Franklin Regional boys relay team makes jump from 3rd at WPIALs to state gold

Friday, March 17, 2023 | 10:35 PM

The Franklin Regional boys 200-yard medley relay team had some unfinished business as it arrived at Bucknell University for the first day of the PIAA Class 3A swimming championships.

The Panthers quartet of junior Holden Thomas, senior Aiden Bunker, junior Ben Holm and senior Jason Tosh swam a time of 1 minute, 34.29 seconds at WPIALs for third place.

They were the sixth seed for states, but coach Vic Santoro said confidence in their potential for great things trumped concern over seeding.

And off they went, from Thomas’ lead backstroke leg to Tosh bringing it home with a blazing freestyle anchor, Franklin Regional touched the wall first in a time of 1:32.18 that lowered the school record it set in the preliminaries (1:32.82).

The state title was theirs.

“I saw the guy next to me go ahead of me, and I just put my head down and knew I had to give it my all,” Tosh said.

Franklin Regional was second to District 1’s Conestoga, last year’s medley relay champion, at the final exchange.

“All year, we had been telling ourselves that we were going to win states,” Tosh added. “We knew the work we needed to put in to make it happen. This is our last shot – me and Bunker – in our senior year. All four of us wanted it more than ever. This is such a great feeling.”

Franklin Regional, with Thomas, Bunker and Tosh in the lineup, placed fifth at states last year. Ben Holm replaced older brother Owen, now a freshman at John Carroll, on the relay.

The relay’s time also placed it on the National Federation of High Schools Honor Roll.

“I felt good about this group all year, and I felt we had the potential to win WPIALs,” Santoro said. “Holden got sick the week before WPIALs and missed five days of practice. We didn’t have our best showing at WPIALs. We took third there, but I knew we were better. The guys were excited the past two weeks. I am just so proud of them.”

Santoro said he felt the momentum from the medley relay would carry over to the other two championship finals heats: the same four in the 200 free relay and Bunker’s swim in the 200 IM.

Tosh, Thomas, Holm and Bunker blew away the previous school record in the 200 free relay, finishing with a time of 1:24.45 to place second.

It came to states seeded eighth after placing third at WPIALs (1:25.68), and it also was fourth in the preliminaries (1:25.27) earlier Friday.

The Mt. Lebanon girls 200-yard medley relay entered the PIAA Class 3A meet as the ninth seed after taking fourth at WPIALs with a time of 1 minute, 46.62 seconds.

The Blue Devils quartet of seniors Vivian Roy, Marley Reese and Adrienne Hagins and sophomore Sylvia Roy hoped to make their move and drop time.

The time drop for Mt. Lebanon started in the prelims and continued in the finals as the relay earned silver with a time of 1:43.33, three and a half seconds faster than WPIALs.

“Everyone was really encouraging that we could go faster at states,” Roy said. “I was so happy when I looked up and saw our time. I don’t think any of us expected to go that fast. It was crazy.”

District 6’s State College, the PIAA champion, was surrounded by WPIAL teams – two on each side – in the finals heat.

In addition to Mt. Lebanon’s runner-up finish, Fox Chapel bumped up from the fourth seed to take third.

WPIAL champion North Allegheny finished fourth, and Upper St. Clair was fifth.

Three events later, Sylvia Roy added an individual silver medal in the 50 free. She finished with a time of 22.93, five one-hundredths better than her prelim time but slightly elevated from her WPIAL-winning time of 22.72.

She moved up four spots in the 50 from sixth in her PIAA debut last year.

“It wasn’t a personal best, which I wanted, but I was pretty happy with how I did,” Roy said. “There’s nothing I really would’ve changed. It is such a short race, and every little thing matters, but there was nothing that stood out. I can’t ask for much more.”

Downingtown East senior Alexa Fulton, seeded second to Roy coming in, captured her third straight state title with a time of 22.68. She finished third in the 50 as a freshman in 2020.

“I really like racing swimmers like (Fulton) because it is great motivation to go faster,” Roy said. “It pushes me to do better.”

The WPIAL garnered a fifth top-two medal as Fox Chapel senior Sophie Shao, an Ivy League commit at Brown, finished second to Hatboro-Horsham sophomore Annie Jia for the second year in a row in the 100 butterfly.

Shao recorded a time of 54.37 seconds in the finals, a drop of 41 one-hundredths of a second from her prelim time.

Her all-time best is a 53.85 recorded at WPIALs last year.

Jia’s time of 52.64 broke the Bucknell pool record but was slower than her PIAA record of 52.04 set last year.

Shao finishes her high school career with a pair of 100 fly state championships (2020, 2021) and silver medals the past two seasons.

“Racing against Annie is super motivational,” Shao said. “I was hoping to taper really well and have a really good race against her this year, which I did. I did get sick (before states), and so I wasn’t in the best shape. It was just really bad timing. I wish things were a little bit better on my part.

“I had a really good time at states, and I am going to miss it all so much. I wish I was in Annie’s grade so I could race her a couple more times. I am just so happy with everything that has come my way and all that I was able to accomplish.”

Shao was disqualified earlier Friday morning in the prelims of the 200 IM.

An official observing her race said she fully submerged as she closed in on the wall to make the turn from her backstroke leg to the breaststroke.

“I went fully under water before coming up again and touching the wall,” Shao said. “There was a little pause in there. I think it is only a PIAA rule, so if it wasn’t PIAA I wouldn’t have gotten DQ’d, I don’t think. It was something I couldn’t argue against. Honestly, I didn’t know it was a rule, and I just did what I normally do. I was really disappointed afterwards, but I had the 100 fly to focus on, so that’s what I did.”

Shao took third in the 200 IM last year and sixth as a sophomore after switching over from the 100 breaststroke following her freshman trip to states in 2020.

The Class 3A championships continue Saturday with the 100 free, 500 free, 100 back, 100 breaststroke, and 400 free relay. Preliminary heats begin at 8:10 a.m. for the girls and 10:45 for the boys.

The girls consolation and championship finals are set to start at 3:25 p.m. followed by the boys consolation and championship finals at 6:05.

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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