Freeport swimmer Otwell looking to take next step
By Matt Grubba
Published: Wednesday, Dec. 4, 2013, 10:12 p.m.
Even with so many achievements in her first two high school seasons, Freeport junior swimmer Bria Otwell has much more she wants to accomplish.
Otwell has won three WPIAL gold medals, and as one of the top swimmers in Class AA, she will have a good chance this year to add to that total and make a push for her first state championship.
Otwell is a two-time WPIAL champ in the 200-yard individual medley and won the 500-yard freestyle as a freshman, but the Yellowjackets junior has never finished better than fifth in an event at the PIAA meet and aims to better that mark this year.
“Winning states is a pretty big thing. That's my ultimate goal,” said Otwell, who does most of her training with the Fox Chapel Killer Whales club team.
“States is a really hard meet for me, because my best events are ones they don't have in high school, like the 200 butterfly and the 1,000 and 1,650 free. There are a lot of really good swimmers there, so just getting in the top five is a big accomplishment.”
For her junior season, Otwell is considering trying a different event, such as the 100 fly. She also will be a part of Freeport's relays and has set the goal of winning her first WPIAL relay medal this year with her teammates.
“We're working pretty hard this year to get a relay to states because it's the last year for two of our seniors, Becca (Dudek) and Kylie (Lucas),” Otwell said. “We finished 10th last year (in the 400 free) and missed a medal by less than two seconds.”
Dudek, Lucas and sophomore Zoe Pawlak — a state qualifier last year in the 50 and 100 free — will join Otwell to make up at least one of the team's relays. That quartet will lead a Freeport program that has risen to 22 swimmers this season after numbering in the single digits just three years ago.
“I'm really excited for this season. A lot of the meets don't have the high stress level of club meets, and you get to enjoy the sport,” Otwell said. “I have a couple of friends who aren't swimmers, but they're picking up the sport this year, so that's going to be fun helping them.”
Freeport coach Lori Dudek added: “When my daughter started high school three years ago, there were only five other swimmers. Bria, along with Zoe and Becca are probably our top swimmers, but now we have some promising young swimmers that we're real excited about.”
As for Otwell, she hopes to lead the Freeport program by following in the path of two of her former Fox Chapel club teammates who claimed state titles, Mars grad Maggie Gruber and Penn-Trafford grad Christian McCurdy.
Gruber — a freshman at Virginia Tech — was a six-time state champion in high school, and McCurdy won a pair of Class AAA state titles before setting two N.C. State school records and qualifying for the NCAA championships last year as a freshman.
Otwell hopes her career will be similar, with the first stop being the top of the PIAA medal stand.
“Right now, I'm just watching to see what schools I get letters from and who's interested. Maggie has really helped by telling me what questions to ask about colleges,” Otwell said. “Christian has just been a big inspiration to me with how great he's doing in college, and he's told me about how much of a mental difference it is going from high school or club to college.”
Apart from more titles for Otwell, the area's best chance for WPIAL swimming gold is St. Joseph sophomore Sabrina Bowman.
Bowman was the WPIAL runner-up behind Gruber last year in the 100 fly and placed fifth in the 100 backstroke, again behind Gruber. St. Joseph does not have a swim team, so Bowman represents the school in individual events.
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