Latrobe girls cap impressive opening day at PIAA swim championships
LEWISBURG — Latrobe's Kayla Owens has been in the pool enough times against Pine-Richland senior Kristen Murslack that she had a solid game plan to take her on at the PIAA Class AAA championships.
“I was really excited,” Owens said. “When they're far in front of me, I know that I have to pick it up and keep in front of them. I know I can't keep up with all of them, obviously, but it really helps me when it starts to get hard during a race.”
Granted it may not initially sound like good advice, but it certainly worked for the Latrobe junior, who swam a personal best time of 2:03.11 in the 200-yard individual medley to finish third behind Emily Cameron of Warwick (2:00.62) and Murslack's 2:01.53.
Owens finished second to Murslack in the WPIAL Class AAA finals at Pitt's Trees Pool on Feb. 28 when she lost by 3.1 seconds (2:05.09) in the last heat of the timed finals.
“She's incredible and she's really good to swim against,” Owens said. “She really helps me push myself, especially at these high-level meets.”
Even though Owens felt the pressure of being in the pool with a pair Division I swimmers — Murslack has committed to Auburn while Cameron will swim at Georgia — she reaped the benefits, moving up two spots from having the fifth-highest qualifying time among competitors as taken from the district finals and the fourth-fastest time in the morning qualifiers (2:04.70).
“I really know my hard work paid off,” Owens said. “I'm really happy.”
She wasn't the only one on her team smiling after Friday's first day of competition in the two-day meet. As a whole, Latrobe fared well and is tied with Franklin Regional for sixth in the overall standings despite not having a team in the 200 freestyle relay.
“We're really excited, especially considering how hard it is for the WPIAL teams to do well at the states,” Latrobe first-year coach Grey Arrigonie said. “With some of the places we're getting, you can't be more impressed or happy with that.”
Latrobe opened the day by finishing fourth among the fastest 200 medley relays in state history. Hershey won the race with a state-record time of 1:42.22, a time that just beat North Allegheny, which also beat the previous state record with a 1:42.25.
Franklin Regional and Latrobe got into a Section 1 battle to the wire that the Panthers team of Alyssa Ruffing, Samantha Tower, Rachel Barkey and Kaitlyn Ruffing won by 0.01 seconds. They clocked in at 1:47.18, while the Wildcats foursome of Madeline Hoopes, Owens, Gina DeFrancesco and Monica Sowinski touched the wall in 1:47.19.
“That was great for the team because it gets contagious when you start swimming that fast,” Arrigonie said. “Everything is kind of going perfect right now.”
Sowinski also won the consolation race in the 200 freestyle with a solid time of 1:51.67, which would have given her a seventh-place finish in the finals heat.
After their opening day performances, the Wildcats are optimistic heading into Saturday's competition.
“We just have to keep telling them how well we're doing,” Arrigonie said. “Our team at dual meets and WPIALs, our best is the back half and this is setting up for us to do pretty well.”