Fox Chapel’s Sophie Shao takes silver in butterfly at PIAA meet

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Wednesday, March 16, 2022 | 11:01 PM


Fox Chapel’s Sophie Shao stood on the bulkhead next to the starting block for nearly 10 minutes as PIAA officials worked out a problem with the timing system.

“I wasn’t thinking about too much,” Shao said as she waited to swim the girls Class 3A 100-yard butterfly Wednesday evening at the PIAA swimming championships at Bucknell.

“I was just looking around, and I said, ‘Dang, this is a fast group this year.’ (Hatboro Horsham freshman) Annie (Jia), oh my God. She is amazing.”

Shao attempted to win her third straight 100 fly state title, but Jia was too strong and claimed the championship with a PIAA record time of 52.04 seconds.

The time also is a new Bucknell pool record, surpassing the previous top mark of 52.99 set by Hershey’s Kathleen Nolan at the 2009 PIAA championship.

Shao’s time of 54.22, slightly higher than the WPIAL record of 53.85 she set March 3 at Pitt’s Trees Pool, is the exact time she swam at states as a freshman.

Wednesday was another full day for Shao who had six total swims, including the prelims and finals of the 200 individual medley.

Shao, a first-time WPIAL champion in the event with a time of 2:02.51, finished third in the championship heat with a 2:03.09.

Her individual performances were top highlights as part of a first-day finals experience not soon to be forgotten by the swimmers, coaches, spectators and PIAA officials.

Issues with the timing system plagued the PIAA boys finals, which began close to an hour past the original start time.

Several additional delays stalled the swimming as PIAA officials worked to correct the problem. Officials also spent time working out placement problems in certain events but ultimately they were able to correct those issues.

The delays pushed the start time for the girls events to 8:05 from an original start time of 6:50.

The Foxes 200 medley relay of Shao, junior Talia Bugel, senior Ariana Pasquella and senior Rei Sperry kicked off the girls finals with a second-place finish in a time of 1:44.09.

They maintained their seed placement coming out of the preliminaries earlier in the day and trimmed a half second off their prelim time (1:45.12).

The quartet set the school record of 1:43.90 in winning the WPIAL title two weeks ago.

“We wanted to put our (WPIAL title) win behind us because we didn’t want to get too cocky,” Pasquella said.

“We took on the mindset that we hadn’t won anything yet. That helped us prepare and focus on this swim. We practiced sprints, starts and turns. We knew our starts needed to be perfect.

“We reset ourselves after the prelims. We got together and talked about what we wanted to do and we visualized how we wanted it to turn out. We motivated each other, and we really went for it. We tried our best, and I am really happy with how it turned out.”

Sperry also swam the consolation finals of the 50 free, and she took 15th in a time of 24.41.

Kiski Area sophomore Eliza Miller also competed in the consolation finals, and she finished 16th in the 200 IM 2:09.20.

On the boys side, Kiski Area junior Levi Hansen, the WPIAL runner-up in the boys 200 free, had his sights set on earning a PIAA medal in the event.

But he missed the top-eight championship finals by 16 one-hundredths of a second.

Hansen refocused for the consolation final and held his place finish after the prelims, finishing ninth overall with a time of 1:41.69.

“I knew I had to go and swim out, just like the kids in the final heat,” he said.

“Whatever heat you are in, all that matters is your are swimming, and you have to swim fast. When you have the opportunity to come back in the evening and swim in a final, you take it.

“I felt pretty good in my swims today. Not as good as WPIALs, but I had the chance to swim against the fastest swimmers in the state, so it’s still a good experience for me in my junior year.”

Fox Chapel freshman Christian Dantey also returned for an evening swim, and he placed 11th in the 200 free with a time of 1:42.73.

Day 2 of the PIAA Class 3A championships kicks off Thursday morning with prelim swims in the 100 free, 500 free, 100 backstroke, 100 breaststroke and 400 free relay. The boys prelims begin at 7:50, with the girls to follow at 10:25.

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

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