Four Female WPIAL Grads Competing in Rio Olympics

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Friday, August 12, 2016 | 12:52 AM


If you saw them compete for their Western Pennsylvania high schools, it really should come as no surprise that the four WPIAL graduates competing in the Rio de Janiero Olympics are doing exactly what they did as youngsters: dominate.

With national and international accomplishments already under their belts, Meghan Klingenberg, Leah Smith, Amanda Polk and Christa Harmotto-Dietzen have taken it a step further during the Brazilian games, excelling against the world’s highest level of competition.

Additionally, the accomplishments of these athletes show the progressive movement of female athletics throughout the region, state and country. This year, the United States of America broke the record for the most female athletes to participate in the Olympics.

Let’s take a look at the history of these four local stars and their accomplishments throughout their careers and in Rio.

MEGHAN KLINGENBERG, SOCCER

Biography

Klingenberg is a 2007 Pine-Richland graduate that is undoubtedly one of the top soccer players in Pennsylvania history. While in Gibsonia, she led the Rams to a back-to-back WPIAL titles in 2005 and 2006, as well as a PIAA AAA Championship victory in 2005. She was named a Parade All-American, an NCSAA All-American and was a Pennsylvania All-State selection.

The 5’2”, 28-year old Klingenberg went on to have an illustrious career at the University of North Carolina, where she started all four seasons in Chapel Hill, scoring 18 career goals while playing defense, midfield and attack. She won a pair of National Championships in 2008 and 2009.

As a professional, she has bounced around to multiple, successful teams and leagues and is set to begin her first season on defense for the Portland Thorns of the NWSL.

Internationally, Klingenberg has appeared for the United States Women’s National Team at five different age levels, including her recent role on the senior squad. In 2015, Klingenberg started every game during the United States’ World Cup winning run.

In Rio

During the Rio Olympics, the United States Women’s National Team got off to a terrific start in pool play, winning their first two matches over New Zealand (2-0) and France (1-0) before a 2-2 draw with Columbia. Klingenberg started in both of the United States victories and was subbed in against Columbia. However, the USWNT was stunned in Friday’s Quarterfinals, losing in penalty kicks to Sweden in one of the more surprising upsets of these games. 

Medal Count

Eliminated from contention.

LEAH SMITH, SWIMMING

Biography

Smith is a Mt. Lebanon native and graduate of Oakland Catholic, putting together one of the most dominant four year runs as a high schooler that the WPIAL and PIAA has ever seen. Despite not competing in the WPIAL or PIAA meets in her Junior year of 2012, Smith won an incredible 20 freestyle medals in high school district and state meets, including nine gold and three individual state gold. Smith still holds the Pennsylvania record in the 500-yard freestyle, which she set in 2013 with a time a 4:36.41. To put that in perspective, the winning time in this year’s final of that same event was over 18 seconds slower than Smith’s record. 

The 5’10” Smith is entering her senior season at the University of Virginia, where she has turned into an accomplished collegiate and amateur swimmer. Her achievements include winning the 2015 World Championship, making the US National Team in 2014 and 2015, receiving the 2014 ACC Freshman of the Year Award and, most impressively, winning four NCAA Championships, the most by a Virginia student-athlete, regardless of sport. Smith has set three NCAA records while at UVA in the 500-yard freestyle, 1000-yard freestyle and 1650-yard freestyle. Smith is already a 3-time All-American.

In Rio

While Michael Phelps and Katie Ledecky have dominated the headlines when it comes to the pool, Smith has quietly begun adding to her already impressive trophy case. After winning a bronze medal in the 400-meter freestyle, finishing behind Ledecky’s world record setting swim, Smith then teamed up with Ledecky to capture the gold in the 4×200 meter team relay. In Smith’s final event, the 800 meter freestyle, she placed 6th, as Ledecky cruised to a world record finish.

Medal Count

Gold in Women’s 4×200 Meter Freestyle Team Relay
Bronze in Women’s 400 Meter Freestyle

AMANDA POLK, ROWING

Biography

Polk is a 2004 graduate of Oakland Catholic and competes for the United States on the women’s coxed eight rowing team. The Bloomfield native is making her second appearance in the Olympics, however this is the first time she has competed after being named an alternate in the 2012 London Games. While Rowing is not a recognized or sanctioned sport by the PIAA or WPIAL, it is a popular club sport, particularly in a region with ample practice space (hello, three rivers).

After high school, Polk began rowing for Notre Dame, where she helped the women’s coxed eight team win three Big East Championships and was able to reach the NCAA Championships. The 5’11” Polk currently resides in Princeton, New Jersey, the location of the USRowing Training Center. Polk has won 12 international rowing championships since 2004 with the United States Rowing Team. She is currently ranked the third best rower in the world by worldrowing.com, behind Great Britain’s Helen Glover and teammate Lauren Schmetterling.

In Rio

The United States Women’s Coxed Eight team has continued their success at the international level where they have claimed three-straight World Rowing Championships. In their qualifying race, she and her crewmates finished first with a time of 6:06.34, over three seconds faster than second place Great Britain. On Saturday, Team USA put up a time of 6:01.49 to win gold.

Medal Count

Gold in Women’s Coxed Eight Rowing

CHRISTA HARMOTTO-DIETZEN, INDOOR VOLLEYBALL

Biography

Way back when she dominated the hardwood and soared above the nets as just Christa Harmotto, a standout, lanky force for Hopewell High School. Now, with a hyphen and an extra last name, Harmotto-Dietzen brings a dominant net-front presence for the defending Olympic silver medalists.

A 2005 grad of Hopewell, Harmotto capped her fabulous career by being named the Pennsylvania State Player of the Year, as well as an All-American and by winning three-straight WPIAL Championships, as well as Hopewell’s only PIAA title in 2004. In her time as a Viking, Harmotto and Hopewell were a staggering 59-0 against WPIAL opponents, helping her squad climb to a No. 1 ranking in Pennsylvania.

After Hopewell, Harmotto-Dietzen attended volleyball juggernaut Penn State University, where she excelled on the court and in the classroom. Early on, Harmotto-Dietzen appeared to be on her way to one of the NCAA’s best freshman seasons in history before tearing her ACL late in the season. She was still named an Honorable Mention All-American. The following season, Harmotto-Dietzen recovered to help take Penn State to the NCAA Regional Final, playing in 111 games. This was followed by an outstanding year as a junior when she was named Big Ten Player of the Year, a First Team All-American and was a finalist for the National Player of the Year, all en route to an NCAA National Championship. As a senior, Harmotto-Dietzen was again named a First Team All-American and won her second straight NCAA National Championship over Stanford, leading Penn State to a 38-0 record. In college, she received 43 different awards and acknowledgements from various outlets, including ESPN’s Academic All-American of the Year in 2008.

For the US Women’s National Team, she won a silver medal in the 2012 London Olympics, as well as a gold medal in the 2014 World Championships.

In Rio

In hopes of avenging their 2012 runner-up showing, the US Women’s Volleyball Team got off to a nice 6-0 start in Brazil, beating Puerto Rico 3-0, Netherlands 3-2, Serbia 3-1, Italy 3-1 and China 3-1 in pool play. The US then took down Japan in straight sets to advance to the semifinals before being upset 3-2 in the semifinal rematch with Serbia. However, the US was able to claim a bronze medal with a 3-1 victory over Neatherlands.  Harmotto-Dietzen has played sparingly so far for team USA throughout the games.

Medal Count

Bronze in Women’s Indoor Volleyball

(Photo credit: ussoccer.com, virginiasports.com , usrowing.com, teamusa.org)

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