Led by super sophomore, Hampton girls swimmers set for special season

Saturday, December 16, 2023 | 11:01 AM

Hampton’s Lainey Sheets was the only freshman in the state who finished top five at last season’s PIAA Class 2A Swimming championships.

And she did it twice.

Sheets, who placed third in the 100 backstroke and fourth in the 200 IM, is back for her sophomore season having already established herself as one of the top young swimmers in the PIAA.

“I feel stronger than I did last year,” she said. “I’m really excited about the season.”

Sheets leads a Talbots girls team with great expectations after last year’s sixth-place finish at the WPIAL Class 2A championships. The Talbots also return Sheets’ twin sister, sophomore Libby, who was a PIAA qualifier in the 100 backstroke, and junior Kevyn Fish, a member of the PIAA-qualifying 400 freestyle relay team.

The Talbots, who opened their 2023-24 schedule Dec. 1 at Class 3A Latrobe, have their eye on the Section 3-2A title as they begin their second season since dropping from Class 3A.

“I think as a team we can do really well,” Lainey Sheets said. “I think we can win our section if everyone puts in the work. I know everyone works really hard, so I think we can be really good this year.”

Hampton’s Morgan Zweygardt said Sheets is “definitely” the best girl swimmer in her eight years as a coach.

“I’m really excited to see what she can do,” Zweygardt said. “As a freshman, she worked hard but there are so many unknowns, so many things that you’re not sure how to do and you’re nervous. I think she’s excited this year.”

The 5-foot-9 Sheets is preparing for a busy winter. In August, she placed second in the long course 100-meter backstroke at the Senior Zones meet in Buffalo, N.Y., to qualify for the USA Swimming Winter Junior Nationals on Dec. 6-9 in Columbus, Ohio.

Sheets, who turned 16 in October, lost by two-hundredths of a second to 20-year-old Devon Muldoon, an all-conference junior from Northeastern, at Senior Zones. Sheets’ time of 1 minute, 4.44 seconds bettered the qualifying time of 1:04.79 and earned her a spot at Junior Nationals for the first time. She was set to take on some of the top swimmers in the Eastern U.S. at Ohio State’s McCorkle Aquatic Pavillion.

“I didn’t know I made it at first,” Sheets said. “My dad told me I made the cut after I got out (of the pool). I was really excited that I would be competing against really good people and maybe get up some good times.”

Sheets, the sister of ex-Hampton boys standout Ben Sheets, now a freshman at Division I Queens (N.C.), and the daughter of longtime Duquesne University swimming coach Dave Sheets, already holds the Hampton school records in the 100 backstroke (56.05) and the 200 IM (2:06.08). She is a favorite to win the WPIAL Class 2A 100 backstroke this year after taking second as a ninth-grader. She finished fourth in the 200IM last season and is part of a deep returning field in that event; five of the top eight finishers at states were WPIAL underclassmen.

Sheets is focusing on getting faster in the breaststroke, the weakest segment of her 200 IM.

“I really struggle with breaststroke,” she said, “so I’ve been working on it a lot. I think if I keep working on it, my IM will really come together because my breaststroke is where I drop off a cliff where you can see my time and you can see everyone start to catch up.”

Sheets’ sister Libby is also making some waves after a strong debut. She benefitted from a strong offseason and has dropped her preseason 100 backstroke time by four seconds from last year’s early times.

“Libby has gotten a lot better,” Zweygardt said. “She is far and away better than she was at the beginning of last season, so I’m really excited to see where she ends up.”

Junior Maya Daugherty (breaststroke), sophomores Sofia Welsh and Maddy Bruce and sophomore diver Gabriella Elk, who last season placed third in the WPIAL and eighth in the state, also are expected to make key contributions.

The Talbots open their section schedule against visiting Northgate, last year’s WPIAL Class 2A runner-up, on Jan. 4.

“I think if everyone swims the way I think they can, we can definitely be in the top five (at WPIALs),” Zweygardt said. “I have some high expectations. But I never put that on them. I want them to do it themselves.”


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