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Oakland Catholic swimmer breaks record twice, wins 500 freestyle

| Saturday, March 16, 2013, 10:21 a.m.

LEWISBURG — Oakland Catholic senior Leah Smith wanted to end her high school career by setting the National Federation of High Schools record in the 500-yard freestyle.

Instead, she had to settle for breaking her own record at the PIAA Class AAA finals. Twice.

Smith, a Virginia recruit, broke her mark in the morning qualifiers with a time of 4 minutes, 37.98 seconds, then came back in the evening session at Bucknell University's Kinney Natatorium to set a personal best (4:36.41) and win the title by 16.55 seconds over Tommie Dillione of Council Rock North.

Even though she won her third individual state title, she could not hide her frustration at not eclipsing the national record.

“It wasn't devastation. It was more like a little disappointment, but I'll get over that,” Smith said.

According to the National Federation of High Schools, the record for the 500 freestyle is 4:34.78 set by Dagny Knutson of Minot, N.D., on Nov. 14, 2008. The overall high school record, including independent schools, is 4:31.38, set Feb. 9 by Katie Ledecky of Stone Ridge School of the Sacred Heart in Bethesda, Md.

Smith also won the 200 freestyle Friday, defeating two-time defending state champion and state record holder Meaghan Raab of Hershey. Smith was awarded the Swimmer of the Meet award as the WPIAL swept the awards in both classifications.

Mars senior Margaret Gruber, a Virginia Tech recruit who won two individual titles in 2013 and has six state championships, was given the award Thursday at the conclusion of the Class AA meet.

“I'm excited about swimmer of the meet, because I've never gotten that before, and it was fun,” Smith said. “A perfect (ending) would have been getting the record, but even a little less than perfect, it's a great way to end my career.”

Zachary Buerger was the only boy to win an event. The North Allegheny junior, who also won the 200 individual medley Friday, won the 500 freestyle (4:28.12).

Pine-Richland senior Dominic Giordano also did his part. The Florida State recruit, who finished fifth in 2012, posted the second-best score in state history and won the diving championship with 584.45 points.

The WPIAL won three diving titles in the same year; District 7 swept the girls when Mohawk's McKenzie Stelter won Class AA and Chartiers Valley sophomore Maria Lohman took Class AAA. It is the first time since 2007 when Samantha Pickens (Class AAA girls), Kayla Kelosky of Riverside (Class AA girls) and Justin Duncan of South Park (Class AA boys) won three of the four in the same year.

“It was going to be a tough competition. Ian's an amazing diver, because we were always together in junior meets,” Giordano said. “I really wanted it last year, and things just didn't play out and this year I was really hungry for it, and I'm glad it finally happened.”

Giordano could have broken the state record of 599.50 — set in 2011 by North Allegheny alumnus Connor Kuremsky — had he not misfired on his eighth dive, a back 1 12 somersault in the pike position with a 2.3 degree of difficulty.

“It wasn't in the cards,” Giordano said. “Getting the state record is extremely hard because you never know what the judges are going to be like from different parts of the state.”

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

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