Oakland Catholic's Smith returns to set WPIAL record

| Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, 9:15 p.m.

Leah Smith took a year off from swimming with Oakland Catholic in order to train for the 2012 U.S. Olympic trials.

Now that she's back for her senior year, she's showing the rest of the WPIAL what she learned.

Smith, a Virginia recruit, broke her own 200-yard freestyle record by nearly two seconds in winning her fourth career WPIAL individual swimming championship on the first day of the Class AAA meet at Pitt's Trees Pool on Thursday. She won the 200 freestyle in Class AA as a freshman in 2010 and won both the 200 and 500 freestyle events in 2011.

She set the record as a sophomore in 2011 with a time of 1:47.64, but she shaved it to 1:45.81.

“It was really tough being away from my team, and I really wanted to help them out,” Smith said. “Now, it's just so much fun and I really want to go out with a bang.”

And she didn't waste any time getting started.

Smith came off the blocks and swam the first 100 in 52.06, a time that was just a shade off Kristen Olson's 1997 WPIAL record of 51.66 for the event. By the time she made her final turn, she was more than three body lengths ahead of the competition, and her all-American qualifying time was nearly four seconds faster than second-place Monica Sowinski of Latrobe (1:51.57).

Smith now will set her sights on perhaps breaking the state record of 1:45.10, set in 2012 by sophomore Meghan Raab of Hershey. As a freshman, Raab edged Smith in the 2011 state finals with a then-record 1:46.16.

“I felt really good and I didn't know how I would feel because I only got two days rest for this and I'm not tapered,” Smith said. “I'm setting a goal time of a 1:43-high, but I won't be disappointed if I get a 1:44.”

Smith wasn't the only future ACC swimmer to break her own record on Thursday. Mars senior Margaret Gruber, a Virginia Tech recruit, won her third consecutive WPIAL Class AA championship in the 100 butterfly and fifth individual title overall with a time of 53.88 seconds. Gruber, who set the state record of 53.50 last season, set the previous WPIAL mark of 54.63 in 2011.

“I wasn't expecting that at all because I'm not really rested, and I just wanted to execute my times well and stuff like that,” Gruber said. “It's always great to (win) and to know you're improving every season.”

Pine-Richland senior Kristen Murslack joined Sarah Dunleavy (2005-08) of Bethel Park as the only four-time winners of the 200 individual medley in the last 15 years. Murslack finished with an all-American time of 2:01.99 — more than three seconds faster than Kayla Owens of Latrobe (2:05.09) — and just missed the WPIAL record of 2:01.92 set by Kaitlynn Orstein of Mt. Lebanon in 2004.

“It definitely means a lot,” Murslack said. “It shows me how much I've grown over the last four years and how much I improved, and this was just outstanding for this to happen my senior year.”

Murslack, an Auburn recruit, has medaled three times at the state meet but first place has eluded her.

“I think I've finally realized that I can be a four-time WPIAL champion,” Murslack said. “Winning (states) would just be a great way to cap it off.”

North Allegheny's girls also set a pair of records in relays as the Tigers squad of Jacquelyn Du, Gabriella Borza, Maggie Root and Arielle Krigger opened the day with a 1:43.38 in the 200 medley relay and Morgan Soulia, Jade Song, Kristen Bishop and Krigger capped it with a 1:34.93 in the 200 freestyle relay.

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

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