Hampton swimmers exceed expectations at shortened PIAA meet

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Friday, March 20, 2020 | 12:01 PM


It didn’t turn out the way they expected, but it still exceeded all expectations.

After sending five boys to the PIAA swimming championships — the most in its past four years in the highest competition of AAA — Hampton didn’t walk away with any medals. But it still remains prideful of what it accomplished.

“Just driving there was a lot more fun,” said back-to-back state qualifier Drew Scheib, who made the trip alone last year.

This year, he had four friends to join him.

“We had a blast in the car, tried to boost our spirits,” Scheib said. “We made a few mistakes. It definitely wasn’t our best performance. But we tried our best, were happy and just had fun. That’s a big part of states.”

It was a state meet that was anything but ordinary with the lingering concerns of novel coronavirus. The first day of the meet was when sports at all levels started suspending play indefinitely. But that didn’t ruin the spirit of the event.

“It really as great as far as team building,” said Matt Belch, who qualified in the 200-yard freestyle and 100 fly. “Everybody had fun. I don’t think anyone dropped time from WPIALs, but for me personally, being around everyone and having fun helped to lighten the mood.”

The meet at Bucknell, which started March 11, was truncated Thursday afternoon amid growing concerns about covid-19. The winners of the preliminary races were declared state championships.

“Some of the kids cruise in the prelims just to make finals,” coach Morgan Zweygardt said. “Then they save some energy to swim faster at night. But they didn’t get the opportunity.”

The only swimmer affected by this was Scheib, who made finals in the 100 backstroke (16th). His 100 fly and the school-record breaking 200 medley relay — Scheib, Belch, Ethan Apaliski and Will Retsch — did not make the final cut. Additionally, junior Richie Donato competed in the 100 breaststroke.

Scheib didn’t sweat it, but he felt for fellow WPIAL swimmers who might have.

“It didn’t affect us,” he said. “Only partly me. We were not too upset about it. But I’m really sad for other teams that had the ability to not try fully and try to move up a place or two in the finals. It was terrible for them.”

Nothing was terrible about the Hampton boys swim team this year, in what was coach Morgan Zweygardt’s most successful team in her four-year tenure.

“I’m really proud of how they did,” she said. “Everyone has different training plans, and we really went all-in on WPIALs, how we prepared, all that stuff. We put everything in the WPIAL basket. In 10 days, we had to build back up to come back down, which is never easy.”

Belch, who is considering swimming for Case Western or the club team at Pitt, was challenged at Bucknell with a tight event schedule.

“He had the 200 medley relay,” Zweygardt said. “Fifteen minutes later, he had the 200 freestyle and maybe half hour after that, the 100 fly. All of his events were on the same day. He was swimming very quickly. There’s just not enough time between those events.”

Belch, who finally qualified for states after three years of WPIAL competition, surprised himself.

“The 200 free surprised me,” he said. “I wasn’t planning on swimming it, and it was the event I placed the highest in.”

“I think what was fun about it is we have Will, Ritchie and Ethan returning next year,” said Zweygardt. “They’re going to have an idea of what to expect.”

The team will move to Class AA next season, but its third-place finish in AAA won’t soon be forgotten.

“If you had told me coming into the season this would’ve been the outcome,” he said, “I’m not sure I’d have believed you. But as you went to more meets and saw everybody consistently dropping time, you could tell it was going to be special. But it still exceeded all my expectations.”

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