Relay win sparks Hampton boys to 1st WPIAL team swim title since 1999

Monday, March 15, 2021 | 1:00 PM

The Hampton boys swimming team needed 1 minute, 36 seconds to set into motion something that hadn’t happened in 22 years.

The Talbots won the 200 medley relay in the opening event of the WPIAL Class AA swimming championships March 6 and used the record-setting race as a springboard to the program’s first district title since 1999.

“That event really set things up for us for the rest of the meet,” said sophomore Ben Sheets, who led off the winning relay with the backstroke.

The quartet of Sheets, Ethan Apaliski, Will Retsch and Richie Donato hit the wall in 1:36.11 to edge Riverside by three-hundreths of a second and break the WPIAL Class AA championship meet record of 1:37.01 set last year by Indiana. It was also the fastest 200 medley relay time in school history.

With Hampton in third place after Sheets’ opening leg, Apaliski (breaststroke) and Retsch (butterfly) rallied to give the Talbots a narrow lead. Donato then closed out the win with the fastest 50-yard freestyle split of his career (21.6).

“I was really surprised by how fast I went,” said Donato, whose previous best split was 23.04. “But overall as a team, we kind of did what we expected.”

The Talbots, who took a surprising third in WPIAL Class AAA last year before dropping to Class AA as part of the enrollment-based realignment, finished with 218 points to outdistance runner-up Northgate (201.5).

“They are a really close team, and they wanted it so bad,” fifth-year coach Morgan Zweygardt said. “I’m just really excited and proud of how they all did in such a weird year.”

Retsch, a junior, won gold in the 200 IM and finished fourth in the 100 back. Donato, a senior, took second in the 100 breast, breaking Matt Harrigan’s 25-year-old school record with a time of 58.22, and placed fourth in the 200 IM.

Apaliski (fourth, 100 breast) and Sheets (fifth, 100 back) added top-five finishes.

Juniors Davis Gindelsperger and Michael Belch, freshmen Zach Sutterlin and Viltaliy Pikalo and sophomore diver Koda Carslaw, who placed third in the WPIAL diving championships one week earlier, helped to score points.

“It was insane,” Apaliski said. “I think as a team we really did well.”

In the day’s final event, the 400 free relay, the Talbots needed only a top-seven finish to secure their first WPIAL team title since winning three in a row from 1997-99. The foursome of Sheets, Gindelsperger, Donato and Retsch placed third to set off a wild celebration at Upper St. Clair, which hosted the championships because of covid capacity restrictions at Pitt’s Trees Pool.

“We talked all year about getting another banner up on the wall in our pool,” Sheets said. “It’s been pretty dry.”

There is a chance for more hardware. The 200 medley relay team will enter the trimmed-down PIAA Class AA championships on March 19-20 at Cumberland Valley High School as the No. 1 seed in the state.

Retsch is the No. 2 seed in the 200 IM and qualified in the 100 backstroke, and Donato is No. 3 in the 100 breast and also will compete in the 200 IM.

Apaliski (100 breast) and the 400 free relay team advanced, and Sheets is first alternate in the 100 back.

State qualifiers this year are the district champions plus six at-large selections based on their district times.

The Talbots brought a clever strategy into the WPIAL meet. They didn’t enter swimmers into any of the four individual freestyle events, instead loading up in other events. The plan worked. They had three of the top seven finishers in the 200 IM, two of the top four in 100 breast and two of the top five in 100 back.

“It’s just about where can we get the most points,” Zweygardt said. “It doesn’t matter, at the end of the day, if I put someone the 100 free and they get seventh, or I put them in the 100 back or 100 breast and they get fourth, that makes more sense.

“The 50 free and the 100 free are usually really loaded. Unless you are an Ian Shahan (of Belle Vernon) or a Connor McBeth (of Neshannock) or if you are a true freestyler and that’s the only thing you swim, then it makes sense to swim it. But when you have kids that can swim a lot of different things, you want to go where you can get the most points.”

Gold standard

Here are Hampton’s seeds for the PIAA Class AA boys swimming championships March 19-20:

200 medley relay (Ben Sheets, Ethan Apaliski, Will Retsch, Richie Donato): First

400 freestyle relay (Sheets, Davis Gindelsperger, Donato, Retsch): Sixth

Will Retsch: Second, 200 IM; 13th, 100 back

Richie Donato: Third, 100 breast; Sixth, 200 IM

Ethan Apaliski: Sixth, 100 breast

Ben Sheets: First alternate, 100 back


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