‘Excellence has to be earned’: North Allegheny swimmers aim to maintain streak of WPIAL championships

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Saturday, February 3, 2024 | 11:01 AM


The North Allegheny swimming team owns a WPIAL championship streak that’s older than some kids on the roster.

The girls have won 15 consecutive WPIAL team titles, a streak that they started in 2009. With seniors Natalie Sens and Greta Mott among the WPIAL’s fastest swimmers again this winter, and bolstered by a dominant diving program, the Tigers are contenders to extend that streak for another year.

The streak is currently tied for the second-longest in WPIAL history with Burrell wrestling (2007-21) and Sewickley Academy boys tennis (2004-18).

What is North Allegheny’s secret to success?

“It’s really just a lot of passing on excellence as a group,” NA coach Patrick Wenzel said. “Our saying this year is, ‘Excellence has to be earned.’ They earn it as youngsters when they look up to the girls who are in high school and they come in as fast swimmers. You have a good club team that feeds in quality swimmers and they hang around. I feel lucky.”

This year’s WPIAL swimming championships are Feb. 29-March 1. The WPIAL diving competition is Feb. 23-24.

North Allegheny’s championship streak has included a few coaching changes along the way. Wenzel, who coached the team from 2013-21, has returned after two seasons away. He remained head coach of the Allegheny North Swim Club, a private team that includes many NA athletes.

“It was just time to come back,” Wenzel said. “I was never out of coaching. I was just not doing the high school part.”

The North Allegheny boys and girls teams each won WPIAL titles last season under coach Corky Semler, who came out of retirement to lead the program for two years. The girls also won a state title last winter, another title they’ll try to defend this year.

“There’s a lot of interest in swimming at North Allegheny,” Wenzel said. “You’ve had swimmers like Torie Buerger, who passed on the importance to the next generation. Before that you had Allie Pennetti, who has come back and coached, so there’s kind of a connection back through those 15 years.”

Buerger swam at Kentucky, and Pennetti at Penn State.

This year’s girls team has only two seniors, Sens and Mott, but they’re both among the WPIALs best in multiple events.

Sens entered February ranked first or second in WPIAL Class 3A in the individual medley, the breaststroke and the butterfly, and she also showed her speed with a top-five time in the 50 freestyle.

“When you talk about somebody who’s the top in the IM, you can say she’s pretty much an all-around swimmer,” Wenzel said. “It’ll be exciting to see what events we choose to swim with her and how fast she can go.”

A George Mason recruit, Mott ranked top five in the backstroke and the 200 freestyle. Mott and Sens won relay gold medals at WPIALs last year, along with current teammates Claire Bacu and Eva Ogden.

Bacu and Ogden are part of a strong sophomore class led by Dani Hinkson and Tori Tieppo.

Sens, Hinkson and Tieppo entered February ranked first, second and third in the WPIAL in the 200 IM. Bacu was first in the 200 and 500 free, while Ogden was top five in the 100 free.

“I have a nice group of young girls who are really striving to push themselves to the top,” Wenzel said. “I get good leadership out of Greta Mott and Natalie Sens, and I have some really awesome sophomores who’ve made great improvements.”

The team also benefits from a diving program that consistently wins WPIAL titles. This season, NA juniors Lola Malarky and Juliet Hood are ranked first and second with sophomore Maggie Lapina fourth.

“We are so lucky to have (diving coach) Patti McClure and such a stellar diving program,” Wenzel said.

The boys swimming team doesn’t have an active streak of WPIAL championships but Wenzel said their efforts to win two in a row shouldn’t be overlooked. The team’s most accomplished swimmer is senior William Gao, who posted top 10 times in four events this winter, including the 100 fly as the defending WPIAL champion.

Junior Gus Miller entered this month ranked first in the 200 IM. Similar to the girls team, the boys also have a strong sophomore class led by Zachary Totin, Danny Lesinski and Dylan Seiford.

“I’m excited for the boys team this year because the group has made massive improvements already,” Wenzel said. “They have put in the work, and it will be exciting to see them swim fast at both WPIAL and PIAA levels.”

Swimming often is viewed as an individual sport, but Wenzel said North Allegheny has tried to emphasize the team aspect of working for one another. Winning a championship banner — WPIAL or PIAA — is a lasting reward for that effort.

“Especially on the girls’ side when you’re talking about streaks, it’s very important to them,” Wenzel said. “To me, it’s a stepping stone to greatness, to win a WPIAL title.”

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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