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Freeport's Bria Otwell, Kittanning's Morgan Joseph eye WPIAL swimming titles

| Thursday, Feb. 27, 2014, 1:01 a.m.
Erica Dietz | Valley News Dispatch
Freeport's Bria Otwell competes during a swim meet Monday, Feb. 10, 2014, at Highlands.

For local swim teams entering the WPIAL championships, it's about quality, not quantity.

Even with a limited number of area entrants, standouts such as Freeport junior Bria Otwell and Kittanning senior Morgan Joseph give their schools a good chance to be represented atop the medal stand in the WPIAL Class AA swimming championships Thursday and Friday at Pitt's Trees Pool.

Otwell is entered in four events, including two relays, and she is the two-time defending champ in the 200-yard individual medley. Joseph also was a state qualifier last year after a third-place finish in the 100 backstroke. She is the only Wildcats swimmer in this year's WPIAL meet.

“The last individual champ from Kittanning was A.J. Claypool (in 2005 in the 50 free),” Joseph said. “I hope I can do it. I'm really going to go after it, and we'll see what happens.”

Joseph is seeded second in the backstroke with her time of 1:01.46, and she is seeded 10th in her other event, the 100 butterfly, in which she placed eighth in last year. She said her first goal is to improve on her placing and qualify for states in both, and she has geared her workouts to be at her peak for the championship meet.

“We've been tapering for the past two weeks. Before, my (practice) yardage was up at 6,800 or 6,900 yards, and now I'm down to 3,200,” Joseph said. “I'm probably more ready than I have been before. I've been working a lot harder this year, and all my coaches have really helped me.”

Being the only Kittanning swimmer at the meet isn't a problem for Joseph. She'll only be swimming in one event each day with no relays, and she won't be completely alone on the pool deck.

“It's hard not having a team, but I swim for a club, and that's a lot of individual swimming,” Joseph said. “I'd like to have more girls from my team there, but from club swimming, I know a lot of the people and have tons of friends that are going to be there.”

Otwell will be aiming for her fourth WPIAL gold medal after winning two as a freshman and one last year.

The Freeport junior is seeded second in the 200 IM with a time of 2:13.47 and second in the 500 free — the other event she won as a freshman — with a 5:12.73. Her championship times of past years are far below those marks, and Otwell expects to again drop her times much lower at Pitt.

“The times on the psych sheets aren't my best times,” Otwell said. “At WPIALs, I'll have my best suit and a nice pool. I don't have the pressure on myself (to swim her fastest times) at a regular high school meet.”

The biggest threats to Otwell in the 200 IM are freshmen from neighboring schools. Knoch's Brooke Zukowski and Highlands' Bailey Bonnett also are in the 500 free. The trio began their swimming careers at the Allegheny Valley YMCA.

“I'm excited because it's kind of like a reunion for us,” Otwell said.

Otwell also will swim in the 200 medley and 400 free relays for the Yellowjackets, who qualified all three girls relays. The 400 free group — Otwell, freshman Kenzie Farneth, senior Becca Dudek and sophomore Zoe Pawlak — appears to be the biggest medal threat after being seeded 10th.

Pawlak also is a contender in the freestyle sprints. She is seeded fourth in the 50 (24.88) and fifth in the 100 (55.03). Dudek qualified to compete in the 200 free, while junior Riley Farneth, sophomore Maggie Ehalt and freshman Elizabeth Korbeck will swim in the Yellowjackets' relays.

Sophomore Tyler Ben is the only Freeport boy to qualify for WPIALs. He will race in the 100 fly and 100 backstroke.

Staff writer Bill West contributed.Matt Grubba is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at mgrubba@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Grubba_Trib.

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