Deer Lakes’ Morrison stays atop 500 freestyle mountain at WPIAL meet

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Friday, February 28, 2020 | 7:14 PM


Adam Morrison was the hunted in the Class AA boys 500-yard freestyle at the WPIAL swimming championships Friday at Pitt’s Trees Pool.

The Deer Lakes senior captured the event last year, topping club teammate and friend Andrew Pierre from Mars for the title.

Indiana junior Kyle Thome and Lancer teammate Noah Loper led the charge to topple Morrison, but he would not be denied in his final WPIAL individual endeavor.

Morrison, in third place at the halfway point of the race, was more than a second slower than his winning time from 2019, but his finish of 4 minutes, 41.14 seconds was enough to edge Thome (4:14.52) for the gold.

“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,” Morrison said. “It was a little disappointing with him getting me yesterday in the 200 (free), but I used it as motivation for today.”

The WPIAL title win earned Morrison an automatic berth to the PIAA championships March 13-14 at Bucknell. He placed third in the 500 at states last year.

“I can’t wait (for states),” he said. “It’s going to be such a good year. I can’t wait to see the competition that’s going to be there.”

Loper added a third in the 500 (4:44.59) to the third in the 200 free from Thursday. Deer Lakes finished eighth in the boys team standings with 113 points.

Senior Braden Zukowski’s runner-up finish in the 100 breaststroke (1:00.23) capped the two days of performances for the Knoch boys, who finished fourth with 154 team points.

Indiana defended its WPIAL title with 236 points, and its 200 medley and 400 free relays set WPIAL records.

Northgate placed second (213), and Riverside landed in third (166).

Zukowski was seeded first in the 100 breast. He missed by nine hundredths of a second his personal best (1:00.14) recorded in taking third at WPIALs last year. He and the rest of the field looked up at Indiana’s Cole Thome, who was the only one to break one minute at 59.31.

“I was dying the last lap, but I knew I had to give it the rest that I had,” said Zukowski, who won four medals over the two days, two individually and two with the 200 medley and 200 free relays. “Second place is the best I’ve ever gotten in a WPIAL event, so I am super excited about that.

Only the WPIAL champion in each individual and relay event earns an automatic trip to states, but Zukowski and other top finishers from the A-K Valley are all but assured to see their names as the PIAA plans to release the lists of at-large time qualifiers Sunday at noon.

Highlands senior Rachel Blackburn almost is a lock to earn one of the state bids in the girls 100 breast as she swam to a personal best of 1:06.10, surpassing the 1:06.28 she recorded in taking 12th at states last year.

“I couldn’t see anybody on either side of me, but I felt fast and felt like I could get a best time,” said Blackburn, the runner-up to Mt. Pleasant’s Heather Gardner for the second year in a row. “I was just so focused on getting to the wall. I pushed myself until I couldn’t give any more.”

Blackburn finished 11th in the 100 breast as a freshman when Highlands’ Bailey Bonnett blew away the field with a WPIAL-record time of 1:01.61. She took third two years ago.

Gardner captured her third straight WPIAL 100 breast title with a winning time of 1:04.87.

“She’s phenomenal. She’s so good,” Blackburn said of Gardner. “She just produces every time. She’s hard to beat.”

Freeport sophomore Alexis Schrecengost finished tied for fourth in the 100 breast with Shady Side Academy senior Maya Groff. Both tallied 1:07.63.

Schrecengost came back with junior Brooke Welling, freshman Aimee Heasley and junior Madison Moretti in the 400 free relay, and the quartet placed sixth with a time of 3:46.92, just over three seconds less than their seed time.

The relay capped a strong two days of swims for the Yellowjackets girls squad, which placed eighth in the team standings with 127.5 points. Elizabeth Forward won the team title with 265 points.

Time drops again were prevalent among many of the local competitors. That included Knoch senior Zach Wilson, who cut close to four seconds in the boys 100 backstroke and finished third (53.31).

He added that medal to the fifth he captured Thursday in the 50 free.

Also bringing home their second individual medal of the championships were Burrell freshman Payton O’Toole in the girls 500 free (sixth, 5:22.89), Welling in the girls 100 free (sixth, 54.54) and Knoch sophomore Caden Traggiai in the boys 500 free (eighth, 5:04.67).

Riverview junior Beth Shoop dropped 10 seconds from her seed time in the girls 500 and finished eighth (5:31.91). She took seventh in the event last year.

“Yesterday, I was a little upset with how I performed (13th, 200 free), but I came back (Friday) with a more positive mindset,” she said. “That really helped me to make sure I got on the podium.”

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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