Class AA swimmers in limbo as coronavirus concerns put state finals on hiatus

Saturday, March 14, 2020 | 5:57 PM

Braden Zukowski and his Knoch swimming and diving teammates were eating breakfast about 10 minutes away from Bucknell on Thursday when they got the news the PIAA had postponed Friday and Saturday’s Class AA championship for two weeks because of the ongoing safety response to the coronavirus pandemic.

“We finished eating and turned around to go home,” Zukowski said. “We drove three-and-a-half hours to go to Perkins.”

Many of the Class AA coaches and swimmers were converging on Bucknell for registration and a practice session at Kinney Natatorium when the PIAA made its announcement. Registration for the WPIAL teams was to begin at 12:30 p.m., with practice set for 1:45.

“You had parents and contestants coming in from all over the state, so you have to be as cautious as possible,” said Deer Lakes senior Adam Morrison, one of the top seeds in the boys 200-yard freestyle and 500 free.

“I am definitely upset they cancelled it, but I can also understand why. I just think it would’ve been better if they would’ve announced it earlier so a lot of the (Class AA) teams wouldn’t have made the trip for nothing.”

According to the Pennsylvania Department of Health, as of Saturday at 2 p.m., there were 41 presumptive cases of covid-19 and six confirmed cases throughout the state.

The PIAA has not yet moved from Thursday’s original postponement plan for Class AA swimming and diving, but with Friday’s announcement from Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf that all schools in the commonwealth be closed — classes and all other activities, including spring sports practices and games — for at least 10 business days, through March 27, the postponement could extend further than two weeks or lead to a cancellation.

“I really hope they eventually can reschedule the meet, but with so many other things, college sports, everything, getting canceled, the chances, I think, are slim,” said Zukowski, a senior who also runs track in the spring. “We’re all (swimmers and divers) in the same situation of trying to find ways to stay physically and mentally ready.”

Along with the Class AA postponement, the PIAA on Thursday cancelled the Day 2 Class AAA consolation and championship finals and declared the top finishers from that morning’s preliminary heats the state champions. The Class AAA championships concluded Thursday afternoon with the girls diving competition.

The PIAA has not officially indicated how state champions would be determined if the Class AA meet is cancelled.

If it chooses to award state titles and medals based on seed times (swimming) or points (diving), Deer Lakes coach Bob Loper feels that would be the best solution.

“I think that would be the fairest way to do it, have the state just send out the medals, one through eight,” Loper said. “If you had the fastest time coming in, you get the gold medal, and so on all the way down to eighth.”

Belle Vernon junior Ian Shahan (boys 100 fly, 100 free), Mt. Pleasant senior Heather Gardner (girls 50 free), Neshannock junior Conner McBeth (50 free), North Catholic freshman Maggie Foley (girls diving) and Trojans senior Kyle Maziarz (boys diving) are the top seeds in their respective events.

“My teammates and I, along with our coaches, sat down and talked about what could happen,” Shahan said. “As of now, with everything up in the air, its tough to put together a definite gameplan. It’s all a bunch of what-ifs. We’re going to try and find a place to practice, and we’ll probably also do some dry-land training, as well. We just want to do whatever we can.”

Gardner hopes to have a chance at a state title after placing second the past two years in the girls 50 free and earning runner-up and fourth-place medals in the 100 breast.

“I do have my hopes, but I am not getting them too high,” Gardner said. “It’s hard to think about it because I never won a gold medal at states, and it was something I had hoped to accomplish.”

In all, six girls swimmers and five boys from Mt. Pleasant qualified for states.

“It was the most we ever had qualify,” Gardner said. “We were so excited.”

Highlands senior Rachel Blackburn, like Zukowski and many other swimmers in Class AA, flow right into a spring sport after the swimming season concludes. The past three years, the end of Blackburn’s swim season came at states, and it was the same this year as she was to swim the 100 butterfly Friday and the 100 breaststroke Saturday.

She unexpectedly was practicing with her softball teammates Friday afternoon. But now, with all spring practices suspended, she, too, is searching for ways to get into a pool and keep sharp in case the swim championships are rescheduled.

“One of the only alternatives I would have would be the YMCA,” Blackburn said Friday evening. “But I don’t know if it will stay open much longer with so many other places closing. There wouldn’t be many other options. Basically, every swimmer is trying to figure out what to do. I just don’t think it will be ideal for any of us. I hope on being able to finish the season, but I want to finish it on a good note in my best condition.”

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

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