WPIAL swimmers claim 7 state titles on 1st day of PIAA Class 2A swim championships

Wednesday, March 15, 2023 | 11:03 PM

WPIAL swimmers had a banner day Wednesday to open the PIAA Class 2A championships at Bucknell University’s Kinney Natatorium.

The WPIAL came away with seven state titles – two relays and five individuals – and earned numerous other top medal-winning performances.

Southmoreland senior Henry Miller went 2 for 2 Wednesday in back-to-back state-finals swims.

He won two state titles, posting a time of 20.16 in the 50 and coming right back with a 48.88 to claim his second consecutive 100 fly crown.

“It was an electric feeling, that’s for sure,” Miller said. “It was a culmination of all of my work these past couple of years, and it paid off.”

Miller’s time in the 50 was two one-hundredths of a second better than the 20.18 he recorded at WPIALs and was just 16 one-hundredths off the PIAA record of 20.00 set by Belle Vernon grad Ian Shahan in 2021.

Miller’s 48.88 in the 100 fly almost was a second faster than his 49.83 from states last year.

“I was feeling good (in the 100 fly), and I was feeling loose and in control, and it just came together.” Miller said. “The guys closest to me, they had me on both sides. I was seeing the water splash. I put my head down and knew it was time to go.”

Miller’s two titles followed the second straight 200 free championship for Indiana sophomore Preston Kessler.

He touched the wall first in a time of 1:39.27. Last year, in his PIAA debut, he swam to the title in 1:40.39.

“I tell everybody on my team that it’s one thing going into an event as a freshman and seeing it for the first time and how nerve-wracking it can be,” Kessler said. “But this year, it was a whole new type of nervousness seeing all the new people coming into this event and knowing they were all gunning for me. Being seeded at the top, everyone wanted to take me down. But getting in the pool, swimming and doing what I needed to do, it just took the weight off my shoulders and made me feel good.”

Kessler also was a part of the Indiana 200 free relay that picked up a silver medal (1:25.66).

On the girls side, Mapletown senior Ella Menear held off all challengers in the Class 2A girls 200 individual medley.

She won with a time of 2:02.13 to claim her second 200 IM title in as many years.

“It is an amazing feeling. I am so blessed and so honored to be able to defend my title,” said Menear, who will swim next year at Alabama in the SEC.

“Going into this race, I was really focused on my strategy. I had a couple setbacks this season with a little bit of injury. I didn’t go best time, but that is OK. I have next year in college to really work on that.”

Menear will come back Thursday and attempt to win her second 100 backstroke title. She was victorious in the event as a sophomore and was runner-up to Bedford junior standout Leah Shackley last year.

The Mt. Pleasant girls showed their depth with several PIAA medals, fronted by state titles from the 200 medley relay and 200 free relay and sophomore Lily King’s triumph in the 200 free.

The Vikings head into Day 2 Thursday morning with a 32-point lead – 124-92 – over District 10’s Cathedral Prep in the girls team race.

Quaker Valley (65) and Northgate (60) are fourth and fifth.

Mt. Pleasant kicked off the girls championship finals with a bang as sophomore Kiersten O’Connor and seniors SaraJo Gardner, McKenna Mizikar and Reegan Brown claimed PIAA gold in the 200 medley relay with a time of 1:46.71.

The WPIAL champs were more than two seconds faster than runner-up Cathedral Prep.

“We really hoped to win gold in the medley relay after placing second last year (to Villa Maria Academy),” said Mizikar, who swam the third (butterfly) leg of the relay.

“It’s been a goal since last year for me, personally. I was scared to turn around after I got out of the water because my split was not as good as prelims and was wondering if (Cathedral Prep) would catch up. But I turned around, and Reegan was the first to the turn, and I was like, ‘We’ve got it. It’s gonna happen.’ It was an amazing way to start things off.”

King followed her Mt. Pleasant teammates and captured the 200 free title with a time of 1:46.86. She added that gold medal to the ones earned last year in the 50 and 100 free.

King held off the challenge of 2022 PIAA 200 free champ Elise Nardozzi, a junior from Northgate.

King and Nardozzi’s times — Nardozzi swam to a 1:47.43 — placed both of them on the National Federation of High Schools honor roll.

“I just started swimming the 200 free this year, and to know I could come here and do this, it is an amazing feeling,” King said. “I hoped for the best, but I wasn’t sure what might happen. Elise is such a strong swimmer, and we really push each other. That is a big part of what helped me get to the title.”

Nardozzi and King have a strong chance to see each other again Thursday in the finals of the 100 free.

They are the top two seeds in the event. Nardozzi was second to King last year.

“It’s great to have someone right next to me that pushes me so much,” Nardozzi said. “We do a really good job of pushing each other. Seeing her next to me makes me want to go so much faster. “

The Mt. Pleasant girls 200 free relay of O’Connor, senior Trinity Graft, Gardner, and King closed the meet with a time of 1:35.88, which secured the state title and was faster than their WPIAL time by two one-hundredths of a second.

The quartet also eyed the state record, but they finished just seven one-hundredths away (1:35.81).

“I think Lily knew the time. I didn’t know it,” Gardner said. “Whenever she touched, we were looking around and looking up at the board to see if we got it. But we’re happy with how we swam and that we got the state title. It was definitely a goal coming in to win all three relays. We’ll see how tomorrow goes.”

Mt. Pleasant is the top seed in the 400 free relay Thursday.

South Park junior Katie Jackovic and Freeport sophomore Kira Schrecongost know the power of Bedford’s Shackley.

Jackovic swan a best time in the 100 butterfly (55.51) Wednesday and took second, but she was still 3.58 seconds behind Shackley’s PIAA-record time of 51.93. Schrecongost was third with a time of 56.16.

“Seeing my time and then seeing her time, it’s like, ‘Wow,’” Jackovic said.

“Definitely congrats to her. She puts in a lot of hard work. But with my time being a PR, I am very proud of myself. I’ve gone 55 at WPIALs and at states twice, so I am there. I am looking forward to working and going even faster.”

Jackovic comes back Thursday as the third seed in the 100 free behind King and Nardozzi.

Day 2 of the PIAA Class 2A swimming championships begins with the girls prelims at 7:45 a.m. and the boys prelims at 10:20.

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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