Hampton sophomores bring home WPIAL swimming and diving gold

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Saturday, March 9, 2024 | 11:01 AM


Hampton sophomore Lainey Sheets popped her head out of the water after the 100 backstroke at the WPIAL Class 2A swimming championships at Pitt on March 1 and was a bit bewildered.

Sheets, already the fastest girls swimmer in Hampton history, saw the scoreboard was awarding Mt. Pleasant junior Kiersten O’Connor with the first-place time and the gold medal.

Sheets, who had won the WPIAL 200 IM title one day earlier, was listed in second place, losing by a couple hundredths of a second.

“I missed the touch pad going in for my finish, so it showed up on the board that she won,” Sheets said. “I was just confused. But that’s what happened.”

Hampton coach Morgan Zweygardt said Sheets “clearly won,” and other WPIAL coaches at the meet felt the same way.

“I had coaches all over the deck coming up to me and saying, ‘She won,’ ” Zweygardt said. “I had to protest the result.”

The following day — after the medals had been awarded — the meet’s rules interpreter and the meet referee reviewed the clockers’ times and reversed the finish, awarding Sheets the gold medal with a school-record time of 55.30 seconds and O’Connor the silver medal in 55.37.

“I had a feeling I had touched before her,” Sheets said. “I rewatched it and I was about a head length ahead of her. … It was unfortunate, but I’m happy everything was resolved.”

Sheets said she expects the two will swap their WPIAL medals at the PIAA Class 2A championships on March 15-16 at Bucknell.

“I’m going to try to go talk to her at states,” Sheets said. “I feel it’s only right that I say something. It was an unfortunate situation. We have to exchange medals. It’s a hard thing to do. I feel bad.”

Zweygardt said Sheets had a “soft touch” at the finish and noted that swimmers are not required to hit the touch pad to register their final time. A race clocker manually times the races, and if the difference between the touch-pad time and the clocker’s time is three-tenths of a second or greater, the manual clocker’s time is used. Sheets had a difference of nearly six-tenths of a second.

“Lainey’s head was up, and the clock was still running,” Zweygardt said. “She had to hit the pad again, and that’s when the time stopped.”

It was Sheets’ second gold medal of the meet after winning the 200 IM on Day 1. Sheets finished with a school-record time of 2 minutes, 3.02 seconds to out-touch Shady Side Academy freshman Ava Jochims (2:03.07) by five-hundreths of a second and become the first Talbot girl to win multiple WPIAL events in Zweygardt’s eight seasons.

Sheets, who owns the school record in the 100 freestyle, 200 free, 100 back, 100 butterfly and 200 IM, is the top seed in the 200 IM for the PIAA championships and the No. 2 in the 100 back behind Bedford senior Leah Shackley, one of the nation’s top high school swimmers.

Sheets wasn’t the only Hampton sophomore to win a WPIAL title. Gabriella Elk rolled to the Class 2A diving championship on Feb. 23 at North Allegheny, scoring an 11-dive total of 441.05 points. Three-time WPIAL runner-up Ruby Olliffe, a junior at Quaker Valley, was a distant second with 405.55 points in the 28-diver field.

Elk’s meet started off with some adversity. She opened with a basic, simple dive, an inward, and it didn’t go well.

“It’s a very easy dive for me, and I didn’t execute it very well like I normally can,” Elk said. “I got a little flustered after that.”

But Elk regrouped during her reverse one-and-a-half and her front two-and-a-half, recording high scores in both.

“I wasn’t sure how it was going to go,” Elk said of her front two-and-a-half. “It’s one of those dives that I can do perfectly in practice and then when I get to the meet, it doesn’t always go the way I want it to. This was the first time that I really nailed it in a meet.”

Elk, who finished third last season, joined Nikki Perella (2005) as the only WPIAL diving champions in Hampton history. Elk advances to the PIAA Class 2A diving championships March 16 at Bucknell.

“I really hope I can improve from last year,” said Elk, who finished eighth as a freshman. “If I go out and do what I know I can do, I think I can place better than I did last year. But I really don’t have many expectations going into this, besides doing my best.”

Other Hampton swimmers headed to states include junior Chris Belch, who placed third in the WPIAL in the 100 fly and the 100 back; senior Zach Sutterlin, who placed seventh in the 100 breaststroke; Lainey’s twin sister, Libby Sheets, who was fifth in the 100 backstroke and seventh in the 200 IM; and junior Maya Daugherty, who was ninth in the 100 breast.

Lainey Sheets will face by far her toughest competition of the season when she meets Bedford’s Shackley. The N.C. State recruit won the District 6 title last month in 50.43 seconds, a time that would have won the Big Ten this year and placed second in the ACC and SEC and fourth at last year’s NCAA Division I championships.

“She’s incredible,” Sheets said. “We’re basically going to race for second. I have goals like, ‘Don’t be so far behind her.’ It’s just going to be, ‘Who can lose by less?’”

Bucknell-bound

Here are the Hampton athletes who qualified for the PIAA Class 2A swimming and diving championships March 15-16 at Bucknell, with seeds in parenthesis

Girls

Lainey Sheets — 200 IM (first), 100 back (second), 200 medley relay (sixth), 400 free relay (10th)

Libby Sheets — 200 IM (16th), 100 back (18th), 200 medley relay, 400 free relay

Maya Daugherty — 100 breast (23rd), 200 medley relay, 400 free relay

Kevyn Fish — 200 medley relay, 400 free relay

Gabriella Elk — Diving

Boys

Chris Belch — 100 fly (fifth), 100 back (sixth), 200 medley relay (fifth), 400 free relay (13th)

Zach Sutterlin — 100 breast (17th), 200 medley relay, 400 free relay

Connor Sutterlin — 200 IM (26th), 200 medley relay, 400 free relay

Wil Cramer — 200 IM (29th)

Scott Watkins — 200 medley relay, 400 free relay

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