Gateway swimmers have medal ambitions, wait patiently to dive into competition

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Sunday, December 6, 2020 | 10:16 AM


The last time Gateway swimmers competed in a high school meet, coronavirus impacted the proceedings.

In the initial stages of what would become a pandemic, PIAA officials shortened the second day of March’s Class AAA state championship event at Bucknell University. Several Gators competitors were affected.

Covid concerns have again toyed with the teams as several preseason in-water workouts were squashed and practices have been delayed until at least the start of the new year. The meet schedule also is in flux.

But Gateway coach Sherry Sonetti said the mix of returning veterans and new competitors hoping to make an impact have rolled with the punches and have been as patient as possible in their desire to meet their goals and expectations for the season.

“The kids have been in good spirits, and they are trying to stay in contact with each other,” said Sonetti, who has sent out daily dry-land workouts for the swimmers to do on their own.

“(Assistant) coach Glenn Raymer has had an optional running/dry-land session during the past week, and the number of swimmers showing up was a good showing. Even though we are having a tough start, I’m looking forward to seeing the kids back in the water competing. I’ve known most of these kids since they were little, and I know they will rise up to the challenge of keeping themselves in shape and keeping their spirits up because they are supportive of each other.”

Sonetti said team members were able to get in the water for preseason workouts a couple of times in November, but a broken pool pump, which keeps the water clean, and then workout restrictions during covid school closures kept the team away from gathering in the natatorium prior to the WPIAL’s designated start of preseason workouts Nov. 20.

Several swimmers who are members of club teams, Sonetti said, have been able to maintain in-water routines.

“With swimmers, there’s nothing that can make up for getting into swimming shape than being in the water,” Sonetti said.

The teams will look to press forward with several top returnees. They will do so without the presence of former Gateway standout Olivia Livingston. The multi-time WPIAL and PIAA champion and school-record holder now is swimming as a freshman for Division I Louisville in the Atlantic Coast Conference.

Junior Summer Raymer hopes to build on last year’s WPIAL Class AAA runner-up finish in the 500-yard freestyle, as well as her fourth-place medal in the 200 free. She went on to place 15th in the 500 free at states.

Raymer, also a member of the Fox Chapel Killer Whales club team, is closing in on the 100 backstroke school record owned by Livingston and the 200 and 500 free records owned by Celeste Makiel, a 1987 graduate and a 2006 Gateway Sports Hall of Fame inductee.

“I am really excited to have a chance at those records and also go after titles (in the 200 and 500) at WPIALs,” Raymer said. “I can’t wait to get back with the rest of the team.”

Distance also was the calling card last year for junior Andrew Holmes, a Division I swimming prospect who also competes for the Jewish Community Center club team.

Holmes placed fourth in the 500 and sixth in the 200 at WPIALs and helped the 200 free relay, along with graduate Nathan Gabriel, junior Gabriel Sha and senior Sam DiPalma, earn a seventh-place medal.

Holmes swam individually at states and took 16th in the 500 free and 18th in the 200 free.

“Since states last year, I’ve gotten faster with my work in and out of the water,” he said. “I am looking forward to dropping even more time.”

Also at states, the 200 free relay, with senior Payton Brown and sophomore Primo Brodt-Jenkins in place of Gabriel and DiPalma, took 24th.

Five of the six pieces of last year’s relay are back, and Holmes said another run is in the cards.

“All of us making states last year was great motivation to come back and work hard to get to states again,” Holmes said.

On the girls side, sophomore Morgan Holmes returns after a successful first varsity season. She also swam at states last year and helped the 400 free relay with Livingston, Raymer and graduate Jessica Stroh finish 20th overall.

“Morgan got taller and stronger from last year,” Sonetti said.

Holmes, Harris, Raymer and Livingston teamed to set a Gateway pool record in the 200 medley relay during a section meet last year. The previous record was established in the early 1990s.

Junior Peri Muftuoglu and Ayva Harris swam at WPIALs last year, and Sonetti noted the versatility and strong potential for freshmen such as Michelina Estremera and twins Mallory and McKenna Brown.

Sonetti said a number of the younger swimmers also will try their hands at diving under the direction of veteran Gators coach Mehran Hedjazi.

“We have a lot new divers, and it will be interesting to see how they develop,” Sonetti said.

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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