Latrobe girls swim team boasts strong returning corps

| Tuesday, Dec. 17, 2013, 9:00 p.m.

Latrobe lost one of the top swimmers in the state to graduation last spring, but luckily for the Wildcats, they returned three others.

Seniors Gina Defrancesco and Kayla Owens and junior Monica Sowinski accounted for 75 percent of the group of girls that led Latrobe to a fourth-place finish at the PIAA Class AAA Swimming and Diving Championships last March.

Though there is a hole left by the departure of Maddie Hoopes, who now swims for the University of Connecticut, Latrobe coach Grey Arrigonie is confident his girls can repeat the many successes of a year ago.

In addition to the girls' impressive performance at states, their accomplishments included a Section 1 title, a win at the Westmoreland County Coaches Association Swimming and Diving Championship and a fourth-place finish at the Class AAA WPIAL Swimming and Diving Championship.

“We don't really want to take a step down,” Arrigonie said. “That's the bar we kind of set every year now.”

On Dec. 9, the Wildcats opened their season against Laurel Highlands with the girls winning and the boys losing.

A week later, they were scheduled to face Mt. Pleasant and Greensburg Salem.

Latrobe's next meet is Jan. 2 at Franklin Regional, a strong section foe.

It won't be easy for Latrobe to replace Hoopes in the backstroke leg of the 200 medley relay. Neither it nor the 200 and 400 freestyle relays are set, but the three returning stars are all but certain to play crucial roles.

Sophomores Courtney Kinkead, Megan Douds and Karley Owens (Kayla's sister) have emerged as candidates to join them.

“It'll be a good battle,” Arrigonie said. “We have three or four girls that are all fighting for it. That's a good thing.”

As for the Latrobe boys, who did not enjoy quite as much success as their female counterparts in 2012-13, senior John Jankowski and junior Michael Marinchak are expected to stand out in the pool.

Marinchak was part of the 200 medley and 200 freestyle relays that qualified for the WPIAL meet last season. This season is the first that Jankowski, a veteran swimmer, will compete for the Wildcats.

The boys will rely on junior Taylor Barta for points in diving, and the girls will look to sophomore Rachel Douglas. They both were first-year divers last season, and both qualified for WPIALs. There also are first-year divers this season who could turn out to be key contributors.

But the Wildcats will go as far as their veteran swimmers can take them. At the PIAA meet, the elder Owens took third in the 200 IM and fifth in the 100 breaststroke, Sowinski finished sixth in the 100 free and won the consolation race in the 200 free and Defrancesco grabbed third in the 500 freestyle consolation race.

Latrobe is expecting to see success in each of those events again this year.

“I think we have a lot of talent on the team, even though we're small,” said Defrancesco, who made it her goal to break the school record in the 500 free. “I think there's a lot of quality for the small quantity.

“We lost a lot of seniors last year, so we're not as big, and I think it'll be hard, but I think we're just about as good as last year.”

If that ends up being true, no doubt it will largely be because of Defrancesco, Owens and Sowinski.

“They're extremely important,” Arrigonie said. “Having three girls of that caliber is pretty nice.”

Mark Emery is a freelance writer.

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