North Allegheny swimmers continue to ‘shoot for excellence’

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Saturday, January 23, 2021 | 8:01 AM


Swimmers aren’t yet sure how many of them will qualify for the WPIAL championship meet but that’s just the latest twist in what’s been a challenging winter.

“The hardest part is there’s so much up in the air still,” North Allegheny coach Patrick Wenzel said. “We don’t know what’s going to happen yet. It just makes it a little bit more difficult to try to figure out what to shoot at.”

The WPIAL approved new automatic qualifying times at its latest board meeting and they’re tougher than last year’s numbers. The WPIAL is concerned about indoor gathering limits and hasn’t secured a championship venue, so it’s working to reduce the field. It’s undecided whether Pitt’s Trees Pool will be an option.

Once the automatic qualifiers are set, the WPIAL will add additional swimmers and expand championship heats as far as facility limits will allow and the committee deems appropriate.

So, for now, nobody knows.

Wenzel said that won’t affect North Allegheny’s approach to the season. The girls have won the WPIAL team title 12 years in a row and the boys claimed eight of the past nine.

“Inevitably for our program, we shoot for excellence,” Wenzel said. “If you shoot for excellence, I feel like in the wash it will come out on the right side.”

The NA teams swept Hampton in their first meet of the new year on Jan. 14. The NA boys won 98-77, and the girls won 103-75. Both improved to 2-0 overall and 1-0 in section.

Tim Compton (200 free), Jacob McCarran (200 IM, 100 free), William Gao (50 free), Jacob Yaroz (500 free), Matthew Turzai (100 fly) and Will Schenk (diving) won individual events for the boys, who also won the 200 and 400 freestyle relays.

Molly Smyers (200 free), Quinn Frost (200 IM), Lexi Sundgren (50 free, 500 free), Delaney Kennedy (100 fly), Olivia Kisow (100 free), Haley Miller (100 breast) and Zoe Ky (diving) won individual events for the girls.

The NA girls also swept the three relays.

“I was pretty thrilled with how we swam in our first dual meets coming off of that break,” he said. “January is not normally a time frame where you’re trying to swim your fastest times.”

Smyers, a senior and George Washington recruit, is the defending WPIAL champion in the 500 free and took second in the 200 free.

Among others returning swimmers, Sundgren, a sophomore, was third at the WPIAL meet last year in the 200 free and fourth in the 100 free. Junior Ella Ogden was second in 100 fly and fifth in the 100 free. Kisow, a senior, was third in WPIAL in the 500 free and fourth in the 200 IM. Frost, a senior, took fifth in the 200 IM.

“Our girls are still very, very strong with the people we returned,” Wenzel said.

The boys team was impacted more by graduation in recent years, but Compton, Turzai and Tyler Tieppo lead a senior class trying to win the team its 10th straight WPIAL title.

“We had so much talent that those guys were kind of in the background and now it’s their turn to step forward,” Wenzel said, “and see how they can lead and what they can bring us.”

Wenzel said he hasn’t paid close attention to times. He doesn’t expect championship performances in mid-January, especially not considering how the season started. Basketball players, wrestlers and all other winter athletes were greatly affected by the three-week shutdown in December, but that pause impacted swimmers most, he said

With no access to a pool, training is tough.

“It absolutely affects swimming in a negative manner more than any other sport,” Wenzel said. “Consider that when you’re running, you’re running through air. You can take a three-week break off running and get back in shape in a week if you’re in good shape when you start.

“In swimming, it’s almost like hitting the reset button after you take three weeks off because you’re going through a substance that’s eight-times thicker.”

When the governor paused high school athletics he also closed private gyms, ruling out that option for swimmers. Wenzel said he heard about swimmers traveling across state lines to swim, but as a team, North Allegheny resorted to online workouts.

“We did the best we could,” he said. “We spent a lot of time in virtual meetings doing virtual yoga, virtual dry-land (workouts). But in swimming, when you’re not in the pool, you lose something called ‘feel of the water.’

“That being said, you won’t hear me say a negative thing. I just put as much emphasis on: ‘Whatever it is, we’re going to use it and get better from it.’”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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