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Knoch freshman Zukowski qualifies for WPIAL meet in 10 events

| Tuesday, Feb. 11, 2014, 12:01 a.m.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Knoch swimmer Brooke Zukowski completes a freestyle swim at the Butler County YMCA on Thursday, February 6, 2014.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Knoch High School swimmer Brooke Zukowski pauses for a portrait at the Butler County YMCA during swim practice on Thursday, February 6, 2014.

During the third week of the WPIAL cross country season, Knoch freshman Brooke Zukowski suffered a stress fracture in her foot, slowing her preparation for swimming season.

Once she got back into swim mode, her kicks were limited and she couldn't push off the wall.

Now back near full strength, she has a high ceiling.

Zukowski has adapted well to varsity swimming, qualifying for the WPIAL Class AA championships in 10 events. She'll compete in two — the 200-yard individual medley and 100-yard breaststroke — when the championships are contested Feb. 27-28 at Pitt's Trees Pool. A strong performance could earn her a spot in the PIAA championship meet March 12-15 at Bucknell.

Zukowski admits she is nervous for the WPIAL meet but has a wide-eyed curiosity about the new experience.

“I just want to go for my best times no matter what,” Zukowski said. “I'm not too concerned about anything. If I get my best times, I'll be happy. That's all I can ask for.”

Already used to a grueling training schedule, she'll experience even more pruned hands and feet as she amps up her training for the WPIAL postseason. Longer practices are on tap for now, but like most competitive swimmers, she'll slow some in terms of preparation once it gets closer to meet time.

Knoch coach Rick Hassler didn't know what to expect out of Zukowski as a freshman, but he's quite pleased with her success.

“She swims all year round, and that's a plus,” Hassler said. “She's very dedicated and she's very competitive. She's got a thing about her that she's willing to push her teammates to make them better.”

While Zukowski is always willing to lend a helping hand, her teammates are always there for her, too. That speaks to the unity within the program.

“We are always positive with each other,” Zukowski said. “There's been a few times especially even with me, I'll have an awful race, and someone will come over and talk to me. I'll get myself together and make the next race better.”

Zukowski takes in daily after-school practices at Knoch before she joins the Fox Chapel Killer Whales club team for further practice. She estimates she swims about 14,000 yards, or almost eight miles, in a normal day.

With all the swimming she does, combined with school work, she admits it can take its toll on her physically. But despite being exhausted at times, she fulfills her duties as a student-athlete.

Zukowski said she will do homework in between practices in the car, and also on the weekends. She tries to do as much homework as she can on the weekend so she can catch up on sleep during the week.

Her other WPIAL-qualifying events are the 50, 100, 200 and 500 freestyles, 200 freestyle medley, 100 backstroke and the 200 medley and 400 freestyle relays.

D.J. Vasil is a freelance writer.

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