A-K Valley swimmers get shot at PIAA gold this week
By: Michael Love
Monday, March 11, 2019 | 9:14 PM
Rachel Halapchuk is a four-time WPIAL medalist with two each in the 100-yard butterfly and 100 backstroke.
The Springdale senior posted a pair of eighth-place individual finishes at WPIALs earlier this month.
But she didn’t want her high school career to conclude without an opportunity to swim at the PIAA championships.
After some anxious waiting prior to the release of the state qualifiers March 4, Halapchuk got the news she had hoped for. She was heading to Bucknell in the 100 back.
“I was checking online and the other (district) meets to see what they were doing,” said Halapchuk, the second alternate for the 100 back last year.
“It was close, and I was hopeful. I was so excited when I found out I made it.”
Halapchuk knows she has a tough hill to climb as the 31st seed (1 minute, 0.62 seconds) out of 32, but she’s just glad for the opportunity.
“Hopefully, I don’t get last,” she quipped. “Whatever happens, happens. I just want to swim my best race.”
The two-day Class AA meet begins Wednesday and Thursday with preliminaries at 8 (girls) and 10:50 a.m. (boys). The top 16 after the prelims return for the consolation and championship finals at 4:35 p.m. Wednesday at 6:25 p.m. Thursday.
The girls diving championships will be at 1 p.m. Wednesday, and the boys will compete for state diving gold at 3 p.m. Thursday.
Deer Lakes junior Adam Morrison, the recently crowned WPIAL champion in the boys 500 freestyle, is the highest-seeded Alle-Kiski Valley swimmer at the PIAA meet.
He heads to states third in the 500 (4:40.05), trailing only District 9 champion Luke Mikesell, a junior from Clearfield (4:29.43), and Marian Catholic senior Danny Berlitz (4:30.41).
Mars senior Andrew Pierre, Morrison’s club teammate and the WPIAL runner-up, is seeded fourth (4:40.99).
Mikesell and Berlitz finished 1-2 at states last year, Pierre took fourth and Morrison swam in the consolation finals and placed 10th.
The WPIAL owns five of the top 10 seeds in the boys 500. Indiana junior Cole Thome and his brother, sophomore Kyle Thome, are seeded sixth and ninth, respectively, and Deer Lakes junior Noah Loper, a state-meet veteran himself, is the 10th seed after placing fifth at WPIALs.
Pierre and Morrison, 1-2 at WPIALs in the 200 free, are the respective third and fourth seeds for states.
“It was such a blessing to be able to swim against such talented fellow swimmers (at WPIALs) who pushed me to be my best,” Morrison said. “I’m sure it will be that way again at states.”
Highlands junior Rachel Blackburn, the WPIAL runner-up in the girls 100 breast, is seeded 14th at states (1:06.77), and she feels she has a faster swim in her as she hopes to surpass the 14th she recorded in the event at last year’s PIAA meet.
“I am really excited to be able to go back and hopefully climb up the ranks,” Blackburn said.
Blackburn also is seeded 19th in the 200 IM (2:13.41).
The A-K Valley is represented in 15 boys and girls events for swimming and diving.
The Knoch boys have several individuals and relays positioned with seeds in the top 10, including senior Matt Cummings in the 200 individual medley (ninth) and 100 breast (10th).
Junior Braden Zukowski is the eighth seed in the 100 breast, and the Knights’ 200 medley and 200 free relays are seeded ninth. Sophomore Zachary Wilson, Zukowski and Cummings were on both relays at WPIALs, and sophomore Michael Phillips and freshman Caden Traggiai also helped the relays earn medals.
On the girls side, the Freeport 200 free relay (Ariana Clark, Alexis Schrecongost, Madison Moretti and Isabella Parks) leads the way with a 12th seed (1:51.45). It set a school record in a runner-up finish at WPIALs.
The lineups for the relays do not have to be declared until the teams are on site at Bucknell.
Knoch senior Kristin Jerich will close out her high school career with one more shot at the state diving meet. Battling shoulder issues most of her time with the Knights, a healthy Jerich returns to states after making the finals last year and finishing 11th.
“Kristin is such a smooth competitor and is really relaxed for states,” Knoch coach Ken Bedford said. “We’ve taken things one day at a time since WPIALs and are fine-tuning a few things. She was just so consistent at WPIALs, and she wants to carry that over.”
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at [email protected] or via Twitter .