North Allegheny's Semler takes final plunge after teams sweep WPIAL titles
After 35 years coaching at North Allegheny, there was no more fitting way for Corky Semler to finish his coaching career at the WPIAL level than with the Tigers traditional team plunge into Pitt's Trees Pool to celebrate another in a litany of championships.
“I'm just excited about these kids' performances, and this retirement stuff has been a distraction,” Semler said. “The dive into the pool is the icing on the cake because what I look forward to is each kid doing something that they've never done before and the smile on their face when they've accomplished something. That's what I look for.”
On the surface, these two titles weren't any different than the other 23 combined boys and girls championships that came in his tenure. North Allegheny has been a dominant force on the boys and girls sides for nearly a decade — the boys have won seven of the last eight championships, and the girls won their fifth consecutive crown.
This year also marked the fourth time North Allegheny's boys and girls teams have won WPIAL Class AAA titles in the same year. The boys got past Upper St. Clair, 327-269.5, while the girls rolled to 417 points, 160 ahead of second-place Oakland Catholic.
“This whole journey has been about relationships and been about people and you learn just how many close friends you have and the people who value each other's efforts,” Semler said. “It's a close-knit community, and I'm going to miss being a part of it.”
It will still be a couple of weeks before Semler hangs up his whistle for good. He still has to guide North Allegheny through the PIAA Class AAA finals March 15-16 at Bucknell's Kinney Natatorium, and the Tigers will be one of the favorites to win the state team title.
It certainly helps that they have outstanding performers on the girls side like sophomore Morgan Soulia, who broke the WPIAL record in the 100-yard freestyle (50.82); Jacquelyn Du, who set a new standard in the 100 backstroke (55.57); and the 400 freestyle relay made up of Soulia, Jade Song, Anna Seethaler and Du, which broke its own 2012 WPIAL record in 3:26.55.
While North Allegheny dominated the Class AAA team standings, Indiana won its third consecutive boys title with 203 points, 31 ahead of second-place Mars. The South Fayette girls won for the first team title in school history with 252 points, just edging two-time defending champion West Allegheny by 29.5 points.
Individually, Mars senior Margaret Gruber earned her second record of the meet. One day after breaking her record in the 100 butterfly, the Virginia Tech recruit beat another of her marks with a time of 54.51 in the 100 backstroke, 0.09 seconds ahead of her pace from last year.
“All in a day's work,” Gruber said laughing. “I was more happy with the personal-best time. After doing that, I know I can do great at states.”
Oakland Catholic senior Leah Smith added to the records list during the Class AAA meet, as well. The Virginia commit nearly lapped the field in the 500 freestyle, as she took nearly two seconds off her 2011 record time of 4:41.37 with a 4:39.78.
She capped her day by breaking the record in the 100 freestyle (50.48) during the lead leg of the Oakland Catholic 400 freestyle relay. A swimmer can set a record in an event if they are the first leg of a relay.
Smith, who also set a new mark in the 200 freestyle Thursday, beat second-place Allison Murslack of Pine-Richland by more than 20 seconds in the 500 freestyle.
“I put a lot of pressure on myself in this meet and I wanted to go 4:34,” Smith said. “My best time is 4:36 in December, but I didn't feel that was my best, and I want to go for the national record (4:34.78).”