Team effort sparks Franklin Regional's swimming success
Coming off one of the most prolific seasons in school history the year prior, Franklin Regional swimming coach Vic Santoro remained optimistic but knew it was going to be an uphill climb if his boys and girls teams were going to make a serious run in the WPIAL and PIAA swimming and diving championships.
And then came last January's Westmoreland County Coaches Association meet where the entire tone of the season changed over the span of the two-day event.
“I was optimistic, but the reality was that last year I didn't have any girls and I graduated one of the best swimmers that ever came out of Franklin Regional in Tyler Stevenson,” said Santoro, who is in his 25th season as coach. “The kids really bought in. This is one of the best years I've had in a while with what our representation will be (at the PIAA meet). Their hard work is paying off.”
The first-place finish by the girls team and third-place by the boys at the WCCAs was the shot in the arm both teams needed moving into the final month of the regular season schedule.
“We worked throughout the season and preached to the kids that you have to work hard now,” Santoro said. “We saw our first glimpse during the county meet. The girls ended up winning, and the boys had a very strong showing.”
Santoro's message going into last week's WPIAL Class AAA championships at Pitt's Trees Pool was to sacrifice individual events for the greater good of the team and focus on relays. He asked his swimmers to swim three relay events and focus on their best individual event. The message was heard loud and clear as Santoro's strategy paid off. For the first time in recent history, Franklin Regional will be taking six relay teams to the PIAA championships March 15-18 at Bucknell.
“It's teamwork with the kids working together,” Santoro said. “One of the kids researched back to 2000, and we haven't had six relays (to the PIAAs) in that time. I'm impressed. It doesn't happen very often that we get all six relays to states.”
In all, Franklin Regional took home 29 medals from last week's WPIAL championships. The girls finished in fourth place (121) overall with the boys earning seventh (127).
“(WPIALs) is always the most exciting meet of the year, even more so than states, because of the atmosphere,” Santoro said.
But even with all the new bling around their necks, the Panthers still had no idea who was all going to make the three-hour drive east to Bucknell until the PIAA announced all the qualifiers Sunday.
“We have 12 kids going to PIAAs,” Santoro said. “Without real superstars, it's been a real team effort to reach our success.”
Sophomore diver Mason Fishell turned in a PIAA-qualifying performance on the 1-meter boards. He finished in third place with a score of 302.77. Fishell is closing the gap on his competition as he finished just 28 points off Pine-Richland's Austin Shaw's gold-medal finish (330.80).
“Mason making it as a sophomore is pretty good,” Santoro said. “Mason is very acrobatic, and he's a big, strong kid. I credit (coach) Frank Nelson for our diving success.”
The Panthers are taking both the boys and girls 200 medley relay teams to Bucknell. Abigail Ramey, Michelle Lopes, Shannen Cloherty and Morgan Birdy came together to post a fourth-place time of 1 minute, 48.63 seconds. The boys (Giocomo Oldrini, Patrick Cavanaugh, Andrew Roote, Jarod Crowell) broke a school record with their seventh-place finish (1:36.32).
“(The boys) just didn't break it, they shattered it,” Santoro said. “We knew it was a good time, and both teams hit the time I quoted them to go for. After the first two events on Thursday, they both came out with medals.”
Ramey, an under the weather Lopes, Cloherty and Birdy also teamed up for a third-place finish (3:32.17) in the 400 free relay. The girls also grabbed sixth place (1:37.96) in the 200 free.
Birdy will make the trip east with her fourth-place finish in the 100 butterfly (57.60), and Crowell finished eighth (21.58) in the 50 free. Crowell's time is good for sixth among the PIAA time qualifiers.
The boys 200 free relay team of Ethan Yant, Roote, Miller and Crowell turned heads with their third-place finish (1:25.90). The effort tied the school record.
Yant, Miller, Cavanaugh and Crowell banded together again to finish with a PIAA-qualifying time of 3:12.15 and finish seventh in the 400 free relay.
Sophomore Patrick Cavanaugh is also heading to states as an individual. He placed sixth in the 100 breastroke (59.24).
William Whalen is a freelance writer.