Indiana swimmers make impact at WPIAL Class AA meet

Thursday, February 27, 2020 | 11:18 PM

It may take over an hour to travel from Indiana Area High School to Pitt’s Trees Pool, but the defending boys champions and girls runners-up in WPIAL Class AA each got their miles’ worth.

The Indians captured three gold medals, the most of any Class AA school, and own seven top-three finishes through day one of competition at the WPIAL swimming championships.

Gold medals from the Thome brothers, Cole and Kyle, in the 200 individual medley (1:57.27) and 200 freestyle (1:41.50), along with another first-place medal from the boys 200 medley relay team, has afforded Indiana second place (121 points) in the boys standings. Cole and Kyle were part of the relay unit.

“Our other races really did not have an impact on our (team races),” Kyle Thome said. “We all just want to (win gold) no matter what the race is. Each of us played a part in our success.”

Bronze-medal finishes from Parker Fanella in the 200 free (1:57.23) and Harley Kessler in the 100 butterfly (58.44) along with a fourth-place mark from the 200 free relay team helped the girls team to the fourth spot in the team standings (100 points). Fanella and Kessler were part of the relay squad.

Northgate leads the boys with 133 points and Elizabeth Forward owns the top girls spot in the team standings with 153.

The Flames are in a similar position as Indiana — the boys on top of the leaderboard while the girls are in fifth place (84 points).

Northgate finished third in the girls 200 medley relay (1:52.81) and second in the boys (1:39.96) while also earning bronze in the boys 200 free relay (1:30.19).

Senior Luke Tomczak placed third in the boys 200 individual medley (1:59.41) while freshmen Matt Purcell took fifth (2:00.3) for Northgate. Anna Neiss finished fourth in the 50 freestyle (24.64).

Elizabeth Forward won gold in the girls 200 free relay (1:40.02) with the team of Ashlee Toth, Hailey Yurkovich and Kaelyn McClain along with Marleigh Bennett.

McClain’s silver-medal performances in the 200 freestyle (1:55.68) was one of eight individual top 10 finishes from the Warriors on Day 1.

Northgate boys and Elizabeth Forward girls may hold the advantage heading into Day 2, but Indiana is not far behind either team.

Thursday was not all about the team race, though, as several individuals repeated as champions, including Belle Vernon’s Ian Shahan, Mt. Pleasant’s Heather Gardner and Quaker Valley’s Isabel Huang.

Huang, a sophomore, won the girls 200 individual medley for a second straight season (2:06.04), beating out silver meadlist Laurel Highlands’ Maria Mrosko by just over a second (2:07.37)

“Before the race, I was actually really nervous because I felt like I had a little bit of pressure on me because I won the event last year,” Huang said. “During the race, I was just trying to focus on myself and not try to psych myself out.”

Mrosko went on to win gold in the girls 100 butterfly event (57.42).

Shahan not only retained gold in the 100 yard butterfly in 49.02 seconds, but also shattered the WPIAL record he set at the event last season (49.66).

Northgate’s Cooper Groll won silver (51.84) in the boys 100 butterfly while Indiana’s Isaac Griffith won bronze (52.29).

Last year, Shahan won WPIAL championships in the 100 butterfly and freestyle. Shahan is halfway to becoming a two-time defending champion in both events as he will compete in 100 freestyle Friday afternoon.

“I felt pretty good going for (the gold medal and WPIAL record),” Shahan said of his history-making performance. “It was something I was really looking forward to because I knew that if I was going to win, I needed to be faster and I’m exactly where I need to be heading into states.”

The closest time to Shahan’s first-place performance was Northgate’s Cooper Groll (51.84).

Gardner won 50 freestyle gold for not a second, but a third-straight year, missing the WPIAL record by just over half of a second with a 23.62 time. She also had familiar competition as her freshmen sister, SaraJo, medaled in eighth place in the race (25.16).

“Honestly, (this is) not really (the most special gold medal). I would say my sophomore year gold medal was the best one because it was my first,” Heather said. “I came in here with goals to beat meet records and that didn’t happen so it’s a little disappointing.”

Robert Scott III is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.

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