Valley off to 2-1 start as swimmers gain valuable experience

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Tuesday, January 25, 2022 | 9:42 AM


Kim Johnson has watched her team progress every day. And now the results are starting to show.

Johnson is in her third year as Valley’s swimming coach, and early success has hit a program that historically has had its share of struggles.

“So far, we’re 2-1, which is super good for us,” Johnson said. “We have a really good group of swimmers and, in all honesty, they’re not swimmers. This is like their third sport. They’re soccer players and softball players.

“When we started as freshmen, it was just to keep them in shape. And now they’re really good.”

It’s all been a pleasant surprise at Valley, which qualified just one swimmer for last year’s WPIAL championship meet.

“We’re just kind of coming up the rear, but we’re doing it really well and I think we have a shot at winning some more meets this year, which will be a total first for us.

“I have kids dropping six and eight seconds off 500-yard freestyles. And they’re really doing well. For not being swimmers by trade, they have definitely improved.”

The boys side is a team of one.

Senior Leo Martino is the only boy on the Valley swim team, but he has had some success, qualifying in the 100-yard backstroke last season.

“We’re not Mt. Pleasant. We’re not a hardcore (program),” Johnson said. “Leo does great. Everybody cheers for everybody.”

The girls side has more depth, with 19 swimmers, and is paced by a good core of juniors in Jazmyn Cochran, Haley Demharter, Grace Josefoski, Leah Taliani and Crystal Savko.

Johnson also highlighted a sophomore, Mackenzie Haus, as someone who has performed well in the early going.

“They’re all great,” Johnson said. “Everybody’s goal is to get better and they’ve gotten better every year.

“They get a timesheet and they know what they have to beat and they’re funny, they have it on their phone and they get out (of the pool) and check it on their phone and are like ‘Oh, I dropped 2 seconds.’”

Valley has an inspiring swimmer on the roster. Freshman Sidnie Shirey swims the 100-yard breaststroke despite not having arms.

“She does it super well,” Johnson said. “Everybody cheers for her, and we’re super proud of everything she does.”

Johnson said that she and Shirey have just started talking about future options such as the Paralympics.

“She comes and works super hard every day, so maybe that is in her future,” Johnson added. “She’s super inspirational, and she works her tail off.”

Johnson teaches honors biology and AP biology at Valley, and uses her connection in the classroom with students to “recruit” them to the swim team. In three years, Johnson has grown the team from five swimmers to 20. And now that added depth is paying off.

“We’re big believers in sports and feel that sports should be part of their high school experience,” Johnson said. “We just want to be able to incorporate that into their life, and hard work, and that you have to do it all the time.”

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