Returning qualifiers leading Thomas Jefferson swim teams in early-season meets

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Saturday, December 29, 2018 | 9:18 AM


Thomas Jefferson coach John Penn welcomed a solid group of returning WPIAL qualifiers to this year’s swimming and diving program.

On the girls side, seniors Elena Savikas, Grace Pletz and Maura Gdovic, junior Breanna Smith and sophomore Hallie Findlan were WPIAL qualifiers last season.

Findlan qualified for the WPIAL meet in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle events last year at the first meet of her varsity career against Brentwood.

“The returning WPIAL veterans are leading our team early on,” Penn said. “Having only graduated two members from our team from last year, our girls are in good shape.

“We have 23 members on our girls team. We added 12 new members, and many of them have a lot of swimming experience which is a big plus.”

The TJ girls won two of their first three meets before the late-December holiday break.

Along with the returning WPIAL qualifiers, the team includes seniors Carissa Budday, Daisy Halliday and Raelin Krueger; juniors Nieyalii Rodriguez and Miranda Stanley and sophomores Mia Olsen, Soliana Porter, Sierra Randolph and Isabelle Yancura.

“Our new freshman class for the girls is one of the largest in recent years,” Penn said.

Freshmen include Riley Baker, Lilliana Cooke, Madison Keck, Faith Krueger, Hayley Maizer, Sadie Marlow, Audra Morgan, Emma Organist and Rylee Pristas.

There are two diving specialists: Halliday and Randolph.

Savikas, Pletz, Smith and Halliday are captains. Savikas is a third-year captain.

Findlan (50 freestyle, 100 freestyle) and Savikas (200 freestyle) already have qualified for this year’s WPIAL Class AA championships, as have two relay units — the 200 freestyle, consisting of Savikas, Findlan, Morgan and Organist; and 400 freestyle, consisting of Savikas, Pletz, Findlan and Morgan.

“The depth we have seen so far will help us be successful this year,” Penn said. “Also, the talent of our incoming athletes, especially the freshmen, has been a pleasant addition. I can’t say it was a surprise as we knew we had a talented group entering the program this year.

“Early practices were focused at understanding how much depth we have and how to use it to our advantage, especially on the girls side.”

Thomas Jefferson’s boys team, which is 1-2, is made up of eight swimmers and led by sophomore Luke Pletz, a returning WPIAL qualifier.

Along with Pletz, other returning swimmers from last year’s 3-8 squad are senior Noah Georgulis and sophomores Christian Colosimo and Ian Majetic.

The four new members are senior Ty Folk, sophomore Matt Kail, plus freshmen John Karnack and Evan Savikas.

Pletz, who is a WPIAL qualifier in the 100 butterfly this season, and Georgulis are co-captains.

Pletz and Findlan made a big splash as freshmen last year. They qualified for the WPIAL finals at Pitt’s Trees Pool in two individual and two relay events.

Pletz attained qualifying marks in the 100 butterfly (1:02.3) and 100 backstroke (1:02.8).

Findlan logged qualifying times in the 50 freestyle (26.12) and 100 freestyle (58.52).

“Both Hallie and Luke made an immediate impact in our program,” Penn said. “Although we knew they were coming up into the program (last year), Hallie and Luke have really exceeded any early expectations we had.”

Findlan, who plays the clarinet and participates in the TJ concert and marching bands, lost only one individual event all season, a span covering 12 meets plus the section championships. That loss was by .02 seconds.

“I am looking forward to our new pool and future swim seasons at TJ,” Findlan said.

But, first things first.

Pletz, a multi-faceted athlete, also participates in track and field and cross country. He moved into West Jefferson Hills School District three years ago from Peters Township.

“My freshman season flew by much faster than I thought it would,” Pletz said. “In the beginning of the season, I struggled to put up times that I thought were acceptable, but near the end of this season I (was) at my fastest.

“My success in the pool has helped me with other sports, like cross country and track and field. My goal with these other sports is to letter every year and become a top athlete at TJ by my graduation.”

With no home pool, TJ practices and competes at nearby Elizabeth Forward High School.

“With the new high school (project) being behind schedule, we will not be in our new pool until next year,” said Penn, who is assisted by Brian Peters and Jesse Durham. “So we continue to swim at Elizabeth Forward and have a great relationship with their team.”

Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.

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