Damich wins gold at PIAA championships

Nathan Smith
| Wednesday, March 20, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Drew Damich knew what to expect at the PIAA Class AA swimming championships.

It was the Chartiers Valley sophomore's second trip to the campus of Bucknell for the championship event, and after a nervous experience as a freshman, he had a better understanding of what to expect.

“The experience last year made me more confident heading in,” Damich said. “I was definitely more comfortable.”

The boost in confidence worked wonders as he won gold in both the 200- and 500-yard freestyle events — the first PIAA swimming title for Chartiers Valley since 1981. His gold medal was the only one from a WPIAL competitor in the Class AA boys meet.

Damich dominated the 200-yard freestyle with a time of 1 minute, 40.52 seconds, more than a full second ahead of second-place Matthew Leehouts of Fleetwood's 1:42.07.

The 500-yard freestyle proved to be just a bit tougher. For most of the race, Damich trailed Montour's Jarod Kehl but in the final 50 yards was able to pull away to out-touch his rival. Damich first-place time was 4:33.75, just .53 of a second ahead of Kehl's 4:34.28. It was a stunning improvement by Kehl, who finished 5.5 seconds behind Damich at the WPIAL championships.

Damich said he expected Kehl to give him a tough race, though. In fact, the state champion said he is looking forward to two more years of battling Kehl.

“It is nice to know I will have someone to push me,” Damich said. “We have been friends for a while. We have been racing our whole lives together. It was good to have a race like that.”

Winning the state title in his events was helped by improving both of his times from the WPIAL championships — he bested his 1:43.30 in the 200 and crushed his time of 4:40.87 in the 500.

Moving forward, Damich said he knows he will have a target on his back as a defending state champion but he is OK with that. He even likes it.

“It just makes me go even faster,” Damich said. “I want to come back and defend both my WPIAL and state titles.”

Damich had a strong showing with the relay team, which also featured junior Paul Novelli and sophomores Michael Schmidt and Joshua Rosato. The group finished ninth in the 200-yard freestyle relay with a time of 1:30.26 and the 400 freestyle relay with a time of 3:21.12.

The team improved on each of its times from the WPIAL meet — by .28 of a second in the 200 and .71 in the 400 – and the experience has given the youth team a taste for the PIAA tournament,

“We are definitely going to try and come back next year,” Damich said. “We have a bunch of young guys on our relay team, and we'll be back next year to do a lot better.”

He won't be taking any time off from swimming after the state title win. Damich — who swims with the Mt. Lebanon Aqua Club — will be competing in the at the 2013 Speedo Championship Series Region 2 Sectional in Christiansburg, Va. this weekend in hopes of reaching the 2013 Junior National Championships. Damich will get a two-week break after the sectional event before he starts hitting the water again.

“I like it,” Damich said. “It keeps me busy.”

Nathan Smith is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at nsmith@tribweb.com or 412-388-5813.

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