With brilliant final session, North Allegheny girls win back-to-back PIAA team titles

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Friday, March 15, 2024 | 12:29 AM


A trio of North Allegheny divers got the ball rolling Thursday afternoon with points scored in the PIAA Class 3A competition.

Juniors Juliet Hood and Lola Malarky and sophomore Maggie Lapina finished second, third, and 10th, earning 40 points to the overall team total.

Then the Tigers swimmers took over — highlighted by senior Natalie Sens’ gold medal in the 100-yard breaststroke — and carried the team the rest of the way to a second consecutive state championship and third title in four years.

“We had so many people step up today and this evening,” North Allegheny coach Patrick Wentzel said.

“It was unbelievable. It was one of the best sessions I’ve ever been involved with. I am super proud of our girls. We got off to a little rocky start yesterday. Obviously, we wouldn’t have gotten to where we are without the divers scoring those 40 points and giving us a boost for us to do what we did tonight.”

The 400 free relay of sophomores Eva Ogden, Claire Bacu and Dani Hinkson and senior Greta Mott capped the two days of swims for the Tigers by finishing fourth (3:31.06). Those 30 points gave North Allegheny the win with 211 points.

District 1’s Upper Dublin took second (203), and Hatboro-Horsham, also from District 1, placed third (164).

Fox Chapel was the second WPIAL team in the standings. Paced by a runner-up finish from junior Sarah Pasquella in the 100 breast, the Foxes finished with 99 points, good enough for sixth place.

North Allegheny team members picked up the PIAA team trophy, posed for pictures on the podium and then took a celebratory plunge.

Wentzel said freshman Julia Tengowski’s 5:03.73 and 11th in the consolation final of the 500 free started the snowball effect that continued in the 500 championship heat with Bacu placing seventh (5:00.13).

“Every girl after Julia kept getting better and better,” Wentzel said. “We’re just on Cloud 9. We can’t believe what just happened. This is a super, super special win for me, for the program, for all of us.”

Mott was ninth in the 100 backstroke (57.30), and sophomore Tori Tieppo was 10th in the 100 breast (1:04.43) before Sens’ state-title swim.

Sens said she had gotten so close at states over the past four years. She reached the top of the mountain Thursday. Her 1:01.48 automatically placed her on the National Federation Honor Roll.

“I was just so happy to have won it,” she said. “Winning the team title was such a big goal for us. It’s such a great feeling. Everyone worked so hard to make it happen.”

Pasquella’s 1:01.80 also was an automatic honor roll time.

“I couldn’t be happier with the way I swam and the time that I got,” Pasquella said. “I came in here hoping to get a summer nationals cut, and I did that in the prelims (1:02.33). Another time drop today, and that is just a huge deal for me.”

Mt. Lebanon junior Sylvia Roy set off fireworks in the 100 back and brought home the WPIAL’s first individual or relay state title of the two-day Class 3A event.

And she did it in record fashion.

Roy swam to a finals time of 52.90 nearly 10 years to the day Hershey standout Meaghan Raab established the previous record of 53.08.

“It is, by far, the biggest swimming accomplishment I have achieved,” said Roy, who also won the 100 back state title last year in 53.28. “I am not going to lie. Not any part of me thought that I would be that fast. I am so, so excited.

“I felt so good that first 50, and that last lap, I was fighting for my life. It hurt so bad. I could see the people next to me and was able to see where I was. When I hit the wall, the feeling was so special.”

Roy said the first thing she did was look over to see her screaming teammates.

“I didn’t even look over at the scoreboard,” she said. “I knew something crazy happened just based off their reaction.”

On the boys side, Holden Thomas owned the top seed in the Class 3A 100 back and had his sights set on big things in the preliminaries Thursday morning.

The Franklin Regional senior, the WPIAL champion in the event with a time of 49.08 seconds, slipped to a prelim time of 49.86 and was seeded second for the championship heat Thursday evening.

One of Thomas’ goals was to get into the championship heat.

He did that.

Another goal was to go faster in said heat.

He did that, too.

Thomas fell just short of his final goal, a state title, but his all-time best of 48.30 earned him a silver medal and a spot on the second highest step of the medals podium.

“I was kind of hoping I had scraped into the ‘A’ final,” said Thomas about the standings after the prelim swims.

“I hoped I would come back feeling great, and I did. I always race against myself, no matter what lane I am in or who is next to me. I was a little disappointed that I didn’t get first, but I was glad I got a best time.”

Thomas adds his silver medal to his tie for 10th in the 100 butterfly (50.13) from Wednesday.

Penn-Trafford senior Patton Graziano, Thomas’ Westmoreland rival and friend, also lowered time from the prelims and maintained fourth overall (48.80).

“I felt good, and there was nothing I would’ve changed (about the 100 back swim),” Graziano said. “I was really happy.”

Graziano and Thomas, like they did at WPIALs, stood beside each other on the PIAA medals podium. It was the final high school race for both local standouts.

“It was really cool to be up there beside Holden,” Graziano said. “It was really fun that it could end like this at states.”

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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