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Gators turn focus to WPIALs

| Wednesday, Feb. 19, 2014, 9:00 p.m.

The Gateway boys and girls swim teams will take a total of 18 competitors to next week's WPIAL Class AAA individual championships at Pitt's Trees Pool, and head coach Jason Kunkle said it's the largest group from Gateway in his nine years as head coach.

“We have a nice mixture of veterans and youth,” Kunkle said.

“We got better with every meet, and hopefully we will peak and be in a good position for WPIALs.”

Kunkle said with the section dual-meet season behind them — one that included an undefeated section title for the boys and a 6-2 section mark for the girls — the focus is on good swims next week.

“It's a clean slate,” he said.

“We had an exciting section season on the boys and girls side. It's been a while since we've had a season as strong as what the girls had. They had some great meets towards the end of the season. Both the boys and girls were able to meet team goals, now its about individual and relay swims at WPIALs.”

WPIALs, as in previous years, will be contested over two days — Feb. 27 and 28.

The AAA meet will begin at 10 a.m. both days, with the 200 medley relay, 200 free, 200 IM, 50 free, 100 fly and 200 free relay on day one. The 100 free, 500 free, 100 back, 100 breast and 400 free relay will be on day two.

The top eight finishers in each individual and relay event earn medals, and the top three automatically advance to states at Bucknell University.

Swimmers outside the top three automatic qualifiers also will have the chance to make it to states based on the times they record. Those remaining spots for states will be determined by the PIAA.

Gateway swimmers returning to WPIALs are seniors Sean O'Donnell, Alex Caprara, Alex Bolen, Jake Beley, Ian Kirkpatrick, Abbey Kimicata, Val Pascoe and Kylie Hagerich; juniors Sarah Sheldon, Sydney Mandella, Eric Rozeck and Alex Coutsoumbis; and sophomore Mitchell Wolfarth.

New to WPIALs this year are senior Jake Passalinqua, junior Samantha Mears, sophomores Jake Passalinqua and Bryan Patrick Farren and freshman Michael Klonicki.

O'Donnell (200 free, 100 fly), Caprara (200 IM, 100 breast), Bolen (50 free, 100 free), Sam Passalinqua (50 free), Beley (100 fly, 100 back), Kirkpatrick (100 breast), Jake Passalinqua (100 fly, 100 free), Farren (500 free), Wolfarth (200 IM, 100 breast), Klonicki (100 back), Sheldon (100 fly, 100 back), Mandella (100 free) and Hagerich (50 free, 100 free) will swim individually.

All six relays will be in action.

The boys 200 medley relay (Beley, Caprara, Jake Passalinqua, Bolen), boys 200 free relay (same as 200 medley relay), girls 200 medley relay (Sheldon, Pascoe, Rozeck, Mandella) and girls 200 free relay (Kimicata, Mandella, Hagerich, Sheldon) will swim on Feb. 27,

The boys 400 free relay (Coutsoumbis, Kirkpatrick, O'Donnell, Farren) and girls 400 free relay (Hagerich, Mandella, Mears and Kimicata) will swim on Feb. 28.

The Gateway boys finished last year's WPIAL meet tied for sixth in the team standings with Fox Chapel. The Gators' 141 points were only four away from fifth-place Mt. Lebanon.

Gateway earned four medals — Caprara in the 100 breast (fourth) and 200 IM (sixth) and Caprara, Bolen and Beley as part of both the 200 free relay (fifth) and 400 free relay (fourth).

Beley was very close to a pair of top-eight medals.

He finished ninth in both the 100 fly and 100 back.

Bolen, Caprara and Beley qualified in all eight individual events.

Each swimmer is permitted to compete in only two individual events at WPIALs.

“They challenge themselves at the beginning of the year, and it's exciting to see how versatile they are,” Kunkle said.

Kunkle is excited to see the performances of the relay-only swimmers in Coutsoumbis, Pascoe, Rozeck, Kimicata and Mears.

“They all had goals set on qualifying individually, but they still have very important roles on the relays,” Kunkle said.

“Traditionally, we've had great swims from individuals who are going to WPIALs for just relays, and I don't expect that to be any different. They have three others in the relay counting on them, and you can see they are ready.”

Several Gateway swimmers took part in a last-ditch qualifying meet Friday at Bethel Park High School, and O'Donnell (200 free), Wolfarth (200 IM) and Hagerich (100 free) were successful in their individual attempts.

“I don't think there is a more bittersweet meet in the year,” Kunkle said.

“As excited as you are for the ones who qualified in their events, your heart just breaks for those who were so close with all the hard work they put in and didn't make it. Those that swam Friday gave it their all and didn't hold anything back.”

Michael Love is a staff writer with Trib Total Media. He can be reached at 412-388-5825, at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Mlove_Trib.

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