WPIAL’s swimming best ready to do battle in return to Pitt’s Trees Pool

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Wednesday, March 2, 2022 | 5:55 PM


Levi Hansen won three medals in four individual races at WPIALs over the past two seasons.

While the Kiski Area junior loved bringing home that hardware, he is shooting for loftier goals this year.

He is the No. 1 seed for Thursday morning’s WPIAL Class 3A boys 200-yard freestyle as the championships return to Pitt’s Trees Pool after a one-year hiatus.

A championship, and the automatic berth to states that comes with it, are what Hansen is after.

“I am just looking at it as a normal swim , and I am not looking at where I am seeded,” said Hansen, who also is the fifth seed in the 500 free, one spot behind Cavaliers classmate Parker Sterlitz.

“I can’t let that get in my head. That can mess you up if you think about that too much. I know there are some amazing swimmers in my (final) heat and overall. I am going in with the mentality that someone else is first, and I am chasing them. I am kind of putting that chip on my shoulder and making sure I am going as fast as I can. It is all about executing that day.”

There will be a new champion in the 200 free, and Hansen hopes it’s him. Gateway’s Andrew Holmes won the event as a junior last year but made a first-day switch to the 50 free where he is seeded third (21.37) behind Dominic Falcon, a junior from Hempfield, and defending champion Benjamin Borvendeg, a senior from Butler.

“I am very excited for WPIALs,” Hansen said. “Every time I’ve been at practice, I’ve thought about it.”

Seneca Valley senior Daniel Simoes is eyeing up a second consecutive title in the Class 3A boys 200 IM. He won it last with a time of 1:50.86 and comes into WPIALs this year seeded second to Raiders teammate, junior Haihan Xu.

There was excitement among WPIAL competitors, their coaches and the swimming community when they heard the news Feb. 8 that WPIALs would be back at Trees Pool, with certain regulations, after last year’s move to Upper St. Clair because of ongoing logistical issues related to the covid-19 pandemic.

WPIAL swimming committee chairman and Penn-Trafford coach Dave Babik expressed relief when he talked about the announcement of the return to Pitt and also excitement in the maximum number of entries to the WPIAL meet doubling from last year to a maximum of 32 for each individual event and 24 for each relay.

Only the WPIAL champion in each swim event automatically advances to states, set for March 16-19 at Bucknell University. The rest of the field will be assembled from the remaining best times from all of the district championships.

Someone who knows what it takes to get to states and win there is two-time defending WPIAL and PIAA girls Class 3A 100 butterfly champion Sophie Shao.

Shao, a junior, holds the No. 1 seed (54.65) by close to three seconds over No. 2 Ria Dietz, a senior from Seneca Valley (57.24). Shao also is chasing the 39-year WPIAL 3A record of 54.16 set by Penn Hills’ Melanie Buddemeyer.

Shao said she is confident after swimming a 54.14 at Speedo Junior Nationals in December.

“Definitely, that’s one of my goals,” said Shao, who also is the top seed in the 200 individual medley. “I am really close to it. But there is no pressure because I still have next year, too.”

Upper St. Clair sophomore Kaitlyn Connors will not defend her WPIAL free title, opting for a day-one swim in the 200 free, where she is seeded second to North Allegheny junior Lexi Sundgren.

Connors is the top seed in the 100 free with the only qualifying time below 52 seconds (51.24).

A battle is shaping up in the 100 backstroke where Fox Chapel junior Talia Bugel hopes to take home her second straight WPIAL title. She heads into WPIALs seeded second (56.73) to Mt. Lebanon freshman upstart Sylvia Roy (56.52) as everyone in the fastest heat for the event surpassed the automatic qualifying time of 59.30.

Every year, new blood makes its mark on the WPIAL’s biggest stage, and Roy is among a group of freshmen hoping to break out.

In addition to holding the top spot in the 100 backstroke, she will swim in the top-seed lane in the 50 free after recording the only qualifying time below 24 seconds (23.35).

Class 2A

Of the eight medalists from the 2021 girls 100 breaststroke, six are back with hopes to moving up in the standings from last year.

