Gateway’s Livingston returns to defend WPIAL, PIAA titles
By: Michael Love
Sunday, December 10, 2017 | 10:42 PM
Olivia Livingston burst onto the high school swimming scene in a big way last year.
She already was known as a high-level racer in club-swimming circles, and as a freshman for Gateway, she added WPIAL and PIAA championships and records to her already-lengthy list of accolades.
Livingston is not resting on her laurels this year. Instead, she said, her focus to succeed at the top in the WPIAL and beyond has risen to a new level.
“I go into every race with the same mindset as before, to do my best all the time,” said Livingston, the defending WPIAL champion in the 50 and 100 freestyles and the reigning PIAA champ in the 50 free. I am looking forward to racing everyone and seeing how it all shakes out.”
Her times of 22.83 seconds in the 50 free and 49.53 in the 100 free broke WPIAL records. The 100 free time surpassed the former record of 50.48 set by U.S. Olympian Leah Smith while at Oakland Catholic in 2013.
Livingston's 50 free of 22.73 at the PIAA meet also set a state record. She then placed second in a fast 100 free race at Bucknell with the same time of 49.53 she recorded at WPIALs.
“She is certainly ready to drop time from last year,” Gateway coach Johnathan Moore said. “There are a number of high-level swimmers in the WPIAL and throughout the state that are ready to challenge her.”
Livingston spent last weekend at the USA Swimming Winter Junior Nationals in Knoxville, Tenn., and she was busy with four events: the 50, 100 and 200 frees and the 100 back.
She said while she always is trying to up her game in several events, she most likely will return to the 50 and 100 frees for WPIALs.
“Practice is going really well,” Livingston said. “My endurance is better. Everything I'm doing is going back and helping the 50 and 100. Endurance and strength go hand in hand.”
Senior Savannah Plaskon, Moore said, should be involved heavily in WPIALs again this year. Last season, she swam individually in the 100 free and 100 breast and also was part of the 12th-place 200 free relay team with Livingston, sophomore Sydney Perry and graduate Chloe Neely.
“Savannah's right there with her best times,” Moore said.
Senior Michael Holmes also swam individually twice last year (100 free and 100 back) and was the only underclassman on the boys 200 medley relay that placed 14th at WPIALs.
“Michael set a high goal for himself to do well his senior season and also set himself up to swim in college,” Moore said. “He put the work in all fall.”
Moore also expects big things out of seniors Dave MacMurchy and Jake Mears. MacMurchy swam the 100 back at WPIALs last year, and Mears is a veteran WPIAL diving qualifier. Mears hopes to pull a double this year and qualify for not only WPIAL diving but also individually on the swim side in the 100 breast.
Moore said others who are back after competing at WPIALs last year in relays — senior Luke DiPalma, juniors Amanda Pugliano and Conor Farren and sophomores Nathan Gabriel and Jessica Stroh — are ready to drop time in competition. Gateway is set to open its season Thursday at Penn-Trafford.
DiPalma came close to qualifying for WPIALs in the 50 free several times last year. A number of swimmers also are prepping for the 56th annual Pitt Christmas meet this weekend at Pitt's Trees Pool.
“We have a good core back from WPIALs, both from individual events and from relays,” Moore said. “Several kids are already at WPIAL-cut times.”
The depth of girls team, Moore said, is bolstered by sophomore returnees Makayla Harris and Paige Bernardi, and freshmen swimmers Dylan Cook and Payton Brown on the boys side and Lauren Harper for the girls are hoping to make an impact.
Gateway diving coach Mehran Hedjazi said he likes the improvement shown by Ashia Lovelace, a freshman with no prior diving experience.
“We are looking forward to seeing what she can do over the next four years,” Hedjazi said. “If she continues like she has over the first couple of weeks, she has a shot at making WPIALs.”