Ellwood City’s Roth brothers among WPIAL swimmers set to challenge for state gold

Thursday, March 18, 2021 | 5:32 PM

A long and winding road finally leads to Cumberland Valley High School for the start of the PIAA swimming championships Friday morning.

Covid concerns and restrictions forced PIAA officials to make numerous changes to the regular format.

No longer at Bucknell because of capacity limitations, additional reductions to the championships saw the number of qualifiers in each event dropped from 32 to 16.

Instead of preliminary and finals sessions, all the events will be timed finals. The top eight still will receive medals.

The last time the PIAA went to timed finals was in 2017 when bad weather forced officials to alter both the race schedule and format.

Both the Class AA and Class AAA meets will be run in one day. Class AA girls kicks off everything Friday at 10:45 a.m., with the Class AA boys session to begin at 5:30 p.m. Class AAA will follow the same start times Saturday.

Class AA

Alexander and Joe Roth will be pretty busy over the next couple of days.

Not that they mind.

The Ellwood City brothers who play basketball for the Wolverines but swim in a co-op with Riverside hope to first bring home state swimming gold Friday. They then will suit up as WPIAL Class 3A basketball champions at 1 p.m. Saturday for a PIAA first-round home game against District 9 champion Brookville.

“It makes me very happy and fortunate that we’ve been able to experience all of this,” said Alexander Roth, a junior who scored a team-best 19 points Monday as No. 11 Ellwood City upset No. 1 South Allegheny to claim the school’s first WPIAL boys basketball title.

Joe Roth, a freshman, added 17 points in the win.

“I’ve had a lot of success in swimming, and I was really thinking only about swimming,” he said. “Basketball was on my mind, but swimming was my main focus for the year. But we’ve been pretty busy lately, and it’s a great feeling. It almost doesn’t feel real.”

For the Roths, preparation for state swimming after the WPIAL championships March 6 at Upper St. Clair has combined with basketball playoff practices and games.

They hoped to get in a basketball practice Thursday morning before heading out to Cumberland Valley.

Alexander and Joe Roth and Riverside teammates Graham Kralic, a senior, and Ryan Turner, a freshman, are expected to again battle with Hampton in the 200-yard medley relay.

The WPIAL champion Talbots — seniors Ethan Apaliski and Richie Donato, junior Will Retsch and sophomore Ben Sheets — own the top seed (1:36.11), but Riverside is just three one-hundredths of a second behind as the No. 2 seed.

The Roths, along with Kralic and sophomore Sam Kline, hope to capture state gold in the 200 free relay as the top seed after claiming the WPIAL title in a time of 1:27.84

Joe Roth also made a splash in his WPIAL debut as he won the 100 backstroke title (50.92), and he is a close No. 2 seed to Bryan LaCroix, a senior from Bloomsburg in District 4 who owns a time of 50.43.

“I am just excited that I could have a year this good to start out,” Joe Roth said. “It’s often tough to win a title in one sport, but to win in two and to do it in the same season, it’s a great feeling. To have these experiences with my brother, we’re going to talk about this until we’re old. We will never forget it.”

With last year’s cancellation of the Class AA state meet, the top seeds were declared de facto state champions. Belle Vernon senior Ian Shahan received two gold medals from the PIAA as the No. 1 seed in the 100 freestyle and 100 fly.

He again is the top seed in the 100 fly after winning the WPIAL title with a time of 49.62. In addition to his goal of winning that event, he has his sights set on claiming the 100 fly state record – a 48.01 – currently owned by Corry (District 10) graduate Brent Benedict.

Not long after WPIALs came to an end, Shahan also was looking forward to another swim against Neshannock senior Conner McBeth in the 50 free. The rivals are the co-holders of the top seed after they tied for the WPIAL title with a WPIAL-record time of 20.36.

McBeth also is the top seed in the 100 free (44.87). Last year, he was the top seed in the 50 free and received that state gold medal.

Southmoreland independent sophomore Henry Miller, the top seed in the boys 100 breast after capturing his first WPIAL title (57.13), was one of those Class AA swimmers hoping to make their debut at Bucknell last year.

But while last year’s misfortune can’t be changed, he is looking forward to Friday and a chance for his first state title. Miller also is seeded 12th in the 100 fly (53.05).

