PIAA meet brings ups, downs for Fox Chapel standout Sophia Shao

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Friday, March 17, 2023 | 10:17 PM


Sophie Shao and the 100-yard butterfly go hand in hand.

The Fox Chapel senior closed out her four-year run in the event as a four-time WPIAL champion, the WPIAL Class 3A record holder and a two-time state champion.

Shao, an Ivy League commit at Brown University, added her second straight state runner-up finish in the 100 fly Friday on Day 1 of the PIAA Class 3A championships at Bucknell University.

She recorded a time of 54.37 seconds in the finals, a drop of 41 one-hundredths of a second from her prelim time, and again took second to Hatboro-Horsham sophomore Annie Jia.

Jia’s time of 52.64 broke the Bucknell pool record but was slower than her PIAA record of 52.04 set last year.

“Racing against Annie is super motivational,” said Shao, who owns an all-time best of 53.85 recorded at WPIALs last year. “I was hoping to taper really well and have a really good race against her this year, which I did. I did get sick (before states), and so I wasn’t in the best shape. It was just really bad timing. I wish things were a little bit better on my part.

“I had a really good time at states, and I am going to miss it all so much. I wish I was in Annie’s grade so I could race her a couple more times. I am just so happy with everything that has come my way and all that I was able to accomplish.”

Shao bounced back in the 100 fly from a disqualification earlier Friday morning in the prelims of the 200 IM.

An official observing her race called her for fully submerging as she closed in on the wall to make the turn from her backstroke leg to the breaststroke.

“I went fully underwater before coming up again and touching the wall,” Shao said. “There was a little pause in there. I think it is only a PIAA rule, so if it wasn’t PIAA, I wouldn’t have gotten DQ’d, I don’t think. It was something I couldn’t argue against. Honestly, I didn’t know it was a rule, and I just did what I normally do. I was really disappointed afterwards, but I had the 100 fly to focus on, so that’s what I did.”

Shao took third in the 200 IM last year and sixth as a sophomore after switching over from the 100 breaststroke following her freshman trip to states in 2020.

The Fox Chapel girls 200 medley relay of Shao, seniors Talia Bugel and Payton O’Toole and sophomore Sarah Pasquella kicked off the finals with a bronze medal in a time of 1:43.92.

The team dropped two seconds from its seed time (1:45.93) and was five one-hundredths of a second better than its runner-up time from WPIALs (1:43.97).

“I could not be more proud of this group of girls,” O’Toole said. “We worked our butts off in and out of the pool. We spent countless hours working on relay starts and that chemistry of being good together as a team. It was a really great start to the meet.”

The top 16 finishers in each preliminary race Friday morning returned for the consolation and finals swims.

Pasquella swam in the consolation final of the 50 free and placed second in the heat and 10th overall with a time of 24.01, lower than her 24.37 from the prelims.

On the boys side, Fox Chapel sophomore Christian Dantey won the consolation final of the 200 free with a time of 1:40.52. His time was faster than three swimmers in the championship heat.

But he had to settle for ninth as the swimmers in the consolation final are locked into ninth through 16th place and are unable to move into medal position.

Foxes sophomore Owen Howell was in the same boat as Dantey in the 200 IM as he won his consolation final heat with a time of 1:54.26 and was faster than two swimmers in the championship heat.

The Class 3A championships continue Saturday with the 100 free, 500 free, 100 back, 100 breaststroke and 400 free relay.

Preliminary heats begin at 8:10 a.m. for the girls and 10:45 for the boys. The girls consolation and championship finals are set to start at 3:25 p.m. followed by the boys consolation and championship finals at 6:05.

Fox Chapel sophomore Jackson Hagler will compete in the Class 3A boys diving meet Saturday afternoon at 12:35 p.m. He is one of four to qualify from the WPIAL.

Hagler hopes to improve on his 19th-place finish last year in his PIAA debut.

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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