Meeting could steer WPIAL swimmers in right direction

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Sunday, January 31, 2021 | 6:12 PM


The WPIAL swimming steering committee is scheduled to meet Wednesday, and the group could finalize a plan for the championships and provide answers amid the uncertainty with covid-19 gathering restrictions.

Among the decisions WPIAL swimmers, coaches and others hope to find out is where the championships, slated for the week of March 1, will be held and how many entries will be permitted for each event.

“The kids are always asking me, ‘Coach, what is it going to take? What is the number (of entries) going to be?,’ ” Hempfield coach Kevin Clougherty said.

“The response has been that once we know a number, the number of entrants per event, we can figure out a range of where they probably will need to be as far as time and then go from there.”

Training was disrupted for several WPIAL swimming and diving teams in the early weeks of preseason workouts. A couple of teams held meets Dec. 11 and established times, a day before Gov. Tom Wolf’s three-week covid-related shutdown orders went into effect, limiting swimmers and divers to dry-land opportunities to stay in shape.

Practices resumed Jan. 4, and teams held meets Jan. 8 and 9. A couple of days later, the WPIAL, faced with lower capacity possibilities, unveiled faster qualifying standards than those released before the season.

Meeting these new times guarantees the swimmer or relay team an automatic place at WPIALs.

“The first time I saw them, I was like ‘Whoa, they are a lot faster than I thought they were going to be,’ ” said St. Joseph junior Sam Wygonik, who swam a time of 1:51.76 in the 200-yard freestyle that was faster than the lowered Class AA boys standard of 1:54.00 during a Fox Chapel-Woodland Hills dual meet Jan. 14.

Wygonik, an independent swimmer who qualified for states as a freshman, missed last season while recovering from elbow surgery.

“I was looking at the 500, and there was nearly a 17-second drop. That was like crazy to me,” he said. “It’s tough for a lot of swimmers who have hopes of returning to WPIALs or making it the first time. WPIALs is such an amazing event and a goal for every swimmer. But I completely understand why the committee (lowered the times) because you are probably not going to be able to have 30 or 40 kids in an event. That’s just too many for what the restrictions are going to be.”

The WPIAL is posting time-performance lists at WPIAL.org. After two weeks of competitions, the lists reflected an average of a half dozen in each event who hit the automatic times for their respective events.

The next update of the performance lists is tentatively set for Monday morning, and more automatic qualifiers are expected to populate the lists.

“The committee is doing a really good job, trying to make the best possible decisions. It will be different from the norm, but with the lowered times, they made it incredibly challenging, so we can expand to a certain number if necessary,” Clougherty said.

The WPIAL also released provisional secondary qualifying marks, similar to ‘B’ cuts in college swimming, which would be used to fill out the set number of entries/heats at WPIALs. The automatic and provisional-time standards are listed on the last page of the updated information file at WPIAL.org.

Morton said the individuals or relays who meet a secondary cut but don’t reach the automatic standard will be considered as the remaining spots are filled

The WPIAL has been in communication with Pitt about returning to Trees Pool, but because of restricted venue capacities, holding the championships at other pools, including area high schools, have been discussed.

“Everyone on that committee wants competitive swimming and wants as many kids as possible as long as the guidelines can be followed,” Fox Chapel coach Dan Taylor said.

“These kids swim high school to be a part of a team, but at the end of the day, they also are training and competing with the motivation to go to the WPIAL championships. The (automatic) times will probably get eight to 10 kids into the meet (in each event). For many kids, it changes the way they approach it both mentally and physically. The goal is to get the fastest kids into the meet and then go from there.”

Last year, two WPIAL Class AAA individual events had 39 qualifying entries with several others between at 30 or above. Class AA, traditionally with fewer entries, had one at 34, one at 32 and a third at 30.

“The new time standards are very challenging, especially after such a long break and a short season,” said Thomas Jefferson senior Hallie Findlan, the defending WPIAL Class AA champion in the girls 100 free.

“However, I was very happy that I could make the 50 and 100 freestyle cuts, and I continue to hope and encourage my other teammates to do the same in their events.”

Findlan had the top time in the Class AA girls 100 free (53.90) and was second in the 50 free (24.82) heading into last week.

While the WPIAL continues to mull changes to the championships, the PIAA meet is expected to have a different look.

In December, it set the number of qualifiers for each swim event to 16 (two heats).

Last week, the PIAA board voted to move of the state swimming and diving meet from Bucknell University to Cumberland Valley High School because of covid-19 gathering limits. With no spectators permitted, diving will be March 13, and swimming will be over two days, March 19-20.

“We just have to see what we can make happen,” Clougherty said. “What we’re seeing is that the kids have accepted it as a challenge and are working really hard. As coaches, we’re working to keep the kids encouraged and give them as much a sense of normalcy as possible.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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