WPIAL contenders wonder how sports shutdown will impact swimming season

Monday, December 14, 2020 | 6:29 PM

Ian Shahan hopes for big things in his senior swimming season.

Like many others throughout the WPIAL, the Belle Vernon senior who is the defending WPIAL Class AA champion in the 100-yard freestyle and 100 butterfly, is keeping his fingers crossed that when the calendar turns to 2021, the season can progress toward championship opportunities at the district and state levels.

The coronavirus pandemic continues to shift the reality away from the normal course of a winter high school sports season. A shutdown mandated by the office of Gov. Tom Wolf in hopes of curtailing the spread of the virus has halted in-water activity until Jan. 4.

“I think looking forward, it will be interesting to see what the effects of not being in the water will have on the swimmers in general,” said Shahan, who was declared state champion in both of his individual events by the PIAA when it canceled the Class AA meet at Bucknell University as the initial impact of the pandemic was coming to light in March. Shahan was the top seed in both events.

The second-day championship and consolation finals of the Class AAA meet also were canceled with the girls diving competition the final event to take place before everyone was sent home.

“We have to remain positive through all of this that the WPIAL and PIAA will do the best they can to give everyone the best opportunity to compete,” said Shahan, who committed to the United States Military Academy in July.

“Right now, everyone is looking for different ways to try to stay in shape until we can get back in the water.”

A number of schools held swimming and diving meets Friday before the shutdown went into effect. Times recorded at those meets are in a holding pattern as the WPIAL waits to decide on possibly altering the qualification time standards for the championship meet in an attempt to streamline the process.

With restrictions on indoor gatherings, the WPIAL board met online Nov. 16 to discuss several issues. It approved a plan at that time to potentially reduce the number of swimmers who will qualify for the WPIAL championship meet.

A way to do that, the board said, is to possibly make it more challenging to obtain qualifying standards with new standards based on last year’s times and early-season results this year.

“The committee is scheduled to meet either Jan. 5 or 6 to examine (the current qualifying standards) to see where we are at,” WPIAL executive director Amy Scheuneman said Monday.

“We were hoping to actually get some swimming in before they decided those times, but unfortunately, we’re not going to have that based on the shutdown. Other than a few meets from Friday, we don’t have anything to go off of from this year.”

The PIAA last week stepped into the planning process and said the number of qualifiers to its state championship meet would be reduced from the traditional 32 for each event to 16.

Scheuneman said the WPIAL continues to have open discussions with Pitt about the feasibility of hosting the WPIAL championships, something it has done for several decades. She said it remains unclear if that will be reality or if other facilities, perhaps one or more high school venues, will be need to hold the event.

“Those things all are still on the table for discussion,” she said.

The WPIAL diving championship meets for both Class AAA and AA, the WPIAL has said, are scheduled to return to North Allegheny on Feb. 26-27.

There also have been discussions about conducting virtual meets between teams throughout the state without actually gathering swimmers from different schools in the same pool. The PIAA has provided guidelines for that type of competition on its website.

The Westmoreland County Coaches Association swimming and diving championships, held annually at the end of January, has become a covid casualty. WCCA officials recently announced on their website they could not hold the event this year “based on the guidelines set forth by the CDC, the PA Dept. of Health, the PIAA, the WPIAL and input from the hosting schools and other Westmoreland County school districts.” 

Shahan joins a large group of area swimmers and divers hoping to build on last year’s championship accomplishments.

Fox Chapel sophomore Sophie Shao seeks a solid encore to a first varsity season that included WPIAL and PIAA championships in the Class AAA 100 fly. She was part of a young and talented Foxes girls squad that placed third in the WPIAL team standings.

Fox Chapel senior David Manelis dominated the WPIAL Class AAA boys diving field, winning his first title by more than 100 points. He went on to post a third-place finish at states after taking second there in 2019.

Earning WPIAL runner-up finishes last year were the Mt. Pleasant girls 200 medley and 200 free relays, the Belle Vernon boys 200 free relay, the Fox Chapel girls 400 free relay and the Franklin Regional boys 200 free relay.

The Mt. Pleasant girls finished runner-up to Elizabeth Forward in the Class AA team standings.

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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