Plenty of returners, optimism for South Fayette girls swimming

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There’s no doubt, at least in South Fayette sophomore Maddie Bartrug’s mind, that the West Allegheny Swimming and Diving Invitational can feel a bit like the WPIAL Class AA championships.


So many teams. Such stiff competition. Crowded and crazy.


“It’s exciting,” Bartrug said. “With all those people there watching, it does feel a lot like WPIALs, especially because everybody will be so fast.”


With nearly everyone back – a group that includes a pair of WPIAL champions and a gold medal-winning 200-yard freestyle relay team – South Fayette figures to make this Fast Times at West Allegheny High.


Not only that, the Lions also will compete against five of the WPIAL’s top 10 finishers from the 2011-12 championships: West Allegheny, the two-time defending champion; as well as Blackhawk, which the Lions tied for second place; Indiana; Hopewell; and Quaker Valley.


So much for a holiday break.


“It helps us see where we are and where the rest of the competition is,” said South Fayette coach Matt Tucker, whose team also owns a dual meet win this season over Shady Side Academy, the fourth-place WPIAL Class AA team a season ago. “We’re looking forward to swimming (against) who else we’re going to compete with in the WPIAL.”


Lately, that has meant West Allegheny. The Indians have won the past two Class AA titles, both following victories at their own holiday event.


The invitational began Thursday with diving and continues today with the swimming events at 11 a.m.


“I think it’s going to be really important because there are a lot of strong teams from Class AA,” said senior Morgan Fink. “It’s kind of a taste of WPIALs for us.”


A strong showing would likely start with Fink, who won gold in the 100-yard breaststroke last season with a time of 1:06.78. Fink also anchored the school’s record-setting 200 freestyle relay team that included Bartrug, senior Mary Rosati and junior Sydney Briner.


Fink said South Fayette has worked on bolstering its 400 freestyle relay – which featured the same four at last year’s WPIAL meet – in order to score the most points. Ditto for the 200 medley relay.


South Fayette enters Friday’s events with five No. 1 seeds: the 200 medley and 400 freestyle relays, as well as Bartrug in the 100 butterfly and 100 free and Fink in the 100 backstroke.


“It’s going to be a good experience because we need a lot of good competition,” Bartrug said. “We have some really good girls on our team coming back.”


Bartrug’s 100 free should be one to watch. After setting the South Fayette record with a time of 53.90 during the 400 freestyle relay at the previous WPIAL meet, Bartrug has already trimmed that time to 53.74, the best in the field by nearly three seconds.


“Getting that time so early in the season is really good,” Bartrug said. “Hopefully, I’ll do even better.”


Fink could probably relate: Her backstroke time of 59.84 far exceeds that of the second-seeded swimmer – Alaina Marshall (1:05.23) of Blackhawk.


Should such dominance continue, South Fayette might very well have the inside track on dethroning West Allegheny, not only this weekend but when it really matters.


“That’s one of my goals this year, to beat West Allegheny, because they’ve won the WPIAL every year since I’ve been here,” Fink said. “That’s definitely a big point; we want to win the WPIAL this year.”


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