“I gave it my all at WPIALs, but I’ve been training really hard, and I can definitely see myself dropping more time (at states),” Miller said.

WPIAL double champions Maeve Kelley, a Shady Side Academy sophomore, and Ella Menear, a Mapletown sophomore also are hungry for gold in their PIAA debuts. Kelley is the top seed in the 200 free (1:53.28) and 500 free (5:00.53), and Menear is the No. 1 seed for the 200 IM (2:04.54) and 100 back (54.58).

Indiana senior Kyle Thome, a double WPIAL champion in the 200 free (1:41.13) and 500 free (4:41.85), is gearing up for a possible big day Friday as he is seeded first in both events.

For states last year, Thome was seeded second in the 200 free, fourth in the 500 free and second with both of his relays. He hopes to turn those three silver medals into gold this year.

Class AAA

North Allegheny’s Molly Smyers swam the 200 and 500 free at states last year and brought home a seventh-place finish in the 200.

She switched up her early individual swim this year to the 200 IM, and it paid off with a WPIAL title (2:02.45) March 7 at Upper St. Clair.

The George Washington recruit now heads into Saturday’s swim as the top seed.

“I am really excited for Saturday,” Smyers said. “It’s my last meet with all of my teammates who I have spent so much time with. I just want to swim fast and just enjoy myself. It takes a lot of hard work to get here.

“I have been feeling really good in practices. A taper is something that is up and down. It can be a roller coaster as you prepare. It’s all comes down to keeping that positive attitude.”

Smyers, one of the most decorated 500 free swimmers in WPIAL history with four titles in as many swims, will be gunning for her first state title in the event. She is seeded second (4:56.58) by a half second to Wilson (District 3) senior Shelby Kahn.

The North Allegheny girls are coming off their 13th straight WPIAL title, and now they hope to improve on last year’s close third-place state finish to co-champs North Penn and Upper Dublin.

The Tigers got a early points boost last Saturday as sophomore Christina Shi captured the diving championship.

North Allegheny is registered for 11 total swims. The Tigers 400 free relay is the defending state champs.

WPIAL Class AAA swimmers and relays are seeded first in seven events Saturday.

The Fox Chapel girls 200 medley relay of sophomore Sophie Shao, junior Rei Sperry, sophomore Talia Bugel and senior Vivian Shao won the WPIAL championship with a school-record time of 1:45.16, and they head to Cumberland Valley as the top seed hoping to win the school’s first state relay title since 1995.

“This week of preparation has been a blur,” said Sperry, who helped the relay, with the same lineup, place ninth at states last year. “We’ve been prepping, working on starts, turns, everything to be ready. We are really confident.”

Individually, Shao has a state-title repeat on her mind as she is the second seed in the 100 butterfly. She won it last year with a 54.22, a second better than Muhlenberg sophomore Sydney Gring.

Gring is the top seed this year (54.35). Shao defended her 100 fly WPIAL title in a time of 54.50.

“I am excited to race (Gring) again,” Shao said. “She is really good. I know there are others who will challenge both of us. I have to be at my best.”

Upper St. Clair senior Josh Matheny, an Indiana commit with sights set on the Olympic trials in June, will cap one of the most dominant runs in any one event in PIAA history Saturday evening.

As the No. 1 seed, the decorated Matheny is chasing his fourth state title in the 100 breast. Only Hershey’s David Nolan has accomplished the feat in the past 50 years. Nolan won the 200 IM four times — three in Class AA and one in Class AAA — from 2008-11 before swimming in college at Stanford and setting the 200 IM national record.

Matheny swam to a National Federation of High Schools record in the 100 breast (52.52) in 2019, and the record still stands.

While Fox Chapel owns the top seed in the girls 200 medley relay, the Upper St. Clair boys medley quartet of Matheny, senior Jason Zhang and juniors Ganesh Sivaramakrishnan and Daniel Wang also have set themselves up as the No. 1 seed (1:33.33).

Also hoping to make their PIAA mark as top seeds are Seneca Valley junior Daniel Simoes in the boys 200 IM (1:50.86), Butler senior David Bocci in the boys 100 fly (48.94) and North Hills senior Josh Bogniard in the boys 100 backstroke (49.08).

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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