Fast, focused Fox Chapel freshman swims to PIAA gold

Wednesday, March 11, 2020 | 10:50 PM

Sophie Shao said she was calm, cool and collected in the minutes before her PIAA championship finals swim in the girls Class AAA 100-yard butterfly Wednesday evening at Bucknell.

Seeded first after the preliminaries, the Fox Chapel freshman added state gold to the top prize she won in the event at WPIALs.

Shao bested the field of eight, touching the wall first in a personal-best time of 54.22 seconds.

“This is such a great feeling,” a giddy Shao said after receiving her state-title medal. “I was able to race against so many fast people. I was so motivated and prepared to swim fast. I feel really honored to win this and represent my teammates.

“I felt a little bit like I was in slow motion during my race because I was so focused on each stroke. I remember all of it now. I had so much energy at the end.”

Shao is the second Fox Chapel freshman in as many seasons to bring home a state championship. Zoe Skirboll captured the 200 individual medley crown last year in her PIAA debut.

The top two spots in Wednesday’s 100 fly went to freshmen, as PIAA newcomer Sydney Gring from Muhlenburg in District 3 swam to silver in a time of 55.07.

Shao returns to the pool Thursday in the 100 breaststroke (11th seed) and the 400 free relay (11th seed).

The Fox Chapel quartet of freshman Talia Bugel (backstroke), Sophie Shao (fly), sophomore Rei Sperry (breast) and junior Vivian Shao (freestyle) again lowered their school record time with a 1:45.64 in the consolation finals to place ninth.

The Foxes were faster than eighth-place Seneca Valley (1:45.72) and they tied seventh-place Muhlenburg, but since they were locked into the consolation finals, they were not able to place above ninth.

“I am so excited about our (consolation finals) swim,” Sperry said. “We were still pretty positive about what we could do (after the prelims). We really wanted to shoot for ninth, and we all worked hard to get it.”

Fox Chapel junior David Manelis picked up one of the first PIAA medals Wednesday as he led the WPIAL contingent with a third-place finish in the boys diving championship.

The WPIAL champion capped his 11 dives with 472.25 points and maintained the position he held entering the three-dive finals.

“I feel I did all right overall,” said Manelis, who finished second last year. “I messed up one dive, but other than that, I did pretty good.”

Manelis produced 144 points over his three semifinal dives to move up from sixth place after the five-dive first round.

“With his voluntary dives, he was very consistent,” Fox Chapel diving coach Joey Ference said. “He fell just short on a 3.2-degree dive, but that can happen when you do harder dives.

“I was happy he did his reverse two-and-a-half. He’s been practicing that, working his butt off with that, and he nailed it at this meet. His last dive, his inward two-and-a-half, was another dive he had been working on, and he did that solid, too. Overall, he did awesome, and I’m proud of him.”

The field again chased Emmaus senior Brendan McCourt, and the Texas commit led from beginning to end and finished with 551.80 points.

Plum senior Joey Decheck, a Gannon commit, capped his high school career with a swim in the 50 free. He recorded a time of 21.80 seconds in his preliminary heat, slightly higher than his WPIAL time (21.70), and he finished 23rd overall.

The PIAA Class AAA swimming and diving championships continue Thursday morning with the boys and girls preliminary swims in the 100 free, 500 free, 100 back, 100 breast and 400 free relay.

The boys consolation and championship finals will be at 6 p.m. with the girls finals set for 8:30.

The girls diving competition will be at 2:30 p.m.

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

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