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More confident Otwell to defend WPIAL swim titles

| Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013, 1:11 a.m.
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
Kittanning's Morgan Joseph practices the butterfly stroke at the Richard G. Snyder YMCA Campus on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013. Joseph enters the 2013 WPIAL Class AA championships with the fifth fastest time in the 100-yard butterfly event as well as the 100 backstroke.

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 Pitt's Trees Pool.

She enters the competition with the fastest-qualifying time in the 200 IM, the fifth-fastest mark in the 500 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 (the 200 freestyle team), and Otwell's longtime friend, freshman Zoe Pawlak, is in the mix.

Pawlak, a standout on Freeport's volleyball team, started swimming with Otwell when both were around 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.

Otwell considers her friend's comeback tour nothing short of amazing. The sophomore was particularly stunned when Pawlak broke her 100 butterfly record fairly early in the season.

“Zoe has the racer mentality to a ‘T,' ” Otwell said. “She came back and killed it.”

While Freeport has several swimmers who might end up on the podium, Kittanning's only hope of a medalist rests with MoJo.

Junior Morgan Joseph, the Wildcats' lone representative for a second straight season, has the fifth-best qualifying time in both the 100 backstroke (1:01.86) and 100 butterfly (1:01.97).

“I know I can go a lot faster than my seed times,” said Joseph, who noted that she had better marks in non-high school meets this year. “I have equal faith in both. But backstroke is my event; I prefer back.”

Bothered by nerves at the WPIAL championships last season, Joseph placed 11th in the butterfly and seventh in the backstroke.

She believes she'll remain more collected this time. And she'll feel stronger, too — Joseph began to taper her training two weeks ahead of the WPIAL meet, a reaction to the way her body responded after a one-week taper last year.

“A little bit of nerves is always good, but I'm not too nervous,” Joseph said. “I'm confident in my training.”

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at wwest@tribweb.com or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.

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