A-K Valley swimmers hope to turn high seeds into gold at WPIAL championships

Wednesday, February 28, 2024 | 6:45 PM

Sarah Pasquella accomplished a lot in her two previous trips to the WPIAL Class 3A swimming championships at Pitt’s Trees Pool.

Last year, the Fox Chapel junior ascended the medals stand four times. She was a part of the WPIAL champion 400-yard freestyle relay and runner-up 200 medley relay while taking bronze in both the 50 free and 100 breaststroke.

She will be the hunted in her return to the WPIAL finals Thursday and Friday. In addition to being a part of two highly seeded freestyle relays (No. 2 for both), Pasquella is the top seed for the 200 free (1 minute, 52.06 seconds) and 100 breast (1:03.33).

Pasquella said she’s excited to be where she is heading into WPIALs but understands that her seedings don’t matter if she can’t execute when it is time to race.

“It is really cool to go in seeded this high,” she said. “I know there will be a number of really good swimmers in both of my (individual) events who will be looking to win it, and that is where the nerves and some pressure comes in. But I feel prepared with what I have done at practice and past meets. I have had time drops all season, and I hope to continue to have them.”

Pasquella is one of numerous Alle-Kiski Valley swimmers ready to make an impact. The Class 3A meet, with swimmers from Plum and Fox Chapel, begins with timed finals at 9:45 a.m. both days. The Class 2A meet follows at 3 p.m. and features competitors from Kiski Area, Knoch, Freeport, Highlands, Valley and Burrell.

In all, there are 49 A-K Valley entries to the WPIAL championships who are top-eight seeds, and several others have seeds just outside the top eight. The top eight finishers in each event will earn medals.

Only the WPIAL champion in each event automatically will qualify for the PIAA championships March 13-16 at Bucknell. The other at-large bids will be determined through the times recorded at each district or regional meet.

Kiski Area junior Justin Tucker and Mt. Pleasant’s David Mutter led the way in the boys 500 free at the Westmoreland County Championships on Jan. 27 at Derry.

Mutter won that day, and Tucker was second. They were separated by 2 seconds, and those times ended up being the top two boys Class 2A times through the regular season.

Mutter opted to swim the 100 fly, where he is the top seed, and the 200 free, where he is seeded second.

That elevated Tucker to the top seed and the favorite in the 500 free (4:41.81).

“I knew I was going to be pretty far up there,” said Tucker, who placed sixth in the 200 individual medley and seventh in the 100 breast last year. “I knew that there could be a chance David would swim the 500, but I also knew he was really strong in some other events. He ended up going with what he swam last year.

“I know that I am going to have to give it my all. It’s not going to be an easy race in the 500. But I am ready.”

Tucker knows what it is like to capture a WPIAL gold medal. He led off Kiski Area’s 400 free relay that won the WPIAL title last year and helped cap the Cavaliers’ first boys team championship.

“We lost some really good swimmers from last year’s team and we might not have the depth to win it this year, but I know we will be highly representative in several events and should be right up there in the team standings,” said Tucker, who also is seeded third in the 200 IM (1:57.43).

Kiski Area senior Eliza Miller is the defending champion in the girls Class 2A 500 free, and she returns seeded second in the event with a seed time (5:04.80) 5 seconds faster than what she recorded at WPIALs last year.

Fox Chapel junior Christian Dantey hopes to defend his boys Class 3A 200 free title. He is seeded second (1:42.03) to Central Catholic junior Luke Hartman (1:40.28).

“WPIALs is what you train for all year, and it is finally here,” said Dantey, who also is the second seed in the 100 breast (57.97) to Mt. Lebanon senior Ryan Frank (55.98). “I look at WPIALs as a reward for all that hard work. We get to display what we’ve been working on the whole entire year.”

With hopes of challenging defending Class 2A team champ Mt. Pleasant, the Kiski Area girls team also is fueled by the top-seeded 200 free relay (1:41.16) and the second-seeded 200 medley relay (1:50.04).

Also heading into WPIALs as No. 2 seeds are Fox Chapel freshman Charlotte Rusche in the Class 3A girls 500 free (5:03.57), Fox Chapel junior Owen Howell in the Class 3A boys 200 IM (1:55.99) and Freeport junior Kira Schrecongost in the Class 2A girls 100 fly (57.70).

“Being there before, I know what the pressure of WPIALs is like,” Howell said. “The pressure is a good thing for me, and I want to use it to my advantage. I am going to go down there and, hopefully, swim fast.”

Kira Schrecongost, who will swim with sister Kasey, a freshman, at WPIALs for the first time, captured WPIAL gold two years ago as a freshman in the 100 fly.

Kasey is the No. 3 seed in the 100 back and the No. 5 seed in the 100 free.

“I am not as busy on the first day (Thursday) as the first two years at WPIALs,” said Kira Schrecongost, who also will swim the 200 medley relay and 200 IM on Thursday. “It is still a lot to prepare for, but I feel I am pretty prepared for this. We’ve worked hard as a team, and we’re all ready to swim and get best times.”

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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