Belle Vernon’s Shahan edges 100 freestyle rival to highlight WPIAL Class AA meet

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Friday, February 28, 2020 | 8:24 PM


Both Belle Vernon’s Ian Shahan and Neshannock’s Conner McBeth surpassed Shahan’s 100-yard freestyle WPIAL record from last year when the rivals swam neck-and-neck through Friday’s race at the WPIAL Class AA swimming championships at Pitt’s Trees Pool.

Only one could end up with his name in the record books and a gold medal around his neck.

Shahan out-touched Cooper at the finish, winning with a time of 44.68 seconds. Cooper clocked a runner-up time of 45.08.

“I love racing Conner,” Shahan said. “Me and him, we push each other so much.”

Shahan’s 2019 WPIAL-winning time in the event was 45.48.

The title is Shahan’s fifth WPIAL individual crown. He won the 100 backstroke in 2017 and added the 100 butterfly title Thursday to the one he won in the event last year.

“This is a good staging ground for states,” said Shahan, who hopes to claim his second-straight PIAA 100 free title. “I have a good base for where I need to go. I didn’t shave down for this meet, and I had a light taper, so I know I can go a lot faster. That’s the plan.”

McBeth, the 100 free champion as a freshman in 2018, also was runner-up to Shahan last year.

As Shahan and McBeth began Friday’s Class AA session with a bang, the Indiana boys capped it with a similar dynamic impact as senior Cole Thome won the 100 breaststroke in a time of 59.31 and the Indians 400 free relay of Cole Thome, junior Kyle Thome, junior Isaac Griffith and senior Kevin Zheng set a WPIAL record (3:11.91).

Indiana claimed its second consecutive boys team title with 236 team points to 213 for runner-up Northgate.

“This is so amazing to see,” Indiana coach Garet Weston said. “These guys worked so hard this year with the goal to defend the title. All the effort they put in certainly paid off.”

The Elizabeth Forward girls 400 free relay of senior Kaelyn McClain, juniors Natalie Glessner and Marleigh Bennett and sophomore Hailey Yurkovich capped the girls Class AA meet by edging Laurel Highlands for the title by eight hundredths of a second.

The Warriors quartet won with a time of 3:37.57, and that victory finalized their point total of 265 for the first WPIAL team title in program history.

“The boys won it many years ago (1993-96), and the girls wanted the banner on the wall in the pool just like the boys had,” EF coach Shawna Boden said. “These girls came in knowing they had a chance, and they didn’t disappoint.”

Mt. Pleasant finished second with 194 points, and 40 of those came from two WPIAL titles by senior Heather Gardner. On Friday, Gardner won her third straight title in the 100 breast and sixth WPIAL individual crown overall with a time of 1:04.87, more than a second faster than runner-up Rachel Blackburn from Highlands.

“It’s so awesome. It’s an honor,” said Gardner, a Liberty recruit who won her third 50 free gold medal in a row Thursday. “I’ve worked so hard to earn all those medals. I’m just really, really proud of myself to finish like that.”

Quaker Valley’s Isabel Huang is a perfect 4 for 4 in individual events at the WPIAL championships.

The sophomore successfully defended her title in the 100 backstroke Friday in a time of 57.00 seconds. She also won her second straight 200 IM title on Thursday.

“I’m so excited and happy,” she said. “It makes me really happy to know I’ve been able to stay so consistent.

“I hope I’m not peaking right now and that I peak at states. I have another chance to get faster.”

Also winning a second straight WPIAL title Friday was Deer Lakes senior Adam Morrison, who edged Indiana junior Kyle Thome at the finish.

“It feels so good to be on the top of the podium again, and I couldn’t have done it without Kyle pushing me like that,” said Morrison, who won with a time of 4:41.14. “It was a little disappointing with him getting me (Thursday) in the 200 (free), but I used it as motivation for today.”

A new champion was crowned in the girls 100 free. Thomas Jefferson junior Hallie Findlan, 14th as a freshman and third last year, stepped to the plate and delivered her first WPIAL individual title. She bested the field in a time of 53.12 seconds.

“I have no words, honestly,” said Findlan, second Thursday to Gardner in the 50 free. “I owe it all to my coaches, the support of my teammates and friends, and also all my competitors in the pool. We all did awesome today.”

Winchester Thurston freshman Maeve Kelley claimed her second WPIAL Class AA title Friday as she triumphed in the 500 free with a time of 5:06.20. She also won the 200 free, and the two titles are Winchester Thurston’s first-ever WPIAL swim championships.

Montour junior Alex May won the boys 100 back for the first time after taking sixth in the event as a freshman and tying for third last year. He touched the wall in a time of 53.26.

Only the champion in each individual and relay event at WPIALs earns an automatic berth to states. The PIAA plans to release the at-large time qualifier lists at noon Sunday at piaa.org.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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