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Oakland Catholic's Leah Smith wins PIAA 200 freestyle title

| Friday, March 15, 2013, 12:09 p.m.
Harrisburg Patriot-News
Oakland Catholic senior Leah Smith flashes a 'V' for victory and Virginia at her dad after defeating two-time defending champion and state record holder Meaghan Raab (right), a Hershey junior, in the finals of the 200-yard freestyle Friday, March 15, 2013, at the PIAA Class AAA championships at Bucknell's Kinney Natatorium. It was the first state title in the event for Smith and the first high school loss in the 200 freestyle for Raab.
Mark Pynes | mpynes@pennlive.com
Meaghan Raab of Hershey High School, left leads Leah Smith, from Oakland Catholic, in the girls 200 freestyle, but Smith pulled ahead to win the event Friday, March 15, 2013, at the PIAA Class AAA swimming and diving championships at Kinney Natatorium at Bucknell University in Lewisburg, Pa.

LEWISBURG — All it took was a cursory glance to figure out who won the PIAA Class AAA girls 200-yard freestyle title.

Leah Smith nearly jumping out of Bucknell University's Kinney Natatorium pool in celebration kind of gave it away.

How the Oakland Catholic senior ended the two-year run of Hershey junior Meaghan Raab, well, that was a bit more dramatic.

Smith trailed through the first 180 yards, but closed in after the final turn, put on an incredible push and swam the final leg in 27.08 to touch the wall in 1:45.52, just 0.76 seconds ahead of Raab.

“Sophomore year my coach told me to let her take the lead in the first 100 and then I could bring it back, but this time I realized that I could take it out just as fast as her and bring it back,” said Smith, a Virginia recruit. “I was a little disappointed when she was beating me, but on the last lap, I said to myself that this is my race and I've got to do it.”

Raab, who set the state record the previous two years, including a 1:45.10 in the 2012 final, had never lost a high school race in the 200 freestyle. In this one, she hit the pool cleanly off the blocks and had a body-length lead after the first 50 yards, but Smith slowly closed and, after the final turn, made the move to the front as the Hershey junior faded with a final 50 time of 28.99 seconds.

“I think she might have thought that she had to take it out faster,” Smith said. “I don't know if she was expecting me to go out with her, but this is so exciting. Not getting the state record was annoying, but I'll probably get the state record in the 500 (on Saturday).”

Chartiers Valley sophomore diver Maria Lohman knows all about coming from behind to win her first state title in her event. Lohman trailed by 23.15 points and was in sixth place after five dives, but roared back to finish with 446.20 points to edge North Penn freshman Marie Yacopino by 2.85.

She is the sixth WPIAL diver in the last seven years to win the PIAA Class AAA title, joining Franklin Regional's Samantha Pickens (2007-10) and 2012 champion Lauren Lamendola of Pine-Richland.

“The first five I had adrenaline, but I was nervous and two of my dives I missed pretty badly,” said Lohman, a PIAA runner-up last year. “Then, going into semis and finals, I knew that I had to kick it into gear.”

What aided the comeback was that Yacopino picked a compulsory dive in the final round that had a much lower degree of difficulty than anything Lohman had on the board. Lohman took the lead for the first time in the meet in the ninth of 11 rounds, which was the first round of the three-round final.

“You have a certain amount of voluntary dives, and I used my highest in the last round, so I would be stacked on D.D. at the end,” Lohman said. “That helped me a lot and it's really exciting coming back from last year being the runner-up.”

There were a couple of WPIAL swimmers who fell short in comeback attempts. Pine-Richland senior Kristen Murslack was the top seed heading into the meet in the 200 individual medley, but the four-time WPIAL champion in the event finished second to Warwick's Emily Cameron.

Another top seed coming in, Mt. Lebanon's Katie Ford finished second to Hershey junior Madelyn Veith in the 50 freestyle, while the North Allegheny 200 medley relay team of Jacquelyn Du, Gabriella Borza, Kayla Churman and Arielle Krigger broke the previous state record of 1:42.28 by 0.03 seconds and still lost to Hershey by the same margin.

North Allegheny did, however, get the WPIAL's only gold medal on the boys' side when junior Zachary Buerger swam a 1:48.08 to beat reigning District 7 champion Gabriel Larson of Penn Hills by 1.84 seconds in the 200 individual medley.

“After WPIALs I wasn't too worried about my times because I wasn't shaved or anything,” Buerger said after winning his first-ever individual state title. “I was in good shape coming in and, after the morning swim, I knew I had some more left in me.”

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