North Allegheny girls capture 1st PIAA swimming championship since ’97

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Saturday, March 20, 2021 | 4:17 PM


The last time a North Allegheny girls swimming and diving team won a PIAA state championship, the TV show “Friends” was all the rage on NBC and the Green Bay Packers reigned as Super Bowl Champions.

The year was 1997, a long time ago in the eyes of Tigers coach Patrick Wenzel.

But this year’s NA girls squad showed its depth over the course of 11 swims Saturday at Cumberland Valley High School and ascended to the top spot in the team standings.

“We came so close last year,” said Wenzel with tears welling up in his eyes after the 400-yard freestyle relay of senior Molly Smyers, juniors Ella Ogden and Isabella Dietz and sophomore Lexi Sundgren placed third (3:28.61) and captured the final 32 team points.

“I am so proud of these girls, the way they came together as a team. Every single girl here swum a race, and every single girl contributed. To end the year of all crappy years with this state title, I can’t feel any better. This is just so awesome. I am so excited.”

The win for North Allegheny, its sixth overall since 1984, also was the first for a WPIAL Class AAA girls team since Mt. Lebanon won it all in 2002. The championship was the girls’ sixth in team history, tying them with the North Allegheny boys for total state crowns.

North Allegheny, which won its 13th WPIAL team title March 7 at Upper St. Clair, brought eight swimmers to states.

The Tigers finished with 167 team points, 15 better than runner-up Wilson (152) from District 3 and 53 better than third-place State College from District 6.

Wenzel also was quick to note that the 20 points earned by sophomore Christina Shi in winning the state diving championship helped put the Tigers over the top.

NA came close last year but fell short by four points as North Penn and Upper Dublin shared the first-place trophy.

“I felt like our girls were always ahead of where we were supposed to be,” Wenzel said.

“We kept scoring more points, and that was the key. I knew what we had to do going into the last relay, so we had some really safe starts. Those (400 free relay) girls stepped up and had a great swim there. I really couldn’t breathe before the 400 relay because it’s so intense.”

In addition to Smyers, Ogden, Dietz and Ogden, seniors Olivia Kisow, Quinn Frost and Haley Miller; sophomore Lexi Sundgren; and freshman Natalie Sens scored team points Saturday.

After the final place winners were announced by the public address announcer, the NA team members took a plunge into the pool.

“It is hard to put this into words to describe this feeling,” said Kisow, who swam the 200 individual medley and 500 freestyle with fellow senior Molly Smyers.

“After all that went on this season, to come to this meet and do this with this group of girls is so special. After WPIALs, we focused a lot on states and said, ‘Let’s do it.’ We knew we had the depth, the numbers and the times. The goal was to come here and make a showing, and we did that.”

Myers led the way in terms of individual place finishes with a silver medal in the 200 IM (2:02.84) and a third in the 500 (4:58.45).

“I was a little tired during my races, but I swam as hard as I could,” said Smyers, a George Washington commit.

Sundgren added a fifth-place finish in the 100 free (51.52) and a sixth in the 200 free (1:51.27).

Shao repeats in 100 butterfly

After defending her WPIAL title in the 100-yard butterfly two weeks ago, Fox Chapel sophomore Sophie Shao went looking for a similar repeat performance Saturday.

Mission accomplished.

Taking to the pool for the third time in a little more than 60 minutes — she also competed in the 200 medley relay and the 200 individual medley — Shao edged state rival Sydney Gring, a sophomore from District 3’s Muhlenberg, by a half second to again bring home the 100 fly state title.

She finished with a time of 55.59.

Shao now is the first swimmer in the history of the Fox Chapel boys and girls programs to win two individual state titles.

“I was pretty tired, a little more tired than I expected,” Shao said. “But I am glad I got that done and was able to win the title again. There was a lot of preparation from everybody for this meet. (The 100 fly) was an amazing race. I am glad to be able to put my name up there again.”

Shao defeated Gring by one second for last year’s 100 fly state title. Gring, who came in as the No. 1 seed this year, touched the wall in 54.89.

“Sydney is amazing,” Shao said. “She had a really great swim at (the District 3 championships). I was like, ‘Wow, that’s really fast.’ It was great to race her and talk with her again. I’m sure it’s not the last race between the two of us.”

Bringing home bronze

Upper St. Clair’s 200 free relay of seniors Abby Rutkowski and Taylor Connors and freshmen Kaitlyn Connors and Amanda Aidar collected a bronze medal with a collective swim in a time of 1:35.26.

The WPIAL champion lowered its seed time of 1:36.06 and edged District 1’s West Chester Henderson for third by five one-hundredths of a second.

Taylor Connors then came back in the 100 free and placed third with a time of 51.09. She captured the WPIAL title in the event March 7 at her home pool.

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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