.73 seconds, just ahead of the 59.19 pace of Destin Groff of Shady Side Academy.

The Burrell boys' 200 freestyle relay of senior Ross Walker, sophomore Josh Wertkin, and juniors Ben Johnson and T.J. Swigart broke a 10-year-old school record with a time of 1:32.05, good for eighth place.

Keith Barnes is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @KBarnes_Trib.

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