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Franklin Regional swimming teams hoping for fast start, good finish

| Tuesday, Dec. 3, 2013, 9:00 p.m.
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Franklin Regional's Alyssa Ruffing takes part in the 200 IM at the Westmoreland County Coaches Association Swimming and Diving Championship on February 2, 2013 at Derry Area High School in Derry Township.
Eric Schmadel | Tribune-Review
Franklin Regional's Tyler Stevenson swims at the Westmoreland County Coaches Association Swimming and Diving Championship on February 2, 2013 at Derry Area High School in Derry Township.

The Franklin Regional boys and girls swimming and diving teams aren't quite in midseason form yet. But the Panthers are closer than they've ever been at this point.

“A lot more of our kids did a lot of preseason conditioning, either swimming, lifting weights or playing fall sports, so that when we started our season this year, we were about two weeks ahead of the game from where we usually are,” coach Vic Santoro said. “I'm hoping that that's going to pay off for us.

“We've always been very fortunate to have good end-of-the-season tapers at WPIALs and states. I preach to the kids (that) the only way you can do that is if you put a lot of hard work in the bank during the season.”

Franklin Regional will begin its season Friday night at Seneca Valley looking to build off a 2012-13 campaign that saw both teams claim top-10 finishes in the WPIAL, including a fifth-place finish for the girls squad. The boys team won the Section 1-AAA title, while the girls placed 14th at the PIAA championships.

But the Panthers must also replace large graduating classes from both teams heading into 2013-14, including two swimmers — Dale Maholage (Loyola) and Kaitlyn Ruffing (Lehigh) — who are now competing at the Division I level.

“This year could be classified as a rebuilding year, especially on the guys team,” Santoro said. “The guys team is very young. We have a lot of freshmen that came in.”

The girls team will look for another top-10 finish in the WPIAL on the strength of several returning WPIAL qualifiers.

Senior Alyssa Ruffing, who won WPIAL titles in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle in 2012, will lead the pack. The University of Kentucky recruit finished third in the 50 free and fourth in the 100 free at the WPIAL meet last season and helped the 200 medley relay finish third at the PIAA meet. Along with Ruffing, senior Julianna Carolla and sophomore Megan Remaley were part of the state-qualifying 200 free relay team that earned All-American status last season.

Ruffing and Carolla will be joined by several other WPIAL qualifiers, including seniors Tori Frydrych and Cheyene McIntyre, juniors Maura Jacob and Rosie Maholage and sophomores Meredith Easterling, Remaley and Laura Snyder.

Santoro expected a handful of freshmen to also step in and contribute.

“On the girls side, we have more depth,” Santoro said. “We have bigger numbers on the girls side, too. We have some very strong returning swimmers on the girls side. Even though we had a strong graduating class, we still should be strong.”

The boys team will also need to rely on some freshmen, Santoro said.

“Unfortunately on the guys side, freshmen coming in at 14 or 15 years old usually cannot produce what a 17- or 18-year-old junior or senior can,” he said. “As they grow older, they get bigger and stronger and faster. We have a very good freshman class, but the key is they are freshmen. It takes a while to develop them.”

In the meantime, Franklin Regional will look to key returners such as seniors Nicholas Santoro and Nicholas Whiteman, juniors Ben Mendez, Nick Munson and Nick Snyder and sophomore Tyler Stevenson. All six swimmers qualified for WPIALs last season, with Stevenson placing 12th in the 200 free and swimming on the state-qualifying 200 freestyle and medley relay teams.

“He definitely is as strong as anyone out there in the WPIAL,” Santoro said. “I'm expecting a lot from Tyler.”

Franklin Regional will compete in Section 1-AAA against Connellsville, Hempfield, Kiski, Latrobe, Norwin and Penn-Trafford. Section competition will begin in January.

The Panthers are aiming for section titles on both the boys and girls sides, as well as team goals at the WPIAL and state meets.

“Both squads, boys and girls, should be able to send relays up to states, and both squads have good possibilities of medaling up at states,” Santoro said. “We have always been a team that focuses more on the team rather than the individual. And because of that, our relays have always done very, very well. I have the swimmers set individual goals and team goals, and overall we shoot for the team goals first.”

Doug Gulasy is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5830, via email at dgulasy@tribweb.com or via Twitter @dgulasy_Trib.

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