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Kittanning swimmer takes aim at even more history

Bill West I Leader Times
Kittanning's Morgan Joseph practices the backstroke on Tuesday, Feb. 26, 2013, at the Richard G. Snyder YMCA Complex in Kittanning. Joseph qualified for the PIAA Class AA championships in both the 100-yard backstroke and 100 butterfly events.

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Tuesday, March 12, 2013, 7:30 p.m.

During one of her busiest months of swimming, a stretch that includes preparation for the Age Group Championships in Pittsburgh and for a regional competition in Buffalo, N.Y., Kittanning junior Morgan Joseph will squeeze a new competition into her schedule — the PIAA Class AA championships.

Joseph's talent and dedication to the sport, unprecedented by Kittanning female swimmer standards, shaped her into the Wildcats' first girls state qualifier, a distinction she earned with a third-place finish in the 100-yard backstroke and an eighth-place finish in the 100 butterfly at the WPIAL championships two weeks ago.

Now she'll try to add another layer to that legacy: By placing in the top eight, she can become Kittanning's first PIAA medalist since A.J. Claypool, who took third in the 50 freestyle in 2005.

Her PIAA championship debut begins at 8 a.m. Wednesday at Bucknell University's Kinney Natatorium with a preliminary heat in the 100 butterfly. The finals will conclude later in the day. And she'll swim the 100 backstroke preliminary at 8 a.m. Thursday.

“I'm trying to make it a little bit bigger,” Joseph said of Kittanning swimming, which has only existed as a school-sponsored sport since the 2005-06 season; Kittanning students, including Claypool, previously competed as independents.

The past two seasons, Joseph needed only to worry about the WPIAL championships and then the Age Group Championships. The PIAA meet added one more stop on her tour de force.

That extra stop became even busier this past weekend. Because she finished in the top three in the 100 backstroke, Joseph knew she secured an automatic state berth in that event.

But one of her Cavalier Swim Club coaches notified her that her time in the 100 butterfly, though not fast enough for automatic qualification, ranked high enough statewide to earn her a spot.

“We had to make extra hotel reservations and order more tickets, so it was a little bit hectic,” Joseph said.

Her WPIAL finals time in the 100 backstroke, 59.56, is the 14th fastest in PIAA Class AA. A margin of .81 separates her from the fifth fastest mark.

Joseph simultaneously finds that gap promising and daunting.

“I understand that to everybody else, a tenth seems like nothing, but to a swimmer, a tenth is everything,” said Joseph, who aims for a time in the low 58s.

Her 100 butterfly time, 1:00.25, is the 20th fastest. Greater gaps between her and the medal favorites exist in that event, so Joseph's goal is less about placing and more about breaking the one-minute barrier.

“I dropped a second and a half (in the WPIAL finals), so I can't be unhappy with it,” Joseph said of her backstroke time. “But this (PIAA meet) motivates me to go under a minute.”

Freeport sophomore Bria Otwell and freshman Zoe Pawlak join Joseph as PIAA meet qualifiers from Armstrong County.

Pawlak advanced in the 50 freestyle, where she has the 15th fastest time (24.85), and in the 100 freestyle, where she ranks 24th (54.68).

Otwell, a two-time WPIAL champion in the 200 individual medley and a two-time PIAA qualifier in the 500 freestyle, looks to improve on her two-medal performance as a freshman. She placed seventh in the 500 freestyle and fifth in the 200 IM.

“I know what it's like now,” said Otwell, who ranks fifth in the 500 freestyle (5:04.36) and fourth in the 200 IM (2:08.54). “I won't be a freshman…that's somebody else's job now.”

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

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