A-K Valley athletes of the week: Kiski Area’s Justin Tucker, Knoch’s Giona Lavorini

Saturday, March 23, 2024 | 5:50 PM

Giona Lavorini

Class: Junior

School: Knoch

Sport: Swimming

Report card: Lavorini won a gold medal in the 100-yard breaststroke at the PIAA Class 2A girls swimming championships March 16 at Bucknell. Lavorini dropped more than a second from her prelim time to win the championship heat in 1 minute, 2.11 seconds. Lavorini also finished fifth in the 200 IM (2:04.42) at states. She also won a gold medal in the breaststroke and finished third in the 200 IM at the WPIAL championships earlier this month.

How did it feel to capture the PIAA gold medal?

It felt really good. I definitely wasn’t expecting that, but I was definitely happy to win. It was great feeling, too, coming back to school and everybody congratulating me, the teachers and classmates. I was really happy getting that gold medal.

What was the key part of that race?

When I race, I kind of zone out. I don’t remember a lot. Probably the last 25 (yards) of the race, I could kind of see Peyton (Scott from Indiana) in the lane next to me. I kind of started to pick up my speed a little bit. I didn’t know I won until I looked at the scoreboard.

Was that a goal for you at the start of the season?

Yeah, kind of. I kind of knew it was doable because I came in third last year. Peyton, who got first last year at states, is like my best competition. I see her at YMCA meets and high school meets. I just put in the extra work this year and hoped for the best.

What did it take to get to this point?

I do double practices every day and dryland Monday, Wednesday, Friday. Just putting in extra work, especially in breaststroke. If we have a set that would be choice, I would do breaststroke to put in that work. I tried to work on my pullouts. I’d still have room to improve, but it definitely helped for the race.

Where did you put your medal? Did you wear it for a while?

I didn’t wear it for very long. I’m not that type of person. I don’t like to boast about my achievements. I’m pretty humble. I have a place at my house, a little table, that has a bunch of me and my brother’s medals. It’s just sitting next to my other state medals. It definitely looks nice having a gold medal now.

What is the atmosphere like at the state championship meet?

This year, I had a couple teammates with me. In the past, it was my me and my coach on pool deck. It was nice having them there to kind of distract me from my actual race and having them being excited over my win. They were more excited than me winning my race.

What did becoming Knoch’s first state swim champion mean to you?

I was surprised when I found out I was the first one. I thought there a couple people in the past. They’ve come very close. It’s really cool knowing I’m the first one and hopefully not the last one, just to start that chain of state champs.

Do you have your eye on the WPIAL record in the breaststroke (1:01.61)?

Yeah, that’s definitely a goal I have, a lot of things I can work on in the next year. That definitely will be a goal for me next year. Being only 0.3 away this year. Hopefully I can drop more time next year.

What was it like to have your brother, Adrian, swimming at the PIAA championships as well?

It was good. He swam last year, too. We didn’t see each other a lot because of him being in a different session. He said he was more nervous for my race than for his.

How did you get started in swimming?

I started doing swim lessons really little, probably 3. Just became my parents wanted me to learn how to swim . I just really enjoyed it. My lessons teachers saw potential in me and my brother and were like, ‘You should join the swim team.’ I joined the Butler Y swim team in fifth grade, which was kind of late. I’ve been swimming ever since.

How will you spend the offseason?

Offseason for me is basically only April and part of August. I just kind of don’t swim then and just hang out. It’s nice to come home from school and be able to relax. After a couple weeks, I definitely miss swimming.

Have you made any plans for college yet?

I definitely plan to swim in college. Hopefully, a D-1 school. I’m not sure exactly what I want to do, but I was thinking something in the medical field.

Do you listen to music at meets?

Not really. I’m one of the only people that don’t listen to music. I feel like if I did I wouldn’t be zoned in for my race.

What’s the longest distance you’ve swam?

I think I’ve swam every event. I’ve swam the mile. I also swim long-course events. My coach likes everybody being able to swim every event once. I don’t really enjoy the long distance.

Justin Tucker

Class: Junior

School: Kiski Area

Sport: Swimming

Report card: Tucker placed third in the 500-yard freestyle in a time of 4:36.01, dropping more than three seconds from his prelim swim, at the PIAA Class 2A boys swimming championships March 16, at Bucknell. Tucker also placed fifth in the 200 IM (1:54.29). That followed up his silver-medal effort in the 500 free and 200 IM at the WPIAL championships earlier this month. He also was sixth with the 200 and 400 freestyle relay teams. Tucker was part of Kiski Area’s 2023 WPIAL 400 freestyle relay team that set a WPIAL record in 3:10.23 and were PIAA runners-up.

