Bond between swimming Shaffer sisters grows deeper in Pine-Richland pool

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Saturday, January 29, 2022 | 11:01 AM


Sarah Anne and Elizabeth Shaffer’s times are pretty close in the pool.

And that’s made them even closer outside of it.

Sarah Anne, a freshman, and Elizabeth, a junior, are sisters and members of the Pine-Richland swim team and the bond they’ve formed around the sport has enhanced their relationship even when they compete in the same event.

Sarah Anne has come out strong in her first varsity year, ranking second in the WPIAL in the 100 breaststroke. Elizabeth isn’t far behind in ninth.

“Swimming has definitely strengthened our relationship,” Elizabeth said. “Back when covid first started and we were quarantined and shut down, we just started talking about swimming and a bunch of other stuff too. Going through a really intense sport together, you understand how each other feels whether it’s a good day or a bad day. If we didn’t share the same sport, we probably wouldn’t see each other as much and I wouldn’t like that.”

There’s some natural competitiveness when it comes to racing each other, but the encouragement outweighs it. It’s been something to get used to for Elizabeth, a two-time WPIAL qualifier, to see her younger sister lined up beside her, but it’s proven to be beneficial for both.

“It’s been an adjustment for me, because I was used to being faster than Sarah Anne in the 100 breaststroke,” Elizabeth said. “Her coming on and having a breakout performance was a little tough at first, but honestly now I’m happy for her success and motivated by it.

“I think part of the reason I achieved a WPIAL qualifying time is because she was there pushing me and racing me. She really has pushed me to levels I didn’t know I could get to. Our goal for the 100 breaststroke is to finish 1-2 and we’re there almost every meet.”

Sarah Anne credited her older sister, as well as her other teammates and coaches, with helping her achieve strong performances as a freshman.

“She’s been really great with encouragement,” Sarah Anne said. “At practice and in meets, she’s always pushing me. Even if I had a bad day, she’s always reminding me that we’re here to work hard and swim fast. It’s fun to talk about it at home and go through the race, since we were both in the same situation.”

Aside from the 100 breaststroke, Sarah Anne also competes in the 200 IM, in which she also has a WPIAL qualifying time. Elizabeth has qualified for WPIALs in the 200 freestyle. Along with Delaney Allen and Mila Cribbs, both are on a 200 medley relay team that set a school and pool record this season and ranks third in the WPIAL.

The Shaffer sisters do not come from a swimming family. Elizabeth was the first one to try it, starting with swim lessons at age 5.

“My instructor said that one day maybe I could be on the swim team, but at the time, I could barely swim at all,” Elizabeth said. “I said to my mom, ‘I want to be on the swim team someday.’ She said no at the time, but a couple years later I still wanted to do it, so I joined the swim team at 8 years old and have been on it ever since.”

Sarah Anne soon followed in her older sister’s footsteps.

“I took swim lessons at age 5 and I got into it because I wanted to copy my older sister,” Sarah Anne said. “I looked like it was very fun. If Elizabeth was doing it, then I wanted to too, because if she’s swimming then it has to be fun.”

The Shaffers are gearing up for the WPIAL meet and are aiming to do well in individual events but also have their eye on helping the 200 medley team compete for a title and a PIAA berth.

Elizabeth is the veteran when it comes to WPIALs and is ready to answer any questions that may come up, but she isn’t concerned with her younger sister being ready. She expects her to shine like she has all season.

“It’s unlike any meet you can experience, but I know Sarah Anne is probably going to go out and win the 100 breaststroke and that’s going to be really exciting for me to watch,” Elizabeth said of WPIALs. “I want to be there racing in the same heat alongside her too. Honestly, though, it’s a worthwhile experience no matter what the result is. It was one of my best experiences of freshman year and even last year too even though it was different.”

Jerin Steele is a freelance writer

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