Deer Lakes’ Morrison leads talented A-K Valley contingent into WPIAL Class AA swim meet

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Wednesday, February 26, 2020 | 6:30 PM


Deer Lakes senior Adam Morrison has two main individual goals when he arrives at the WPIAL Class AA swimming championships Thursday and Friday at Pitt’s Trees Pool.

One is to defend his 2019 title in the 500-yard freestyle, and the other is to claim gold in the 200 free after placing second a year ago.

Morrison said he knows it won’t be easy as senior teammate Noah Loper, Indiana junior Kyle Thome and others have WPIAL title aspirations in both events. But he doesn’t think he’s ever felt better.

“The practices the past few days, we’ve been in a full taper, and I am happy with the way I’ve been performing,” said Morrison, who is seeded first in the 200 and second to Thome in the 500. “I am pretty confident that it will carry over to (Thursday) and Friday.”

Loper is the third seed in the 200 and 500.

The Alle-Kiski Valley is well represented among the upper echelon in almost every boys and girls individual and relay event both days. The general expectation among area competitors is that school records could fall and dozens of season and career bests will be recorded.

In the boys 100 breast Friday, Knoch senior Braden Zukowski, third last year to graduates Robert Spekis from Belle Vernon and William Crites from Greensburg Salem, is the No. 1 seed (1:02.73) and hopes to go under one minute after recording a 1:00.14 last year.

“I knew I would be somewhere up there, probably top three, depending on who did or didn’t swim it,” said Zukowski, who also will swim the fastest heat (as eighth seed) Thursday in the 200 individual medley. “I am certain we will all push each other to get best times. It should be a competitive race.”

Seven of the top eight in the boys 100 breast are seniors. The lone underclassmen, Southmoreland freshman Henry Miller, is seeded second (1:02.96).

Highlands senior Rachel Blackburn hopes the final WPIAL race of her career, the fastest heat in the girls 100 breast Friday night, will be her best. The IUP commit is seeded fifth and hopes to surpass her personal best of 1:06.28 set at states last year.

“I think it will be a pretty close and competitive race, like it always is,” said Blackburn, last year’s WPIAL 100 breast runner-up to Mt. Pleasant senior Heather Gardner. “The standards will be a lot higher this year. We all want to win.”

Gardner returns as the No. 1 seed (1:04.61) and the favorite in the event, while Freeport sophomore Alexis Schrecongost, third last year, is seeded second (1:07.40).

“I am comfortable with where I’m at, but I’m also a little anxious,” Schrecengost said. “I know everyone else has gotten faster from last year and will get best times.”

Schrecengost is the No. 2 seed to Indiana senior Parker Fanella in the 200 free, while Blackburn is switching her Day 1 swim from the 200 individual medley to the 100 butterfly (as fifth seed).

Freeport junior Brooke Welling also enters the WPIAL finals as a No. 2 seed (54.37). She will compete for a WPIAL title Friday in the 100 free. Thomas Jefferson sophomore Hallie Finlan is the top seed (52.70).

On Thursday, Welling will swim as the No. 5 seed (2:00.70) in the 200 free.

Also positioned in the fastest heat at WPIALs (top-eight seeds) on the girls side are Burrell freshman Payton O’Toole (200 free, eighth seed; 500 free, sixth), Highlands freshman Brenna Bonnett (500 free, eighth), and the fifth-seeded Freeport 200 free and 400 free relays (Schrecengost, Welling, junior Madison Moretti and freshman Aimee Heasley).

Swimming in the top heat for the boys are the fourth-seeded Knoch 200 medley relay (Zukowski, junior Zach Wilson, sophomore Caden Traggiai and junior Lachlan King), the eighth-seeded Deer Lakes 200 medley relay (Morrison, Loper, Dylan Hlvanka, senior AJ Dorman), Wilson (50 free, third; 100 back, eighth), and the sixth-seeded Knoch boys 200 free relay (Wilson, Traggiai, Zukowski, sophomore Nick Ferraro).

“Now is the time everyone steps up and you see some amazingly fast swims,” said Riverview junior Beth Shoop, who earned a seventh-place medal in the girls 500 last year and is seeded 12th for Friday’s race. “I really don’t focus all that much on heat sheets or psych sheets. I know that with all the training I’ve done this year, I’m prepared and ready to go.”

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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