Fox Chapel girls place 3rd at WPIAL Class AAA swim championships

Friday, February 28, 2020 | 3:12 PM

The Fox Chapel girls 200-yard medley relay kicked off the WPIAL Class AAA swimming championships Thursday with a school record and a third-place medal.

The Foxes’ 400 free relay closed things out with another top swim.

The quartet of freshman Talia Bugel, senior Grace Gackenbach, junior Vivian Shao and senior anchor Sophie Shao missed a school record by less than a second but earned a silver medal in a time of 3 minutes, 32.99 seconds.

“I was so proud of the whole relay throughout our race, and relieved, too,” Sophie Shao said.

Only the WPIAL champion in each individual and relay event automatically qualifies for the PIAA meet, but Shao is confident the Foxes will be represented in multiple events at Bucknell on March 11-12.

“Honestly, I can’t wait for states now,” said Sophie Shao, who finished with four WPIAL medals, including the 100 butterfly title, in her WPIAL debut. “We’re so excited. We have more work to do.”

Fox Chapel finished third in the team standings, edging Seneca Valley by two points, 194-192. It’s the best WPIAL finish by a Fox Chapel girls team since the 1995 squad brought home the championship trophy.

“At this meet, we were able to see all the hard work pay off,” said senior Leia Ross, who finished fourth in the girls 100 backstroke Friday with a time of 56.82. “We had great swims and great times. I am so proud of everyone.”

Bugel, who also finished with four WPIAL medals, led the individual charge Friday with a third in the 100 back. She lowered her school-record time to 55.68. The only two to swim faster were North Allegheny senior Torie Buerger, the WPIAL champion at 54.21, and runner-up Abbie Duncan, a senior from South Fayette, at 54.77.

“I felt I swam pretty well. I dropped some time, which was good,” said Bugel, who also placed sixth in Thursday’s 50 free. “It was a very tight race and a fast race. I was really happy for Leia getting her best time.”

Ross made the most of her final WPIAL individual race, knocking close to a second and a half off her seed time in the 100 back.

“I had been working to get a 56 for two years now,” Ross said. “It is such a great feeling.”

Sophie Shao swam both the 100 breaststroke and 400 free relay with a banged-up left knee. She slipped while getting out of the pool after finishing her warmup for both events.

She was able to battle through the injury and earned a fourth-place medal in the 100 breast (1:05.01).

“I know I could’ve done better,” she said. “But I just fought through the race and did pretty well.”

Butler senior Laura Goettler, who finished second to Fox Chapel’s Zoe Skirboll last year, reclaimed the 100 breast title she first won as a sophomore.

Kiski Area freshman Levi Hansen came into the boys 500 free as the No. 10 seed, but he was determined to make his way into medal contention.

He won the third of four heats with a school-record time of 4:44.72 and then watched as the final heat played out. When it was all said and done, Hansen found himself on the medals podium in seventh overall.

“I swam well, but I wasn’t sure if it was good enough to get a medal,” Hansen said. “When I saw I got the medal, it was an amazing feeling. (WPIALs) was a lot of fun.”

On Thursday, Hansen placed 14th in the 200 free.

Plum senior Joey Decheck, a seventh-place finisher in the 50 free Thursday, came back in the 100 free and missed a top-eight medal by 48 hundredths of a second.

He took ninth with a personal-best time of 47.76, knocking nearly two seconds off his seed time.

“I felt I swam better today,” Decheck said. “Getting the (50 free) record was one of my goals, and it got in my head a little bit. Today, I just wanted to go out, have fun and get a fast time. I cleared my mind, and it felt good.”

The time also was a qualifying cut for YMCA nationals.

Watch an archived broadcast on Trib HSSN.

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


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