Thomas Jefferson’s Findlan claims 1st WPIAL swimming title in program history

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Friday, March 6, 2020 | 5:15 PM


Hallie Findlan has been rewriting the Thomas Jefferson record book in girls swimming for three years.

Findlan, a junior, added another historic chapter to her distinguished career by becoming the first TJ swimmer in school history to win a WPIAL championship.

Findlan finished first in the 100-yard freestyle at the WPIAL finals Feb. 27-28 at Pitt’s Trees Pool. Her time was 53.12 seconds, which narrowly defeated Ella Ciez (53.25) of Laurel Highlands.

Findlan placed 14th in the 100 free as a freshman and third last year.

“Winning the WPIAL title was very exciting,” said Findlan, who is seeded seventh in the state. “This had been a goal all year, and is an accomplishment I am happy to share with my team, coaches and family.

“I remember touching the wall at the end of the race and looking up at the results board. When I saw my name with the No. 1 next to it, I was so happy and relieved that I dipped my head under the water. When I came back up, I could hear my team and my family and friends all cheering and it made me feel so happy and excited. I hope to keep improving as I continue to swim in the future.”

Findlan also placed second in the 50 free with a school-record 23.82 time.

Mt. Pleasant’s Heather Gardner, a Liberty recruit, won the 50 free for the third consecutive year in 23.62.

“Both of Hallie’s races were close, less than 0.2 seconds,” TJ’s veteran coach, John Penn, said. “Heather and Hallie are seeded No. 1 and No. 2 in the state (in the 50 free) going into the Class AA championships. They are the only ones with 23-second seed times.”

Findlan holds team records in the 50, 100 and 200 freestyle events.

“While we have had a three-time WPIAL champion in diving (Ryan Fagan), Hallie is our first WPIAL swimming champion,” Penn said. “We came close several times, but Hallie is the first.

“Hallie does not like to lose. In fact, in three years she has only lost one individual dual meet event during the season, and that was by 0.02 seconds. Her drive to succeed is her strength; she strives to constantly push herself to get better.”

Findlan’s career in the water actually began in the fifth grade at South Hills Aquatics.

“Swimming was something I wanted to try and I am so happy I did,” Findlan said. “I love the sport and the camaraderie I have with my team. I love the challenge swimming provides, and I enjoy racing.

“Swim teams bring the best out of people, and we develop great memories and friendships.”

While her hard work and dedication to improve are two of her stronger traits, Findlan said having a “home” pool at TJ’s new high school has made a tremendous difference.

“Having the new pool has definitely helped all of us,” Findlan said. “We no longer have to travel late into the evening to practice at another school, and it has helped with my schedule.

“I am so happy and grateful our district has this wonderful facility. I have heard from many other swimmers from other teams that the new pool at TJ is a beautiful facility, and I am so happy I have the chance to practice there every day.

“The new pool has proven to be a fast pool, which helps with my training. I also think having this facility has helped promote the sport that I love in our district.”

Penn agreed with his star athlete’s analysis of 25-yard, state-of-the-art indoor pool at the TJ aquatic center.

“Absolutely,” Penn said. “Having our own pool has contributed to our team’s success, including Hallie’s championship.

“Having our own facility and being able to have practice right after school, including for however long we need it, along with two or three days a week of morning strength conditioning and yoga, has allowed us to begin to grow as a team and enhance our athletes’ conditioning. We are only just in the beginning of where we can go.”

Thomas Jefferson’s girls squad placed 12th in Class AA at the WPIAL meet with 73 points, the most by any TJ team in 21 years.

Along with Findlan, the Jaguars were sparked by standout freshman Mackenzie Meyers, in the 100 backstroke and 200 IM, plus the 200 and 400 freestyle relayers.

“The 200 free relay actually broke the school record the last three meets, and with various swimmers,” Penn said. “That shows how strong our relays can be, by using multiple swimmers and going faster each time. We could have used any one of five swimmers to set the record.”

TJ’s 200 free relay swimmers include Findlan, Meyers and sophomores Audra Morgan, Emma Organist and Madison Keck.

In the 400 free relay, Keck, Morgan, Meyers and Findlan missed tying a 22-year-old team record by 0.5 seconds.

Additionally, Meyers broke the team record in the 100 backstroke, which was set by Becky Sabol in 2002.

For TJ’s boys team, junior Luke Pletz splashed to a team record in the 100 butterfly, and also competed in the 100 backstroke.

The PIAA championships will take place March 11-14 at Bucknell’s Kinney Natatorium.

*****

Fagan, currently an assistant coach at Peters Township, competed at TJ from 1999-2001. Along with being a three-time WPIAL diving champion, he earned All-American laurels.

Fagan attended Indiana from 2001-06, and was a diving finalist at the 2004 Olympic Trials.

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