Swimmers from North Allegheny, Fox Chapel claim Class AAA state gold

Wednesday, March 11, 2020 | 11:17 PM

A trio of WPIAL swimmers took home PIAA Class AAA championships Wednesday on the first day of competition at Bucknell.

North Allegheny senior Rick Mihm regained his title in the boys 200-yard individual medley, Fox Chapel freshman Sophie Shao struck gold in the girls 100 butterfly, and North Allegheny senior Torie Buerger tied for first in the girls 200 IM.

“This feels good,” said Mihm, the 2019 200 IM runner-up to North Penn (District 1) senior Sean Faikish. “I was a little disappointed with how last year went. I thought I had something left to give, and I am really happy with how it worked out.”

Mihm, a Stanford commit, also won the 200 IM state title as a sophomore, and he placed fifth in the 200 freestyle as a freshman.

He was the top seed entering Wednesday’s finals after recording a prelim time of 1:47.61, and Faikish was seeded second.

Mihm sliced well over three seconds off his prelim time and overtook Faikish in the closing breaststroke and freestyle legs. He won with a time of 1:43.98 to Faikish’s 1:44.62.

“It was the same position as last year where he had me a little bit going into the breast,” Mihm said. “I didn’t want it to end like it did last year, and that was what gave me that kick to give it everything I had.”

WPIAL 200 IM runner-up, Upper St. Clair junior Josh Matheny, was disqualified in his preliminary heat because of a non-simultaneous touch violation, which means he had to have both hands touch the wall at the same time between the breast leg and the race-ending freestyle leg.

Panthers coach Dave Schraven questioned how the official who made the call was able to see something so quick on the turn.

Matheny will get a chance at redemption Thursday as he hopes to defend his PIAA title in the 100 breast. The national high school record holder in the event is the top seed (54.43).

Shao, seeded first after the preliminaries of the 100 fly, added state gold to the top prize she won in the event at WPIALs.

She bested the finals field of eight, touching the wall in a personal-best time of 54.22 seconds.

“This is such a great feeling,” Shao said. “I was able to race against so many fast people. I was so motivated and prepared to swim fast. I feel really honored to win this and represent my teammates.

“I felt a little bit like I was in slow motion because I was so focused on each stroke. I remember all of it now. I had so much energy at the end.”

Buerger, third last year in the girls 200 IM, shared this year’s title with Muhlenberg senior Cameron Gring. Both touched the wall in a time of 1:59.50. They were the only two swimmers to go under two minutes.

“It’s been a goal since last year to get under two minutes, and it feels really special to finally get it my senior year,” Buerger said.

“I honestly didn’t see Cameron most of the time. I was on breaststroke, and I turned for freestyle and saw her. I knew I had to go as fast as I could. I touched (the wall), looked up and saw first for both of us. It was just really cool.”

Earning second-place finishes were Seneca Valley senior Owen Blazer in the boys 100 fly (47.95), the North Allegheny boys 200 free relay of Mihm, seniors Alex Grahor and Josh Galecki and junior Jacob McCarran (1:22.81) and the NA girls 200 medley relay of Buerger, senior Olivia Kraus, junior Olivia Kisow and sophomore Ella Ogden (1:42.63).

Gateway senior Olivia Livingston was denied her fourth PIAA title in the girls 50 free. She placed fourth in a time of 23.26.

Governor Mifflin senior Emma Steckiel (22.88) is the new champion. North Penn senior Caroline Dunigan placed second (22.97), and Downingtown East freshman Alexa Fulton took third (23.16).

For the third time in as many years, a National Federation of High Schools record fell at the PIAA championships.

Two years ago, it was the North Allegheny boys 400 free relay. Last year, it was Matheny in the 100 breast.

This year, State College senior Matt Brownstead, a Virginia commit, set a new national mark in the 50 free with a time of 19.24 seconds.

He came into the meet already owning the state record, and his time surpassed the previous top NFHS mark of 19.43 seconds established in 2010 by California’s Vladimir Morozov.

The PIAA Class AAA swimming and diving championships continue Thursday morning with the boys and girls preliminary swims in the 100 free, 500 free, 100 backstroke, 100 breast and 400 free relay.

The boys consolation and championship finals will be at 6 p.m. with the girls finals set for 8:30.

The girls diving competition will be at 2:30 p.m.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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