'Weird' arrangement allows Yough swimmers to compete
To get into the swim of things, four Yough High School students travel to three different schools as representatives of the Cougars swim team.
As one team member says, it's a little weird, but it works.
Team member Maddy Cook said that she's seen a look of bewilderment on her classmates' faces when the swim team is called to the office.
"Students look around and say, 'Yough has a swim team?'" she said.
Along with Cook, a junior, senior Jeff Mitchell and sophomores Tiffany Nestor and Gino Ciarimboli round out the roster.
In his final regular-season meet last year, Mitchell qualified for the WPIAL championships in the 50-yard free style, by one-tenth of a second.
"It was awesome," Mitchell said. "It was my last meet in the regular season and my teammates were as excited as me."
In Mitchell's WPIAL appearance, he was seeded last, but finished 15th out of 32 swimmers, said his coach, Rob Reda. "Jeff came out of nowhere with that effort. It was a great swim for him -- an amazing race -- and we were excited for him."
Reda recalled, with a chuckle, that "when Jeff qualified for the WPIALs, he shaved his head and wore his swimming cap. In good taste, we made fun of him. Now we joke about that; 'Let's shave our heads and wear our caps and swim faster like Jeff.'"
When Yough's school day ends and the four head to practice, they leave the school and travel in different directions: Cook and Mitchell to Belle Vernon, Nestor to Mt. Pleasant via Greensburg and Ciarimboli to Connellsville.
Yough has no pool and each, while representing Yough and wearing the school's green-and-white colors, participates in meets with a different school, in accord with WPIAL guidelines.
Reda, Belle Vernon Area swimming coach, oversees Mitchell and Cook, while Nestor, who competes with the Mt. Pleasant Area team, swims under the guidance of Kim Graziano at the Greensburg YMCA. Ciarimboli swims with the Regional Family YMCA team coached by Laurel Highlands in Connellsville and participates in meets with the Connellsville Area team.
"Not swimming with my home school is a little weird, but we only have four swimmers and we don't have a pool," Cook said. "It would be nice if we had a team but we are lucky to be able to swim even though we don't have a pool. But Belle Vernon's swimmers have made us a part of their team even though we are from a different school, so everything is working out fine."
Reda agreed with Cook's assessment, having seen her progress through two seasons.
"Maddy is an overall solid swimmer in every event," Reda said. "She is strong in the butterfly, her backstroke is great, and she is working on her breast stroke. She is determined to do well and is capable of swimming several different strokes. Maddy has great technique and body position in the water. She makes it seem effortless."
Even though Nestor failed to qualify for WPIALs last year as a freshman, she is on the verge of making her reservation at the WPIAL qualifier. Her time in the 100 breast stroke is less than a second from qualifying; in the 200 IM, she is three seconds shy; and in the 50 free style she is less than one-quarter of a second from reaching the qualifying time.
"Tiffany is a consistent, versatile swimmer and pretty flexible, willing to swim in any event. She has come a long way since she started swimming at the Y five years ago," Graziano said. "She started from ground up and is still growing into the sport. Her times keep dropping and she is close to qualifying. She is good at balancing competitive swimming and having fun. She is competitive, but she knows when to have fun."
Like her Yough teammates, Nestor is enjoying the unusual opportunity to represent Yough while swimming with the Vikings.
"I've made a lot of new friends," she said. "But once I get to practice, that's what I have to concentrate on."
Even though Highlands has been coaching Ciarimboli since only last summer, she has already noticed his progress.
"Gino listens and is attentive to details," Highlands said. "He tries everything I give him and he does not give up. He is self-driven and goal-oriented and self-disciplined to achieve those goals. We are fine-tuning some of his techniques and improving on what he has already learned."
Ciarimboli participates in the 100-, 200-, and 500- freestyle events, as well as the 100 breast stroke, but Highlands sees him as better in long-distance events, where he is developing his kick and fine-tuning his technique, willing to put in the time and work to succeed. In Ciarimboli's first meet of the season, he finished first in the 200 and second in the 500.
Even though Yough's swimmers travel to practices every day, most often escorted by their parents, the extra time has not affected their academic standings. Maddy Cook's grade average is 3.91 and she ranks seventh among Yough's juniors. Jeff Mitchell, with a 98 percent average, is seventh in the senior class. Tiffany Nestor maintains a 90 percent average, while Gino Ciarimboli comes in with a 97.3 average.