Top A-K Valley swimmers already off to strong starts

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Wednesday, December 15, 2021 | 8:39 PM


Sophie Shao was the hunted last season after bursting onto the high school scene as a freshman and winning WPIAL and PIAA Class AAA gold in the 100-yard butterfly.

She answered the bell and turned away all challengers to defend both crowns.

Shao, a junior, now is eyeing a WPIAL and PIAA three-peat while hoping to help the Fox Chapel girls team defend its section championship and challenge for the WPIAL team title in early March.

“We had our first meet (Tuesday), and it was so exciting,” said Shao, who is coming off strong performances at USA Swimming Junior Nationals and set a Fox Chapel pool record in the 100 fly.

“I was pretty rested and confident coming out of that big meet. I just decided to go for (the record). I have seen a lot of improvement in my swims, and I am very excited and focused for this season.”

Shao and other swimmers and divers in the Alle-Kiski Valley are in the thick of early-season meets and already are posting results that meet or surpass the qualifying standards listed at WPIAL.org.

Toledo commit and Freeport senior Alexis Schrecongost is back seeking defense of her WPIAL Class AA 100 breaststroke championship. While Freeport doesn’t have a pool, she trains at Fox Chapel with her Killer Whales club team.

“Just how hard I push myself at practice will depend on whether I’ll be ready or not to get the title again,” Schrecongost said before the season began.

Schrecengost also placed fourth at WPIALs last year in the Class AA 100 freestyle.

Fox Chapel junior Talia Bugel added to an impressive haul of titles and medals from A-K Valley competitors last year with the WPIAL Class AAA title in the 100 backstroke.

She also was third at WPIALs in the 50 free.

Senior Rei Sperry also returns after helping the Foxes girls 200 medley and 400 free relays qualify for states.

The Fox Chapel boys and girls teams pulled off a section-title double play last year, and the girls went on to place fourth in the WPIAL Class AAA team standings behind North Allegheny, Seneca Valley and Upper St. Clair.

Fox Chapel coach Dan Taylor said he is excited to see what the teams can accomplish again with the depth of the veteran swimmers combined with newcomers ready to make an impact.

Section competitions are set to begin Jan. 6 except for Section 4-AA — with Burrell, Freeport and Valley — and Section 2-AA. Both start section meets Thursday.

David Babik, the coach at Penn-Trafford and the new chairman of the WPIAL swimming and diving committee, said the WPIAL performance lists will return to the district’s website and most likely will make their debut early next month.

“A lot of coaches use them for motivation, with a goal for the swimmers and divers to be as high up on those lists as possible,” Babik said. “Being able to see what some of the other kids are doing is very motivational. It also can help coaches and the swimmers themselves decide where their strengths lie and also direct training plans.”

Babik said he is cautiously optimistic a number of traditional formats can return to pre-pandemic standards, including the qualifying process for WPIAL swimming and the location of the swimming championship. The Class AAA and Class AA diving finals tentatively are set for North Allegheny.

Last year, entries for each swimming event at WPIALs were capped at 16, and the championships were moved from Pitt’s Trees Pool to Upper St. Clair.

Babik said plans are to have a return to a non-cap for qualifiers, and negotiations are in the works to have the championships back at Trees Pool.

Trees Pool is holding big meets again, including this weekend’s annual Pitt Christmas meet which is traditionally larger in size than WPIALs.

“At this point, Pitt is one of our options and our main preference,” Babik said. “Between now and the time we can confirm the location, there’s a lot that could happen. The fact that Pitt has had other large meets there is encouraging.”

Other 2021 state qualifiers back hoping to make their mark again are St. Joseph senior Sam Wygonik (500 free) and Plum senior Sam Schohn (100 breast).

“I worked really hard in the offseason to get back to states and go even faster,” Schohn said. “I got best times in both of my major events (100 breast and 200 individual medley) at the first meet (Tuesday against Kiski Area), and that was without a taper. I am ahead of where I ended last year, and it feels pretty good.”

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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