Hampton swimmer Donato glides toward WPIALs

Saturday, January 29, 2022 | 11:01 AM

Belle Donato’s watchful parents urged her to trust them and take the plunge.

But year after year, the Hampton girl was apprehensive in the pool, refusing to go below the surface.

“Whenever I was 8, I had still never put my head under water,” she said. “Every summer, my parents would say, ‘Do it, do it, do it.’ I was just afraid. Then the summer whenever I was 8, going into third grade, I finally did it.”

And nothing about the swimming pool has frightened her since.

Donato, now a senior captain for the Talbots, took swimming lessons the following week and “within two or three weeks,” she was part of the Hampton youth swim club.

“She realized how much she loved it,” Hampton coach Morgan Zweygardt said. “She loves being in the water.”

Donato’s passion this season involves returning to the WPIAL Class AAA swimming championships after barely missing an invitation to last year’s covid-trimmed field. She was part of the WPIAL-qualifying 400-yard freestyle relay team as a freshman and placed 22nd in the 100 backstroke as a sophomore, but last season fell short of the 16-swimmer bracket.

“They took the top 16, and I was 18th,” said Donato, who would have easily qualified in any non-covid year. “That has really been a motivation point. I really want to make it this year. After last year, I was really frustrated but I just needed to move on and use it as motivation.”

Donato trained most mornings over the summer with her club team, logging about 6,000 yards per day.

The work is paying off.

Her 100 backstroke times this season are well ahead of her pace from last season. With the WPIAL championships still more than a month away, she already has reached the meet’s “consideration” qualifying time after clocking 1 minute, 1.32 seconds on Jan. 11 at North Allegheny. The automatic qualifying time is 59.30.

“She’s way faster at this time of year than she was last year. So that’s good for her,” Zweygardt said. “Last year, we were into February before she got the consideration (time).”

Donato, whose older brother Richie last season helped lead the Hampton boys swim team to its first WPIAL title in 22 years, doesn’t want to leave anything to chance. She has a 100 backstroke goal of 58.99 seconds, which would assure her of a spot in the WPIAL championships.

“She is an incredibly hard worker,” Zweygardt said. “She’s not about to sit and just hope they take everyone. She definitely wants to see how fast she can go and make it this year. … She is a perfectionist and wants to make sure she is doing everything right to be as fast as possible.”

Donato, who along with Danielle Sutterlin serves as a senior captain, also is competing in the 50 freestyle and the 200 medley relay and 400 freestyle relay teams for the Talbots.

Donato has never shied away from hard work, ever since she took that fateful plunge in the swimming pool as a worried 8-year-old.

“Swimming is a big part of my life,” she said. “I know that to do good, I have to put everything in.

“I can’t be at the end of the season and think, ‘Oh, well maybe if I would have done this differently.’ I don’t want that to be an option. I want to say I did everything I could, and the outcome was the best I could do.”


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