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Mars' Gruber, Chartiers Valley's Damich add to PIAA gold medal collection

| Thursday, March 14, 2013, 12:03 p.m.

LEWISBURG — Mars senior Margaret Gruber isn't usually one to show emotion, but she couldn't help but flash a wide grin when she hit the wall — and the end of her high school career — Thursday in Bucknell University's Kinney Natatorium.

“Whenever I was a freshman I made so many friends on my ride,” said Gruber, who also was named the meet's outstanding swimmer. “I'll have these friends for the rest of my life and so many memories, too.”

When Gruber looks back at her last race, she'll probably have a sense of pride, as well.

In her final heat, Gruber posted a personal-best time of 54.15 seconds and outraced Villa Maria Academy's Sarah Hitchens to the finish by 1.09 seconds to defend her PIAA Class AA title in the 100-yard backstroke. It was the sixth individual state championship for the Virginia Tech recruit and comes a day after accomplishing the rare feat of sweeping the 100 butterfly titles all four years.

“Whenever I came in as a freshman, I didn't think that was ever going to happen to me,” Gruber said. “I'm just so grateful that it did happen.”

About the only thing Gruber didn't do at this meet was set a record. She still holds the state mark in the 100 butterfly, a 53.50-second heat in the 2012 championship race but came just short of beating the 2008 mark of 53.88 seconds set by Marian Catholic's Kristen Shickora in 2008.

Still, Gruber enjoyed herself, which made the smile at the end of the race all the more remarkable.

During her high school career, she's had a tendency to concentrate more on her times than her surroundings, but this time it was different.

“I knew it was my last high school race ever, so I just said, ‘Maggie, just go out there and have fun and whatever happens, happens,' ” Gruber said. “Whenever I looked up at the clock, I was so happy and obviously tired. But the happiness overcame the tiredness.”

While Gruber had a relatively easy, if exhausting evening, it was nothing compared to what Chartiers Valley sophomore Drew Damich went through to win his second state championship of the meet. Damich was locked in a battle with Montour sophomore Jarod Kehl and trailed on the final lap of the 500 freestyle before he came from behind to win by 0.53 seconds.

“I like being pushed. It makes me go faster,” said Damich, who won the 200 freestyle on Wednesday. “I was watching him the whole time. I thought he was going to get me, but that final 50, I really turned it on.”

Damich trailed at the beginning of lap 19, but by the time he hit the wall for the final turn, he had moved ahead of Kehl and into the lead. After that, Damich was able to hold onto his advantage and touch the wall in 4:33.75.

Gruber and Damich were the only two WPIAL swimmers to win state titles. Mohawk's McKenzie Stelter won the Class AA diving title Wednesday.

“It feels amazing,” Damich said. “There's no words. It feels awesome.”

Villa Maria Academy won the girls team title for the third straight year with 237 points. South Fayette finished third with 119. Salisbury edged Franklin for the boys title, 151-143.

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

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