Penn Hills swim team still facing pandemic-era challenges

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Sunday, November 21, 2021 | 11:01 AM


Penn Hills swimming coach Nick Page is hoping the team can avoid losing a month of practice time like it did last year.

The Indians — like all local programs — were shut down because of the coronavirus pandemic for the first month of last season. But Penn Hills is excited to get going with a roster of 25 swimmers when the Indians open up their season with a meet Dec. 10 at Latrobe.

“We’re still in the covid swing, and it feels like a rebuilding year,” Page said. “We were coming off a big senior class and into a smaller senior class. I want to see these seniors take on a big leadership role.”

The Indians return one WPIAL qualifier from last year, sophomore diver Luke Hoolahan. He placed 12th at WPIALs last season.

“To my knowledge, I don’t think he dove before last year, not competitively at least,” Page said. “I believe last year was his first year with instruction, and he was like a sponge. I think he will have another look at qualifying for WPIALs this season.”

Penn Hills has four seniors — Kristen Sipple, Millie Ressler, Gabby Burkovich and Richard Hanna — returning this season. Sipple will compete in the 50 free and IM, Ressler in the 100 back and Burkovich in the 100 breaststroke, while Hanna will compete in various events.

Page also expects Lauren Sipple to play a role and challenge for a spot at WPIALs.

Qualifying for WPIALs will be tougher again this season. The WPIAL has posted the qualifying times that were the same as last year, which were designed to have fewer participants because of the pandemic.

Last season, the top 16 fastest times in each event qualified for the district meet, with a number of alternates being selected in case covid forced people to miss the event.

Those faster times made it more difficult for swimmers to qualify due to the limited spots. Page said he doesn’t anticipate having to change their plan for tapering or training to help people reach the faster standards.

As long as Penn Hills doesn’t have another long pandemic-related shutdown, Page believes the Indians can show improvement over last season.

“Last year, as weird as it was, practices weren’t terribly blown out of the water,” Page said. “We ended up being out for a month. When you are there, it didn’t feel all that different. Once you get there, everyone stays in their lane and there was less movement between lanes at practice. When you were in your lane, you were still moving at the same pace.”

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