Five things to watch at the PIAA swimming and diving championships
By: Michael Love
Monday, March 12, 2018 | 6:57 PM
The stage is set for gold medals to be won and record times and point totals to be challenged as the PIAA hosts the state swimming and diving championships for Class AAA and AA Wednesday through Saturday at Bucknell.
Dozens of individuals and teams from the WPIAL will take part, and several are favorites to bring home championships.
Class AAA is up first Wednesday with preliminary swims set to begin at 8 a.m.
1. Tigers hope to roar at Bucknell
The North Allegheny boys and girls swimming and diving teams finished at the top of the heap at the WPIAL championships two weeks ago. The boys won their seventh WPIAL crown in a row, while the girls' streak now stands at 10 straight.
Now, both Tigers squads turn their attention to states.
The North Allegheny boys won last year's AAA state title with ease, ending District 1 La Salle College's five-year reign. It was the Tigers' fourth PIAA title and first since they won back-to-back championships in 2009-10.
Points are awarded in individual and relay swim events and in diving up to 16th place, and the NA boys will have a deep roster at Bucknell, including top seeds in the 200-yard medley relay, 200 freestyle relay, the 400 free relay, Jack Wright in the 200 free, Rick Mihm in the 200 individual medley and 500 free and Mason Gonzalez in the 50 free.
“The guys are really excited about the chance to defend their title,” Tigers coach Patrick Wenzel said. “They know the challenge they face. They are ready.”
The NA girls were seventh last year. Avon Grove from District 1 is the defending champion. Mt. Lebanon placed fourth. The Blue Devils were the last from the WPIAL to win a AAA state team title (2002).
A number of North Allegheny swimmers and relays are top-eight seeds, led by sophomore Torie Buerger's third seed in the 100 backstroke and fifth in the 200 IM. She won this year's WPIAL title in the 100 back and was runner-up to Butler sophomore Laura Goettler in the 200 IM.
2. State titles for Livingston?
Gateway sophomore Olivia Livingston set the pool at Bucknell on fire last year with a state-record time of 22.73 seconds in the AAA girls 50 free and a runner-up finish in the 100 free (49.53).
All eyes again will be on Livingston on Wednesday and Thursday as she attempts to defend her 50 free championship and goes for gold in the 100. She is seeded first in both.
Livingston's 50 free time at WPIALs — 22.71 — surpassed her WPIAL record set last year and is faster than her state-record swim from last March.
Her seed time in the 100 is 49.57, and she also is gunning for the state record of 49.01 set in 2012.
Pennridge's Morgan Scott, last year's PIAA champion in the AAA girls 100 free, is seeded third (50.05). She is the top seed in the 200 free (1:47.52).
Governor Mifflin sophomore Emma Steckiel is the second seed behind Livingston in the 100 free (49.99). She finished 17th in the event last year.
3. The WPIAL hunted
Several WPIAL individual swimmers and relays have figurative targets on their backs as No. 1 seeds for the meets in AAA and AA.
In addition to the boys swimmers from North Allegheny, Penn Hills junior Kimani Gregory (100 free) and Upper St. Clair freshman Josh Matheny (100 breast) are top seeds in boys AAA.
Goettler, like Livingston, is a top seed in two girls AAA events. Along with her No. 1 seed in the 200 IM, she owns the top spot in the 100 breast.
As far as AA goes, the lone No. 1 seed for the boys meet is Riverside senior Dean Kralic (100 butterfly).
Mt. Pleasant sophomore Heather Gardner (50 free, 100 breast) and Northgate junior Karen Siddoway (100 free) are slotted at the top of the heap for the girls.
4. Youth again is served
Each year, freshmen rise to the occasion throughout the season and at WPIALs and set themselves up for medal and title opportunities at states.
A number of them have positioned themselves in contention with top-eight seeds.
In boys AA, Belle Vernon's Ian Shahan is the third seed in the both the 100 butterfly and 100 back, while Neshannock's Conner McBeth is seeded fourth in the 100 free and sixth in the 50 free.
Matheny, in addition to his top seed in the 100 breast, checks in as the No. 8 seed in the boys AAA 200 IM. Fox Chapel's David Manelis is seeded eighth for his first boys AAA diving competition.
The girls AAA field has North Allegheny's Molly Smyers seeded sixth in both the 200 and 500 frees.
5. Back on schedule
The PIAA championships return to original format at Bucknell this year after weather altered the proceedings last March.
For both the AA and AAA meets, morning preliminary heats will feed into consolation and championships finals later in the day.
The top 16 from each individual and relay event will return. The fastest eight after the prelim swims clinch a medal and will be in the running for the state title.
Those individuals or relays slotted ninth through 16th will come back in the consolation heat. They are locked into their grouping and aren't able to rise into the top eight, no matter how well they finish.
Often at states, the ninth-place finisher in a certain consolation heat will produce a time better than two or three from the championship final.
Last year, the weather-related time restraints forced the PIAA to go to a one-shot, timed-finals format like what is done at WPIALs.
Diving also is grouped back within the four-day championship schedule after it was held a week after swimming in 2017. The AAA boys will be 12:45 p.m. Wednesday, with the AAA girls at 2:35 p.m. Thursday. Diving in AA will have the boys compete Friday at 12:45 p.m. and the girls in action Saturday at 12:45 p.m.
Eleven rounds again will be used to determine the champions.