North Hills swim team welcomes students from across globe

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Saturday, January 21, 2023 | 11:01 AM


North Hills swimming coach Nicole Loutsenhizer leads student-athletes in the pool. But she also feels as if she could take charge of a Model UN class nowadays.

Her team is nothing if not diverse.

“We have six swimmers who were born in or are from a different country,” said Loutsenhizer, now in her second year with the program.

Four international boys and two girls help make up part of a growing North Hills roster, giving the team a definite international flair.

“It’s actually happenstance,” Loutsenhizer said. “I’m not sure how we’ve accumulated the characters that we’ve got. But I think it’s really cool to expose these kids to different cultures and different lifestyles.”

One female swimmer from outside of the country is junior Vanessa Lojewsky, a foreign exchange student from Germany.

“This is her first year in the U.S. and she was not raised in an English speaking household,” Loutsenhizer said.

In order to help with the language barrier, junior Shelby Poniatowski, who has taken German in school, was able to help in the early stages as Lojewsky acclimated, according to Loutsenhizer.

“It’s been really fun to have all these differences and know that the sport can help bring together all these walks of life,” she said.

Sophomore Gamaliel Mogire, a native of Kenya, had never been a part of a swimming team. But he is an exceptional athlete.

“He’s state ranked in the hurdles,” Loutsenhizer said of the track standout. “He’s traditionally a runner, but wanted to try something — swimming — in addition.”

Mogire has taken to the water nicely, breaking through in the 25 and 50 freestyle events.

Sophomore James Flint was born in France and moved to the United States for this school year. His classmate, Othmane Eljoufri, is from Morocco. He had never swam before joining the team, and is now an ‘A’ swimmer, Loutsenhizer said.

“It was actually really fun during the World Cup,” Loutsenhizer said. “We got to put the (France versus Morocco) game on and had a Moroccan representative and a French representative. That was really fun.

“Like, what are the odds that I’d have one boy from each country on my team? In Pittsburgh, of all places.”

Sophomore Connor Greer and his younger sister, Niamh, are from Ireland, rounding out the group.

“We have a pretty large team,” Loutsenhizer said. “Our boys team has done pretty well, with only two losses this season. It’s been a big step from where we were last year.”

Loutsenhizer admits that the girls program is feeling the impact of the graduations of WPIAL qualifiers Jewel Thomas and Maddie Mahoney, who is now swimming at Youngstown State. But Loutsenhizer is encouraged by the youth coming up on the girls side.

She, however, just loves to see teams mesh in and out of the pool, and it’s not something she’s totally unfamiliar with.

As a coach at Nation’s Capital Swim Club in Virginia, she worked with swimmers from Egypt, Great Britain and Puerto Rico, who went on the swim for their country’s national teams.

She’s also worked with Diversity in Aquatics, a non-profit that helps make swimming more accessible for people in underrepresented communities. She now has a chance to, in this region, do just that for some young people, even if they’re still getting accustomed to America.

“It’s broadened their horizons a bit,” Loutsenhizer said. “It’s been great to bring some of that experience I’ve had with that non-profit to this team, and try to increase aquatic knowledge for all kinds of kids.”

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