How did you feel about your performance at the PIAA championships?

It felt pretty good. I was going into it not really knowing what was going to happen. It’s tough to only have a week and half between WPIALs and states. I was super happy and humble at the meet. The 500 was better, which I was so happy about it. I was ecstatic. My mentality in both events was to get to the finals. I wanted to go out fast and see what happens. If you die, you die.

What was the key to getting bronze in the 500 free?

My plan was to go out fast. I wanted to stay with Woobie (Kupsky) and Soren (Cooper). They’re both fast. Whatever Woobie did, I was going to do, too. I stuck with him, and with 150 to go Woobie took off. He threw in a huge surge that I didn’t have enough left in the tank. In the end, I was still super happy with my race.

Was being on the podium at states a goal for you at the start of the season?

For sure. My ultimate goal was to win, but at least I was on the podium. I couldn’t be more happy.

What did it take to get to this point?

The start of the swim season is a little rough because I did cross country and marching band in the fall. I’m not in the pool as much. I’m still getting in shape. It takes me a week or two. I’ll go to a couple USA swimming meets on the weekends just to keep racing. I didn’t really taper this year until we got to WPIALs. I tapered more for states, and it seemed to work so I’m pretty happy.

What is the atmosphere like at the state championship meet?

It’s really good. You can feel the excitement when you walk in there. You know where you’re at. You know you’ve worked really hard to get to that point to where you can let it all out and see what happens. I love everybody on deck, all the swimmers, all my teammates, all the competitors. I love talking to everybody. To have my team behind my back was great, too.

How did last year’s experience with the relay team help this year?

I had a pretty good mentality of what it would feel like. Last year, we had a chance to win a state gold medal. We went for it. We came in seeded second in the finals. We didn’t expect Bishop McCort to do what they did. We lost with respect. We were sad but also super happy because you still walk away with the silver medal at states. It’s awesome. It definitely gave me some confidence from it.

How did you get started in swimming?

My sister started swimming when she was 7, and I just remember sitting in the bleachers and told my mom ‘I kinda want to do this. It looks like fun.’ A year later I was in the pool. It was really exciting at first. I had no clue it would lead me to where I am at now.

How will you spend the offseason?

Once I’m done with this (USA swimming) meet, I’ll take two weeks of and transition onto the ground. I’m a distance runner in track. That will be my next focus. When I’m in track or cross country season, my full focus goes to running. I’ll get in the pool here and there (for long-course season) just to shake it out a little.

Have you made any plans for college yet?

I want to swim. That’s the plan. I’ve been talking to a good bit of schools.

What’s your favorite home-cooked meal?

I really enjoy, this is so random, it’s one of my favorites, my mom will cook onions and peppers and make sausage or kielbasa. I’ll have it with white rice. For running, it’s really my super food. For swim, I still love to eat it.

Do you have a favorite local restaurant?

I love all places. I’m a huge fan of breakfast. Sundays when I go to church in the mornings, my grandparents and my family will go to this place in Vandergrift, G&G (Restaurant) and also Le Cafe. And this place in Apollo called Central (Restaurant & Bar). Any place with breakfast or brunch, really.

What’s the longest distance you’ve competed in swimming?

The 1,650, for sure. I’ve been invited to the open water swim meets when I was little. I’ve just never gone to it.

What makes you want to do the longest event possible?

It’s probably my sweet spot. I’m a mid-distance guy in swimming. I’m not a sprinter. I can’t do a 50 free to save my life. I need a 50 or two to get up and go.

What is something people might not know about you?

When I was young, my mom told me and my sister, ‘you guys need to do an instrument.’ My mom was in marching band and played flute and piccolo and was drum major. I said I wanted to play saxophone. Third grade, I started on alto sax, now I play baritone sax. I’m in wind ensemble and jazz ensemble. I’ve done marching band the past two years. I also tried out for my school’s top chorus, Cav singers. I made Cav signers for next year. I thought that would be something fun to do.

Bill Hartlep is the TribLive sports editor. A Pittsburgh native and Point Park graduate, he joined the Trib in 2004, covering high school sports. He held various editing roles before assuming his current position in 2019. He can be reached at bhartlep@triblive.com.

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