Fox Chapel swimmers lead A-K Valley contingent into WPIAL championship meet

Thursday, March 4, 2021 | 7:11 PM

Fox Chapel’s Talia Bugel made the most of her freshman swimming season.

That included two individual medals — a third in the 100-yard backstroke and a sixth in the 50 freestyle — at the WPIAL Class AAA championships.

Now a sophomore, Bugel is back in both and highly seeded for Sunday’s championship races at Upper St. Clair High School. She is the hunted as the top seed (56.45 seconds) in the 100 back.

“I wasn’t sure if I was going to be the top seed, but seeing that I am has motivated me to work even harder to prepare,” said Bugel, who helped the Foxes win a section title.

“We’re super excited for (Sunday). We are swimming in a lot of events, and we have the chance to do some pretty cool things again.”

Sophie Shao returns to WPIALs after capturing gold in the Class AAA 100 butterfly. Also the 2020 state champion in the event, Shao will seek to defend her title as the top seed and also hopes to chase down the WPIAL record of 54.16 set by Penn Hills legend Melanie Buddemeyer in 1983.

Shao also is the top seed in the 200 individual medley.

“This is the first big event since states last year because of quarantines and events getting canceled,” Shao said. “I am anxious to get in the water and prove myself again. I feel good right now. I am confident. We’ll see how it goes.”

The Fox Chapel girls are one of two teams to have all three of its relays seeded in the top three.

North Allegheny is the other. Bugel, Sophie Shao, senior Vivian Shao and junior Rei Sperry are seeded third in the 200 medley relay and second in the 400 free relay.

Last year at WPIALs, the quartet set a school record (1:45.92) in the 200 medley relay and placed third.

Over the past several weeks, the WPIAL swimming community has worked on changes to the championships because of covid capacity limitations.

No spectators will be permitted at the Class AA girls (9:45 a.m. start) and boys (4:20 p.m.) events Saturday or the Class AAA meets (9:45 and 4:20) on Sunday. Upper St. Clair replaces Pitt’s Trees Pool.

There are only 16 entries for each individual event, and with the exception of a few cases, only 12 in each relay.

Only the WPIAL champion in each event is guaranteed a spot at the PIAA championships March 19-20 at Cumberland Valley High School.

Other area swimmers hoping to make an impact as high seeds this weekend include Freeport junior Alexis Schrecongost (second, 100 breast and fourth, 100 free) in girls Class AA, Fox Chapel junior Nate Ross (fourth, 200 free) and Kiski Area sophomores Parker Sterlitz (second, 500 free) and Levi Hansen (fourth, 500 free) in boys Class AAA.

While top WPIAL talent moves on every year, newcomers break out and seek the opportunity to make a splash.

Fox Chapel freshman Zach Ferguson has shot toward the top as the second seed in the 50 free. His versatility comes into play as he also will swim the test of endurance as the third seed in the 500.

“I was looking at times from past WPIALs, and knowing what my times have been, I was hoping I would be seeded where I am,” said Ferguson, who also achieved automatic qualifying times in the 100 and 200 frees. “I enjoy the mix of fast and longer events, and it gives me more options.”

Highlands sophomore Aidan Ochoa was a club swimmer last year, but his move to high school swimming this winter has landed him among the top competitors in the boys Class AA 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke. He is the sixth seed for both.

Kiski Area freshman Eliza Miller is seeded eighth in the 100 breast.

Swimmers in boys Class AA have a new group to contend with as Plum made the move from Class AAA in the offseason.

Seniors Logan Minick, Jordan Rogers and Aaron Frederick and junior Sam Schohn will swim the 200 medley and 400 free relays. Individually, Schohn leads the Mustangs with a fourth seed in the 100 breaststroke, and Minick is the fifth seed in the 500 free.

St. Joseph junior Sam Wygonik returns to WPIALs after missing last year’s meet while recovering from elbow surgery. He is the sixth seed in the 500 free and the eighth seed in the 200 free.

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at


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