Hempfield swim teams pool their talent

Saturday, December 21, 2019 | 7:05 PM

The Hempfield swimming program is more than a pool experience.

“As with every year,” coach Kevin Clougherty said, “we have two main, overarching goals: One, for the kids to get as close to their potential as possible and, two, that they learn some life lessons about focus and work ethic that they can carry with them when their careers end.”

Hempfield’s veteran coach has an optimistic outlook this season.

“The guys are bigger, stronger and, hopefully, faster this year,” Clougherty said. “We had a very strong summer and fall of training. Now, it’s a matter of waiting for the speed to show up.”

Three integral members of the boys team are juniors Brian Wilson, Will Falcon and Anthony Peila, who each swam a leg on a talented sprint relay unit last season.

Wilson and Falcon also were members of the PIAA qualifying 200-yard freestyle relay unit. Wilson, Falcon and Piela were WPIAL qualifiers in the 50 free, with Wilson placing seventh in a senior-dominated field.

The fourth junior on the squad is Cameron Reeger, who specializes in the breaststroke.

Falcon is a two-year letterman and 100-yard backstroke specialist.

“We are just trying to go out and swim fast times,” Falcon said. “We are trying to put together a relay that will be competitive at the state level.”

Falcon said two of the Spartans’ rivals appear to be the teams to beat in section competition.

“Franklin and Penn-Trafford have very strong teams,” he said. “We’re looking forward to the challenge of swimming against them.

“Overall, I’m very excited for this year. I think we have a great group of guys on the team. I see how hard they work at practice and believe that it will show in the meets.”

Up-and-coming athletes include Jake Dzurica, Ryan Murtha, Isaiah Raimondo and Hunter Cooper, all sophomores.

“Jake has really stepped up for us and is now leading our 500 free group,” Clougherty said. “Ryan is emerging as an important sprinter, and Isaiah is becoming a key swingman for us, moving between the sprints and the longer events as needed.”

Cooper looks like a top candidate for the 200 medley relay, along with a few individual events.

“He has a chance to be a very good butterflier,” Clougherty said, “and he’s beginning to show signs he could be a big contributor in the sprints.”

Mike Whirlow and Rylan Kauffman are the only seniors on the boys team. Whirlow is the swimming captain; Kauffman is the diving captain.

Missing is Gavin Mayo, now a freshman at North Carolina. Mayo was named to the All-America prep team by the National Interscholastic Swimming Coaches Association of America. He was a four-year standout for the Spartans, and his impact was appreciated.

“Gavin was a key part of our sprinting program and a role model for this current crop of young sprinters,” Clougherty said. “His work ethic and attention to details were keys in his success and taught our kids that talent alone will only get you so far.”

Hempfield’s girls team believes it has “unfinished business.” The Spartans enjoyed a promising 2018-19 season but are looking for improvement.

“The girls feel that after last season, they have more left in the tank,” Clougherty said. “That sense of unfinished business has been driving them since last spring, and we’ve seen a lot of early signs that they’re on the right track.”

Two of their best events could be the 200 and 400 freestyle relays.

Senior Francesca Nemetz, junior Maddy Cisco and sophomores Emma Martz and Jordan Crupie broke the WCCA meet record in the 200 freestyle relay last season with a time of 1 minutes, 38.08 seconds.

Nemetz is a three-year letterwinner and is serving as co-captain with senior Haley Knedeisen.

“The girls team is smaller this year,” Nemetz said. “We are fortunate to have depth, but we still have a lot to prove to ourselves.

“As for the 200 freestyle relay, we are trying to figure out different combinations and hopefully will have the chance to compete against the top relays in the state.”

Nemetz, Cisco, Martz and Crupie have grown up and trained together in the Hempfield Aqua Club.

“They feed off of each other and support each other,” Clougherty said. “Most of our kids come through HAC. That gives us a chance to have a unified development program. … Then when the kids reach us on the high school level, they have a solid foundation for us to build on.”

The girls team this year might be small but there is a strong senior presence.

Along with the two co-captains, Anna Mitchell, Isabella DeVito, Shiann Slewinski, Leena Idress and Mia Shipley are seniors.

Callysta Fontanazza, a junior, also is looking to contribute this year.

“Callysta really had a breakout season last year and her work ethic is allowing her to improve at a pretty rapid pace,” Clougherty said. “She is showing every sign that she’ll be able to compete and contribute at the next level.”

“It should be a fun season,” Cougherty said. “The WPIAL is crazy fast, and competition always makes you better.”

The WCCA championship meet will take place Jan. 24-25 at Derry.


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