Thomas Jefferson senior closes curtain on family swimming dynasty

Monday, March 15, 2021 | 1:03 PM

And then there was one.

Luke Pletz, the last of the Pletz siblings, ended his prominent high school career in the pool March 6 at Upper St. Clair at the WPIAL Class AA championship meet.

And thus a family legacy of quality swimming at the scholastic level ceased.

A senior at Thomas Jefferson, Pletz competed in the boys 100-yard backstroke, 100 butterfly and fly portion of the 200 intermediate relay at the WPIAL meet.

Pletz, 18, qualified for WPIALs in multiple events all four years of his high school career and is the youngest of five siblings who have had outstanding swim careers over the past two decades.

All five — Sam, Jacob, Dan, Grace and Luke — qualified for the WPIAL championships.

“Being the youngest in the Pletz family has been something I am very proud of,” he said. “My brothers were my idols and greatest motivators. As a kid, I always looked up to them and wished to become as fast as they were. I never was able to be quite as good as they were; however, I could not be more thankful for their guidance and help growing up.”

It wasn’t a case of smooth sailing for Pletz at the onset of the 2020-21 swim season, for various reasons.

“The start of my senior season was a little rocky with it being shut down during winter break. Just as we were getting back into the water, I tested positive for covid-19,” he said. “After missing over a week of practice, coming back was tough, and I was behind much of my competition.

“I was able to push on and continue to race in all of our scheduled meets, even resetting my 100 fly and 200 IM records in the process. Qualifying for WPIALs came down to our last meet against Elizabeth Forward. Thanks to my coach, Brian Peters, and my training partners, I feel the best I ever have in the water.”

To say Pletz had a record-breaking career at Thomas Jefferson is an understatement.

Pletz holds five records, including the two he set this year on senior recognition night.

He broke his own 100-yard butterfly mark in 56.79 and swam the fly portion of the team’s record-breaking 200 medley relay unit. Nathan Maksin, Matt Kail, Pletz and Christian Colosimo clicked in the relay to the tune of 1:48.50.

Pletz eclipsed his own record in the 100 fly with a time of 55.27 at the WPIAL meet. He placed eighth in the 100 back.

Pletz also holds team records in the 100 backstroke (56.23), 500 freestyle (5:28.29) and 200 IM (2:13.43).

He was a three-time team captain and was named swimmer of the year as a junior, when he also landed the coaches award in a vote by his teammates.

As a sophomore, Pletz qualified for the WPIAL finals in six individual events.

“One of my favorite memories at TJ is actually from this season,” Pletz said. “Our boys 200 medley relay broke our school record at our final dual meet. This was my favorite memory because I was the only competitive swimmer (among the four) before high school, so being able to break a 12-year-old record with three of my best friends who had never swum before high school was extremely meaningful.

“Our relay team did not qualify (for WPIALs) under the new times; however, we did meet the consideration time to earn our ticket to the meet.”

Until 2019-20, Thomas Jefferson did not have a home pool to call its own and shared time at other facilities.

The 25-yard pool at the new high school is a state-of-the-art indoor venue located in the TJ aquatic center.

Pletz said the new pool has had a notable influence on TJ swimming.

After years of sharing pool time at other high schools, it was a bonus to have one the Jaguars could call home, and was something that was anticipated for many years.

“The new pool has been great for our team,” Pletz said. “We used to have to travel over 30 minutes each way for practice. Our team size was so limited, and we constantly lost meets, but once we got our new pool, our boys team tripled in size. We have been a much closer team, and that make it much more enjoyable as well.

“We were extremely lucky to be able to swim in this new pool for even two years, and I’m grateful we had that opportunity.”

Pletz competes for the Bethel Park Swim Club in the offseason and trains with Temple Haynes at Benchmark Performance Academy for strength and agility training and Steve Larkin for dry land and stroke work.

His strongest event is the 100 backstroke. Last season, he posted the third-fastest time at the WPIAL championship meet.

Along with his four years in the water, Pletz has participated in football, cross country and track and field at TJ.

“This has been by far the most enjoyable year of swimming I’ve ever had,” he said, “and I am very excited to commit to a college this month and compete at the next level.”

Edinboro, Saint Vincent and Penn State Altoona are on his college radar. He plans to major in business management and become a swim coach after graduation.

Grace Pletz, a team captain in her senior year at Thomas Jefferson, advanced to the WPIAL championships twice (2018-19). Along with Elana Savikas, Audra Morgan and Hallie Findlan, she helped break the girls 200 freestyle relay record in 2019.

She qualified for the WPIAL championships in the 100 butterfly and in all three relays in her high school career.

Pletz graduated from TJ in 2019 and now attends Florida Tech, where she is majoring in ocean engineering and serves as vice president of the club swim team.

The Pletz family moved into West Jefferson Hills School District in 2015 from Peters Township.

The three older brothers — Sam, Jacob and Dan — swam at Peters, where all were four-year WPIAL qualifiers.

Sam Pletz was a WPIAL titlist in the 200 freestyle in 2007, when he also finished as the runner-up in the 100 freestyle.

He held the Indians’ team record in the 200 freestyle and as a member of the 200 and 400 freestyle relay units.

At the 2008 WPIAL finals, Pletz placed second in the 200 freestyle, third in the 100 freestyle and anchored the 400 freestyle relay to a third-place finish. Pletz continued his career at Kenyon College, home to a storied Division III swimming program. Kenyon’s 34 national titles are the most by any collegiate program in one sport in any NCAA division. Kenyon’s 31 consecutive titles, from 1980-2011, is also an all-division record.

Pletz, who was recognized as being one of the best swimmers in school history at Peter Township, married Carly Harter, whom he met at AMS Swimming. Both were chosen to attend the U.S. Olympic Training Center in Colorado as juniors in high school. They reconnected in 2015 as assistant coaches for Peters Township’s club team.

Carly (Harter) Pletz attended Toledo and was named first team all-conference for four years. She still holds the 100 and 200 free records at Toledo.

Carly Pletz was an assistant coach for Norwin from 2018-20.

Jacob Pletz helped set team records in the 100 medley and 400 freestyle relay events at Peters Township. The Indians’ 200 medley relay placed second at the WPIAL finals in 2011.

Pletz was a dominant force at Westminster in a record-setting career from 2011-15 and was a first team selection on the Titans’ all-decade team (2010-19).

He earned 11 medals over his four years in the Presidents’ Athletic Conference championships, was a three-time PAC individual winner and four-time All-PAC first-team selection.

Dan Pletz helped shatter team records in the 200 medley, 200 freestyle and 400 freestyle relay events at Peters Township and was a four-time PIAA medalist as a relayer.

The Indians’ 200 freestyle relay placed second at the WPIAL finals in 2011. The 200 medley relay placed second in 2012.

Dan joined Jacob at Westminster from 2013-15 and, in two years of competition, finished with 10 conference championship medals. He was a 200 and 400 IM titlist in 2013-14, and along with Jacob was a 400 and 800 freestyle relay champion. The following season, Pletz won the 400 IM title and placed second in the 200 IM and 200 backstroke.


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