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Relays lead top finishes for Franklin Reg., Penn-Trafford, Norwin

| Wednesday, March 6, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Norwin Star
Norwin's Rachael Smrekar flies off the block to start her heat of the girls 50-yard freestyle at the WPIAL Class AAA swimming championships on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. Matt Grubba | Norwin Star
Norwin Star
Norwin's Eric Booth swims the 100-yard breaststroke at the WPIAL Class AAA swimming championships on Friday, March 1, 2013. Matt Grubba | Norwin Star
Norwin Star
Norwin's Hannah Rusinko pushed her way to a 13th-place finish in the girls 100-yard backstroke at the WPIAL Class AAA swimming championships on Friday, March 1, 2013. Matt Grubba | Norwin Star
Kaitlyn Ruffing of Franklin Regional smilies after finishing the 2013 WPIAL Class AAA girls 50-yard freestyle on Thursday, February 28, 2013. Sidney Davis | Tribune-Review
Murrysville Star
Franklin Regional senior Rachel Barkey swims the 100-yard backstroke during the WPIAL Class AAA swimming championships on Friday, March 1, 2013. Matt Grubba | Murrysville Star
Murrysville Star
David Maholage swims the 100-yard butterfly for Franklin Regional during the WPIAL Class AAA swimming championships on Friday, March 1, 2013. Matt Grubba | Murrysville Star
Penn-Trafford Star
Penn-Trafford senior Matt Loughner celebrates after seeing that he qualified for states with his finish in the 50-yard freestyle at the WPIAL Class AAA swimming championships on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. Matt Grubba | Penn-Trafford Star
Penn-Trafford Star
Jake Marino swims the 100-yard backstroke for Penn-Trafford at the WPIAL Class AAA swimming championships on Friday, March 1, 2013. Matt Grubba | Penn-Trafford Star
Penn-Trafford Star
Anthony Montalto swims the 100-yard butterfly for Penn-Trafford at the WPIAL Class AAA swimming championships on Thursday, Feb. 28, 2013. Matt Grubba | Penn-Trafford Star

The WPIAL swim meet is usually more of an individual event, but the local schools had some of their biggest successes with teamwork.

Franklin Regional qualified four of its six relays for the state meet, and Penn-Trafford will send one based on their performances at the WPIAL Class AAA swimming championships at Pitt's Trees Pool on Thursday and Friday.

Though no local athletes won events at this year's meet, Franklin Regional will send both its boys and girls 200-yard freestyle and medley relays to the state meet at Bucknell University next week. Penn-Trafford's boys 200 medley relay also qualified, while Norwin's swimmers were shut out from the medal stand this year.

Franklin Regional began the meet on the right foot, as its girls medley relay team of Alyssa Ruffing, Sam Tower, Rachel Barkey and Kaitlyn Ruffing smashed its seed time to finish second in 1 minute, 46.83 seconds, and place behind only a record-breaking swim by North Allegheny.

In the boys race of the same event, Penn-Trafford's team of Anthony Montalto, Tony Sekowski, Matt Loughner and Jake Marino placed fourth in 1:37.73, and barely behind them in sixth was FR's team of Jonathan Palmer, Dale Maholage, Tyler Stevenson and David Maholage with a time of 1:38.00. Though neither earned an automatic place at states for a top-three finish, both qualified as two of the state's next 16 best times.

“We actually switched at the last minute. We were going to swim (with that group) in the 400 free relay, but we switched to the medley at the last minute,” Kaitlyn Ruffing said. “We thought we had a better shot, and it was a good decision. That set the tone for the whole meet.”

“We wanted to drop time on our relay, and to take about four seconds off like we did, it's pretty amazing,” Loughner said. “We've had that relay together since we were all about eight years old. To finish like we did here, and we will at states, it's a real honor to swim with those guys.”

In the 200 free relays, FR claimed another automatic girls spot at states when Kaitlyn Ruffing, Megan Remaley, Julianna Carolla and Alyssa Ruffing finished third in 1:36.18. The boys relay — the same quartet as the medley relay — finished fourth with a time of 1:30.90.