The one who can’t improve her place finish is Freeport senior Alexis Schrecongost, the defending champion.

But there is the opportunity to improve on last year’s time – 1:06.03 – and the Toledo commit hopes to do just that Friday afternoon at Trees Pool and hold off the field for a second WPIAL crown.

“My goal all season has been to be right there with a chance to win it again, and I feel pretty good with where I am positioned,” said Schrecongost, the No. 2 seed (1:06.33) behind Indiana freshman Peyton Scott (1:05.57).

“The event (field) is really strong, and my (finals) heat should be pretty competitive. I can’t take anything for granted as everyone wants to swim their fastest and not let me win again.”

Scott, one of several young guns in Class 2A, is the No. 4 seed in the girls 200 IM and will swim in the lane next to fellow freshman Kira Schrecongost, Alexis’ sister at Freeport and the No. 2 seed in the event.

The field in the 200 IM is chasing defending champion Ella Menear, a junior from Mapletown. She owns the top seed at 2:04.54.

Kira Schrecengost posted a time of 57.53 in the 100 fly during the regular season, and it was good enough to put her as the top seed Thursday afternoon.

Menear is one of three returning girls swimmers in Class 2A who captured a pair of WPIAL individual titles last year. The others are South Park sophomore Katie Jackovic (50 free, 100 free) and Shady Side Academy junior Maeve Kelley (200 free, 500 free).

Menear also hopes to win her second straight WPIAL title in the 100 back, and she is the top seed (57.45).

Kelley is the top seed in the 500 free (5:02.20) by nearly 14 seconds, and she is the No. 2 seed in the 200 free (1:57.16) to Northgate sophomore Elise Nardozzi (1:53.14).

Jackovic returns to the 50 free with hopes of a repeat. She is seeded second (23.93) to Mt. Pleasant freshman Lily King (23.17).

Jackovic will swim a second individual event Thursday as she moves from the 100 free to the 100 fly and is the No. 3 seed behind Kira Schrecongost and Quaker Valley sophomore Emily Connors.

On the boys side, Riverside sophomore Joseph Roth enjoyed a breakout freshman WPIAL experience with an individual title in the 100 back in a WPIAL-record time of 50.92. He also helped guide the Panthers 200 free and 400 free relays to WPIAL crowns.

He hopes to defend his 100 back title, and he enters the final heat of the event Friday as the top seed (52.05).

Roth also is the top seed in the 50 free (21.80).

There will be a new champion in the 50 free as four-time winner Conner McBeth graduated and now swims at West Virginia.

Last year’s boys 50 free was memorable as McBeth and Belle Vernon grad Ian Shahan finished tied for the title with matching WPIAL-record times of 20.36.

Hampton senior Will Retsch hopes his final WPIAL meet will be his best, and he is gearing up to defend his title in the 200 IM. Seeded first, he also seeks a time better than last year’s winning mark of 1:54.79.

Retsch will swim a second individual event Thursday as the No. 2 seed in the 100 fly. Southmoreland junior Henry Miller is seeded 1st (51.43) as he hopes to rise from last year’s fourth-place finish.

Miller captured WPIAL gold last year in the 100 breast (57.13), and he will look to defend his crown in a deep field as the No. 2 seed to Mt. Pleasant freshman Joseph Gardner.

WPIAL swimming championships

What: WPIAL Class 2A and 3A swimming championships

When: Thursday and Friday

Times: Class 3A: 9:45 a.m. (both days); Class 2A: 3 p.m. (both days)

Where: Pitt’s Trees Pool

Events: Day 1: 200-yard medley relay, 200 freestyle, 200 individual medley, 50 free, 100 butterfly, 200 free relay; Day2: 100 free, 500 free, 100 backstroke, 100 breaststroke, 400 free relay

Medals: Top eight finishers in each relay and individual event

PIAA Qualification: Automatic to WPIAL champions only

Masks: Required for all spectators

Tickets: $10 (Gate sale only)

Live stream: TribLive High School Sports Network

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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