WPIAL swimmers rack up 14 gold medals at PIAA Class 2A meet

Friday, March 17, 2023 | 12:46 AM

WPIAL swimmers didn’t slow down Thursday as the PIAA Class 2A swimming championships continued at Bucknell University.

They won seven more state titles, bringing the WPIAL’s total gold-medal haul to 14 for the two days of competition.

Indiana sophomore Preston Kessler captured two of the championships as he added the 100-yard freestyle to the 200 free he won Wednesday.

Kessler touched the wall first in a time of 44.54 seconds, and the time was good enough to place him on the National Federation of High Schools Honor Roll.

“It’s great to be back at the top of the podium,” Kessler said. “The 100 is probably my favorite race, honestly. I love just getting in there and going as fast as possible. The 50 is just going all out in a sprint, and the 100 is the same thing but doubled. It feels great to have this gold medal.”

Kessler earned four PIAA medals overall as he was a part of the Little Indians’ 200 medley relay that took fifth and the 200 free relay that finished as the runner-up.

“The swims the first day were great confidence boosts coming into my (100 free) race today,” he said. “Doing well in those races got me in a good mental space. Honestly, I give a ton of credit to the people I am with, my teammates, my friends, those around me. Everyone supporting me through all of it, it’s great to know they all have my back.”

The WPIAL swept the 100 free as Mt. Pleasant’s Lily King topped the girls field in record time.

She came in as the defending champion, and she had a state record on her mind.

She swam a 48.58 at WPIALs and was focused on taking down the Class 2A record of 49.57 from 2013.

King took care of the record in the preliminaries with a time of 49.00. The time also was better than, by one one-hundredths of a second, the Class 3A record and Bucknell pool record of 49.01.

She came back in the finals and swam to her second straight 100 free crown, lowering her record time to 48.93.

“Obviously, I am disappointed I didn’t get my best time,” said King, who ended the two-day Class 2A meet with four state-championship medals. “I am not really sure what happened, but I am still happy with how I did. I was really hoping I would get the (state) record and the pool record on top of that.”

Mt. Pleasant ran away with the girls team title, winning by 100 points over runner-up Wyoming Seminary.

The Vikings girls 400 free relay of King and seniors Reegan Brown, McKenna Mizikar and Trinity Graft won with a top time of 3:31.57.

With the 400 free relay victory, Mt. Pleasant finished off a sweep of all three girls relay titles, a feat not often seen at the state meet.

“Our goal definitely was to swim fast in the 400 and complete the sweep,” Graft said. “We knew with our (No. 1 seeds) in each one that we were in good shape, but we knew we had to swim really well if we were going to be able to win each one. We did that, and it was so exciting. We all tried our best and were able to achieve our goals.”

Indiana sophomore Peyton Scott joined the ranks of WPIAL swimmers to win a state title as she captured her first in the girls 100 breaststroke with a time of 1:02.42.

She was runner-up in the event in her PIAA debut last year.

“I didn’t want to have the feeling of getting second again, so it felt very nice to swim well and secure that win,” Scott said. “I am excited.”

Kiski Area senior Parker Sterlitz will swim collegiately at West Virginia University.

He will be able to take with him a state championship.

The WPIAL Class 2A titlist in the 500 and the No. 1 seed after a successful preliminary swim Thursday morning captured PIAA gold in the evening with a winning time of 4:30.40.

“It is an absolutely amazing feeling,” said Sterlitz, who came to the state meet the No. 1 seed in the 500 after a WPIAL swim of 4:32.20.

“I’ve been working all year for this. I finished in the 20s (in the Class 3A) meet last year, so I had some work to do. I was really disappointed after this meet last year. Instead of just giving up, I decided to just train harder and keep working. Hard work does pay off, and I can confirm that it does. I want to thank my teammates, my parents, and all glory to God. I am so thankful for this moment. It was awesome.”

Mt. Pleasant sophomore Joseph Gardner sowed the seeds of gold in the Class 2A boys 100 breast.

He focused his attention on breaking through to the top of the podium after a second in the event at Bucknell last year.

Gardner added the PIAA title — won in a time of 55.23 — to the WPIAL title secured March 3 at Pitt.

“Coming in from last year, my goal was to get the win, and this means a lot to me,” he said. “The mentality of it all after last year was that I had to want it the most. Clearly, today showed that I worked hard, and I deserved to win this. I had a lot of confidence fueling me as I was seeded first by over a second. Based off of times before, I knew I could win it.”

One state title in the boys 100 backstroke was nice for Riverside junior Joseph Roth. Two is even better.

He set a state record last year with a winning time of 48.44, and he went back-to-back Thursday.

Roth’s time of 48.66 wasn’t the lowering of his state-record time he was looking for, but the win is the thing. The time did land him on the National Federation of High Schools Honor Roll.

“Being the No. 1 seed coming in and coming back for the championship heat, I just had to make sure I continued to do what got me here,” Roth said. “I did what I needed to do, and I succeeded, so I was pretty happy with that.

“I am friends with everyone in the WPIAL, and I was happy to see everyone do well. I would rather have people from the WPIAL win than people from another district. It’s about pride in where you come from.”

Mapletown senior Ella Menear, an Alabama commit, won the 200 individual medley on Wednesday, but she ran into a buzzsaw in Bedford junior Leah Shackley in her pursuit of a state title in the girls 100 back.

Shackley rolled to a PIAA title and state record Wednesday in the 100 butterfly, winning by more than three and a half seconds over South Park junior Katie Jackovic.

She was at it again Thursday as she lowered her own 100 back record to 51.61 and topped Menear for the title for a second year in a row.

“Leah is an amazing swimmer,” said Menear, the Class 2A state champion in the 100 back as a sophomore. “It’s been great to get to know her for the past couple of years. She’s a super talented swimmer. It is an honor to swim beside her and compete with her. She’s just a junior, so she has a lot of success still ahead of her. I am sure we will be seeing each other in college too.

“It is definitely bittersweet right now knowing that I am ending my high school career. But I’m am super excited to have finished my last high school season like I did and be able to go down to Alabama and train and look forward to the next step.”

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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