P-T's 200 free relays both finished just off the medal stand — the boys in ninth and the girls in 13th — while Norwin's best boys finish in any event came from the 200 free relay of Tyler Dempsey, Spencer Blazek, Cole Dempsey and Eric Booth, who were 16th in 1:35.64. FR's boys 400 free relay of Stevenson, Palmer, Nieko Santoro and David Maholage also medaled in seventh with a time of 3:15.52.

In individual events, Alyssa Ruffing was unable to defend her title in the 50 and 100 free, but the Ruffing sisters both will compete at states in those events after finishing side-by-side.

In the 50, Kaitlyn Ruffing was second in 23.59, and Alyssa Ruffing was third in 23.66; while in the 100, Kaitlyn was third in 51.49, and Alyssa was fourth in 52.18.

“Getting to states was definitely my goal coming in,” Kaitlyn Ruffing said. “I think for both of us, we could have swam faster, and we're excited to get up to states and really go after it.

“My sister, she isn't fully tapered yet. Myself, just last week, I missed four days of practice for regional orchestra, and there have been flute things that have caused me to miss time throughout the season. I think with these extra two weeks coming up, it will give us both the time we need to prepare for states.”

In the boys 50 free, Loughner made the most of his top individual event with a time of 21.79, which earned him a third-place medal and a guaranteed spot at states. He got to the wall just ahead of Dale Maholage, who was fourth and got pulled into states for his time of 21.80.

Loughner, who swam in Lane 8, took a brief moment to process what he saw on the scoreboard after touching the wall. He then realized his place at states was secure, at which point he looked to the crowd and pumped his fist in celebration.

“When I first looked, I looked at Lane 1. I wasn't happy with the time, but then I realized I was on the other end, and I was real excited,” Loughner said. “I was really proud because the last 15 yards, I was a little bit behind the guy beside me. I just put my head down and finished as hard as I could.”

Dale Maholage does take the distinction of being the only local boy to be a four-event state qualifier. In addition to the relays and the 50 free, he was sixth in the 100 breaststroke and reached states as a time qualifier in 58.72.

Just behind the FR senior in the same event was Sekowski in eighth for P-T. In addition to the WPIAL medal, he got one of the final two spots in states with his time of 59.78.

Apart from the Panthers' boys 400 free relay, every local athlete or relay to earn a WPIAL medal also earned a spot in states.

In the boys team standings, Franklin Regional finished eighth, Penn-Trafford was ninth, and Norwin was 23rd. For the girls, the Panthers were fifth, the Warriors were 19th, and the Knights were 26th on the strength of Hannah Rusinko's 13th-place finish in the 100 backstroke.

Rusinko was the only Norwin girl to take a top 16 finish with her time of 1:01.43 in the event, but with the high number of underclassmen representing Norwin at the event, the future looks good for the Knights.

“It was a real good experience to be able to swim with the seniors here and get some really good times,” said Rusinko, a freshman.

“I was pretty pleased with all of my events. The girls on our relay team have a real strong bond, and we really support each other. I think next year, we'll be able to drop our times even more and make next season great.”

Other individuals scoring points for FR with top 16 finishes were Barkey in the girls 100 back (10th, 59.92) and 100 fly (13th, 59.00), Stevenson in the boys 200 free (12th, 1:45.76), Nick Whiteman in the boys 500 free (14th, 4:57.58), Carolla in the girls 100 fly (14th, 59.10), Tower in the girls 100 breast (14th, 1:08.38) and 200 free (16th, 1:58.77) and Palmer in the boys 100 back (16th, 56.07).

Also scoring points for P-T were Sekowski in the boys 200 individual medley (ninth, 2:01.50), Loughner in the boys 100 free (10th, 48.51), Montalto in the boys 100 fly (13th, 54.68), Marino in the boys 100 back (15th, 55.66) and 50 free (16th, 22.53) and Jack Babik in the boys 500 free (16th, 4:58.89).

Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830 or mgrubba@tribweb.com.

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