North Allegheny again sweeps WPIAL Class 3A swimming championships

Friday, March 1, 2024 | 2:21 PM

Another year, another pair of WPIAL swimming trophies for North Allegheny to add to its impressive case.

The Tigers once again swept the boys and girls Class 3A championships Friday at Pitt’s Trees Pool, making it the 16th consecutive title for the girls team and back-to back for the boys.

“When you get some hard-working, talented kids and you get a little luck, you garner the sustained success we’ve had,” North Allegheny coach Patrick Wenzel said.

“This was a relaxed, fun group to coach all year long. We worked on doing things right, and when you do that things come together at the end of the year.”

The Lady Tigers brought home gold for 28th time overall with a cumulative score of 477.5. Fox Chapel took home silver with 295 points and Seneca Valley placed third with 220 points.

“It’s humbling in a lot of ways,” NA assistant coach Steve Kraus said. “We recognize what we’ve accomplished, but we don’t want to forget the groundwork of those teams that came before us. As a coach and a parent of a girl who contributed to the success, it’s wonderful to be a part of the experience.”

For NA senior Natalie Sens, who was won four straight years, the feeling is pure elation.

“Sixteen straight championships can bring some pressure, but it drives us to want to continue the success that came before,” Sens said. “We’ll look to start another streak by winning our second consecutive state title.”

The boys won their 18th overall title with 402.5 points. Upper St. Clair finished a distant second with 282 points, and Mt. Lebanon was third with 204.5.

“The boys have something left to prove,” Kraus said. “This is a good setup for what’s to come in the state meet.”

North Allegheny’s first win of the day came in the girls 500-yard freestyle, where Claire Bacu took gold in 4 minutes, 57.82 seconds.

Then, Sens swam a 1:02.53 in the 100 breaststroke and bested favorite Sarah Pasquella, a Fox Chapel junior (1:03.65) for the title.

“It wasn’t my goal to beat Sarah; it was to have fun in my senior year,” Sens said. “But when I saw the board at the end I was like, ‘Oh my God! I’m really happy I won.’”

Sens was able to shave 1.21 seconds off her seed time in grabbing gold.

“I haven’t dropped time since sophomore year, so when I saw the board, I was relieved to see that the hard work had paid off and I was able to cut some time,” Sens added.

Mt. Lebanon’s Sylvia Roy continued to defend her titles. After repeating as champion in the 50 freestyle on Thursday, the junior defended her 100 backstroke title Friday in 54.10.

Upper St. Clair senior Kaitlyn Connors won the 100 freestyle event for the third consecutive year with a time of 50.30.

In the girls 400 relay, Fox Chapel came from behind to repeat as champion in 3:29.42. Junior Sarah Pasquella was the only returning member from last year’s championship relay. Joining her were fellow junior Grace Kovach and freshmen Charlotte Rusche and Josephine Stanczak.

North Allegheny’s quartet of senior Greta Mott and sophomores Eva Ogden, Dani Hinkson and Claire Bacu came in second in 3:30.75.

The only Class 3A record to fall came on the boys side and had stood for 15 years. Central Catholic junior McClellan Clark eclipsed the record of North Allegheny’s Jonathan Buerger (4:27.01) in the 500 freestyle with a first-place time of 4:25.26. Junior teammate Luke Hartman finished second (4:30.00), and NA senior Josh Berty placed third (4:35.77).

“It’s been my goal since last season to break this record,” McClellan said. “I was a second and a half off the pace of the record, and attaining it was the focus all year.”

McClellan was looking to shatter the record, but knows he’ll get another chance this season.

“I was really hoping to swim a 4:24.30, but I’ll try to get it at states,” he said.

Upper St. Clair sophomore Nazar Zoukovski won a tight race in the boys 100 free with a 45.80, dethroning reigning champ Patton Graziano of Penn-Trafford. North Allegheny’s Grant Regule placed second at 45.85 and Graziano came in third at 45.89.

Mt. Lebanon senior Ryan Frank took gold in the boys 100 breaststroke in 55.28, ahead of North Hills senior Dane Fazio (57.08) and Fox Chapel’s Christian Dantey (57.43).

Franklin Regional senior Holden Thomas claimed a gold medal in the boys 100 backstroke in 49.08 to edge Graziano (49.76) and Bethel Park freshman Jackson Edwards (50.10).

Upper St. Clair’s boys 400 relay closed the Class 3A championship with a win. Seniors Whit Burns and Max Shipley and sophomores Nazar Zoukovski and Ben Whiteford posted a time of 3:05.63

The Panthers edged North Allegheny’s quartet of seniors William Gao, Riley Williams, Josh Berty and sophomore Zachary Totin who swam a 3:05.99.

The winners from each event automatically qualified for the PIAA championships, set for March 13-16, at Bucknell. The remaining at-large bids will be determined through the times recorded at each district meet.

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