WPIAL swimmers leave shortened PIAA Class AAA championships with mixed emotions

Thursday, March 12, 2020 | 2:36 PM

A range of emotions, from sadness to frustration, enveloped the faces of Class AAA swimmers and coaches, as well as family members and other spectators, when the PIAA announced Thursday that consolation and championship finals would not take place due to coronavirus concerns.

“I made the decision after speaking to our executive director back at the office,” said Melissa Mertz, meet director for the PIAA swimming and diving championships at Bucknell.

“They had conference calls this morning about postponing the basketball championships as well. I felt we could not continue swimming with basketball canceling as well. The PIAA is pretty much shutting down any of our tournaments that we had going on. That, in addition to information we got from the governor’s office and the (Pennsylvania) Department of Health, we felt it was just the right thing to do. Bucknell has actually canceled all of their spring sports as well.”

The PIAA also postponed the Class AA swimming and diving meet, originally set for Friday and Saturday at Bucknell, for a minimum of two weeks as the organization continues to monitor Centers for Disease Control and health department recommendations.

Numerous Class AA teams already were in the Bucknell area or en route to the championships when the PIAA made the announcement.

“By enforcing a two-week hiatus from our basketball and AA swimming championships, (the PIAA) believes this action will allow schools time to perform self-assessments and make decisions to promote optimal health conditions in their communities,” the PIAA said in a press release Thursday.

Mertz confirmed Thursday morning’s Class AAA preliminary heats were converted to a timed-finals format, and the top finisher in each boys and girls event was declared the state champion.

“We will go through (all the results) and figure all of that out,” she said. “We’ll mail the medals, appropriately, to the principals of those schools. We’ll probably hand-deliver the (team) trophies and try to give them some type of a ceremony.”

The girls Class AAA diving competition continued as scheduled Thursday afternoon to determine the state champion and also award placement points that will be incorporated into the overall team-championship race.

Mertz said she understands the disappointment in the wake of the PIAA’s decision.

“I had full intention of getting everybody in here and getting them swimming and giving them the opportunity to earn a gold medal,” she said. “Through 7 o’clock this morning, I was fighting the good fight to try and keep it going. But by about 9:30, things had taken a turn. We had more information, and we had to make a different decision. But I feel their pain, and I know it’s disheartening for them. In the grand scheme of everything, it’s one of those decisions you have to make.”

North Allegheny coach Patrick Wenzel, who had several boys and girls swimmers in the consolation or championships finals, declined to comment on the PIAA’s decision but instead offered praise to how his competitors swam, both Wednesday and Thursday morning.

“Our girls 400 free relay, at this last moment, really shined. They were awesome,” Wenzel said. “We’re leaving here pleased with how we swam, but we’re also leaving disappointed.”

The relay of senior Torie Buerger, juniors Olivia Kisow and Molly Smyers, and freshman Lexi Sundgren placed first in the prelims with at time of 3:26.54 and have been declared state champions.

Upper St. Clair junior Josh Matheny is the state champion in the boys 100 breaststroke (54.34 seconds) and Butler’s Laura Goettler is the gold medalist in the girls 100 breast (1:02.66).

“I don’t think it’s set in yet for our girls,” said Fox Chapel assistant coach Jonathan Moore, who was looking forward to seeing freshman Sophie Shao swim in the finals heat of the 100 breast, freshman Talia Bugel compete in the consolation finals of the 100 backstroke and the girls 400 free relay (Shao, Bugel, Vivian Shao and Grace Gackenbach) battle in the evening’s consolation finals.

“I think they all are happy they at least had the chance to swim. They’re just a little confused as to what is going on. They are still processing it all.”

Shao returned to the pool Thursday nearly 12 hours after capturing the Class AAA title in the girls 100 butterfly and helping Bugel, sophomore Rei Sperry and junior Vivian Shao place ninth with a school-record time of 1:45.64.

In addition to the three swimming champions crowned, WPIAL swimmers will be awarded a number of top-eight medals. Girls medalists include Gateway’s Olivia Livingston (third, 100 free), Buerger (second, 100 back), South Fayette’s Abbie Duncan (sixth, 100 back) and Canon-McMillan’s Abby Mele (eighth, 100 breast).

Medalists on the boys side are North Allegheny’s Branko Kosanovich (eighth, 100 free) and Rick Mihm (second, 500 free), Seneca Valley’s Owen Blazer (third, 100 back) and the 400 free relays from North Allegheny (Mihm, Kosanovich, Josh Galecki and Alex Grahor, second) and Seneca Valley (Blazer, Kevin Donaldson, Daniel Simoes and Max Skeen, sixth).

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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