Fox Chapel freshman in position to claim state swimming gold

Monday, March 9, 2020 | 5:24 PM

Sophie Shao was the No. 1 seed in the 100-yard butterfly at the WPIAL Class AAA swimming championships at Pitt’s Trees Pool, and the Fox Chapel freshman turned away all challengers for her first taste of championship gold.

She again is a top seed in the 100 fly, this time on the grandest swimming stage in the state as she pursues more gold.

Shao and many others from the WPIAL will put their strengths to the test Wednesday and Thursday at the PIAA championships at Bucknell.

“My WPIAL swims gave me a lot more confidence,” she said. “I used it as motivation in practice, knowing that I am going into states as the top seed with high expectations. I’ve been going through the same process of working hard, using my taper to my advantage and remaining calm.”

Shao owns a 100 fly seed time of 54.74 seconds and will swim in the fourth and final heat of the girls preliminaries, which begin at 10:25 a.m. Wednesday.

The boys preliminaries begin bright and early at 7:50 a.m.

The first-day events follow the WPIAL format and feature, in addition to the 100 fly, the 200 medley relay, 200 freestyle, 200 individual medley, the 50 free and 200 free relay.

The No. 2 seed in the girls 100 fly, with time of 55.01, also is a freshman: Sydney Gring from Muhlenberg in District 3. WPIAL runner-up Ella Ogden, a sophomore from North Allegheny, is seeded third (55.13)

The top 16 finishers in each event after the preliminaries will advance to the evening session’s consolation and championship finals. The top eight will compete for the title.

Wednesday’s boys finals will begin at 4:05 p.m. with the girls finals to follow at 6:40.

Thursday’s slate of events — the 100 free, 500 free, 100 backstroke, 100 breaststroke and 400 free relay — will start with the boys prelims at 7:50 a.m. and the girls prelims at 10:25. The boys finals will be at 6 p.m., and the girls finals will follow at 8:30.

Shao will swim in four events overall, including the 100 breast, where she is seeded 11th (1:05.01).

She will team with freshman Talia Bugel, sophomore Rei Sperry and junior Vivian Shao in the 200 medley relay (ninth seed) and Bugel, Vivian Shao and senior Grace Gackenbach in the 400 free relay (11th seed).

Bugel makes her PIAA individual-event debut in the 100 back, where she is the sixth seed. She placed third at WPIALs with at time of 55.68.

Foxes senior Leia Ross caps her high school career with a swim in the 100 back. She earned a fourth-place finish at WPIALs (56.82) and is seeded 15th for Thursday’s race.

Kiski Area will be represented at states by Levi Hansen in the boys 500 free. The PIAA newcomer placed seventh at the WPIAL championships and set a school record with a time of 4:44.72.

One of just two freshmen in the field for Thursday’s event, Hansen is seeded 27th overall.

“I am excited for the race, but a little anxious, too,” said Hansen. “I just need to go with my swim and not worry about anything else around me. I can’t let anything get in my head.”

Plum senior Joey Decheck, a Gannon commit, will swim the first of four heats of the 50 free Wednesday. He also placed seventh at WPIALs with a personal-best time of 21.70.

“I think he surprised himself with that finish,” Plum coach Shawn Haupt said. “I think he really surprised himself with his state-qualifying time. It was even a little better than what we expected, but I knew he could get (to states) if he put all the little things together.”

While the Fox Chapel girls are ready for several swims at Bucknell, Foxes junior David Manelis is gearing up for a battle for state gold in the boys diving competition at 12:30 p.m. Wednesday.

The 11-dive event will have a preliminary round of five dives before a cut to 20. The next three dives will determine a second cut to 16 for the finals. The final three dives will crown a champion.

Manelis stood tall in dominating fashion at WPIALs on Feb. 22 at North Allegheny. He claimed his first WPIAL title by more than 100 points — 524.90 to 424.45 — over Seneca Valley junior Trevor Elliott.

He enters the state meet with title hopes after placing second last year to Emmaus’ Brendan McCourt.

McCourt returns to Bucknell hoping for back-to-back Class AAA crowns and is the top seed after capturing the District 11 championship.

Conor Gesing, a sophomore from Abington in District 1, is seeded second. He placed third last year behind McCourt and Manelis.

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


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