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Annual WCCA swimming championships help prepare teams for WPIAL meet

Doug Gulasy | Tribune-Review - Penn-Trafford’s Devon Davenport competes in the 100-yard backstroke.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Doug Gulasy  |  Tribune-Review</em></div>Penn-Trafford’s Devon Davenport competes in the 100-yard backstroke.
Doug Gulasy | Tribune-Review - Franklin Regional’s Nick Whiteman competes in the 500-yard freestyle during a meet against Penn-Trafford on Jan. 10, 2014, at Penn-Trafford High School.
<div style='float:right;width:100%;' align='right'><em>Doug Gulasy | Tribune-Review</em></div>Franklin Regional’s Nick Whiteman competes in the 500-yard freestyle during a meet against Penn-Trafford on Jan. 10, 2014, at Penn-Trafford High School.

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Although the Westmoreland County Coaches Association swimming and diving championships are not on the same level of competition as next month's WPIAL championships, the event Friday and Saturday at Derry Area High School quickly has grown in importance to local schools.

“It gives the kids the bragging rights for the county, but at the same token, it gives the coaches a good measurement of how their kids will do at WPIALs,” Derry coach Jeff Kelly said. “We're going to have kids here who are obviously going to be top competitors at the county, district and state level.”

Not long ago, the WCCA struggled to convince many of the county's top teams to compete in the meet. But in recent years, coaches have begun to see the benefit of the competition.

This year, 17 teams will be competing for the county title: Belle Vernon, Burrell, Derry, Franklin Regional, Greensburg Central Catholic, Greensburg Salem, Hempfield, Jeannette, Kiski Area, Kiski School, Latrobe, Ligonier Valley, Mt. Pleasant, Norwin, Penn-Trafford, Valley and Yough.

“We're happy to have people come here,” Kelly said. “We're thrilled to death that we get so many coaches to come out, put their time into it and get the good swims that they get.”

While the swimmers are gunning for medals, many coaches still are more concerned about preparing for the WPIAL championships.

The county meet gives teams another great chance to try and earn WPIAL qualifying times and gauge their position against some of the area's top competitors.

“It's nice to have the county title, but it's not something that we're preparing special for. At this stage of the game we're looking beyond for WPIALs,” said Franklin Regional coach Vic Santoro, whose girls team finished second to Latrobe last year at the county meet and placed fifth at the WPIAL championship. “You can slightly address training, but we won't be pulling out the high-tech suits or shaving and tapering or anything like that.”

An aspect of the event that makes the WCCA championships unique is that each team can only enter two swimmers or divers per event as opposed to the four that are allowed in the WPIAL meet. It's one of the major reasons teams don't put as much stock into the outcome of the event, but that doesn't mean coaches are willing to concede a loss.

Rather, a bit more strategy comes into play.

“If you're going for the win, you have to predict where other teams are going to put their kids,” said Penn Trafford coach Dave Babik, whose boys team won the WCCA meet last year by edging Franklin Regional, 262.5-254. “You tend to get higher quality swims because only the best are the ones that are going to make it.”

Ultimately, teams need to protect their swimmers and keep their training regiments on pace for the WPIAL and even state championships, Santoro said.

The diving competition is set to begin at 5 p.m. Friday and the swimming competition will start at 10 a.m. Saturday.

Gary Horvath is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at ghorvath@tribweb.com.

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