South Fayette girls lead at WPIAL swimming

South Fayette girls on top after first day of WPIAL championships

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PITTSBURGH – South Fayette coach Matt Tucker has a standing bet with his swimmers that goes something like this: Qualify three relays – either all three boys or all three girls – for the PIAA meet, and Tucker will shave his head.


Actually, he said he might even let the kids do it.


Tucker’s wife, Micole, hates the idea and understandably so; she’s not really looking to have a bald husband before she’s required to.


But after the Lions’ performance Thursday at Pitt’s Trees Pool for the WPIAL Class AA swimming and diving championships, Micole Tucker might not have a choice.


The South Fayette girls won the first relay of the morning – the 200-yard medley – and finished fourth in the 200 freestyle relay.


Mary Rosati, Morgan Fink, Maddie Bartrug and Tiana Marrese completed the 200 medley in 1:49.07, and that set the tone for the rest of the early session.


“Those first two relays really got the energy going,” Tucker said. “To break 1:50 in the 200 medley is incredible for the girls, and it really got us going the right way.”


After the first of two days – competition resumes at 10 a.m. today – the South Fayette girls are in the lead with 157 points. West Allegheny is second with 131.5, and Indiana (123) is third.


South Fayette can clinch a clip for its coach by winning today’s 400 freestyle relay.


“Pretty amazing day,” Rosati said. “Definitely exhilarating. It’s my final year, and I just want to go out and do my best.”


Rosati did exactly that in the girls 200 individual medley by placing second, a tenth of a second behind Freeport’s Bria Otwell, in 2:08.64


Otwell was the higher seed by nearly two seconds, but Rosati pushed her to the limit while picking up 17 key points.


The narrow finishes kept coming, too, as Charleroi’s Luke Simpson placed second behind Beaver’s Cameron Clerici in the boys 50 free with a time of 21.29.


Simpson cut nearly a quarter of a second off his qualifying time, though the reigning WPIAL champion clocked a 21.19.


“It gives me something to look forward to at states,” Simpson said. “I’ll try to beat him there.


“He had me on the turn, then I thought I had him (down the stretch). Got too confident. I ran out of energy toward the end. I was beat.”


Other South Fayette highlights included Evan Zombek, Timothy Bernhardt, Matt Guyan and Ryne Fromholzer finishing the 200 medley relay in 1:43.47 to take fourth and Morgan Fink grabbing fourth in the girls 200 freestyle at 1:53.96.


Fromholzer was sixth in the 200 free, Sydney Briner the same in the girls 200 IM.


Maddie Bartrug placed fifth in the girls 50 free, and the relay team of Sophia Hestad, Briner, Corrine Loeffler and Marrese swam 1:42.82 for fourth.


Marrese, who moved into the area from Kittanning last offseason, anchored both South Fayette relays.


“She’s definitely helped our team a lot,” Rosati said of Marese. “She’s been a great addition to our team.”


Margaret Gruber from Mars won a third consecutive Class AA title in the 100 fly, finishing with a record time of 53.88.


The Indiana boys team leads Beaver, 148-101.


Class AAA finals

The Peters Township boys were a surprising second in the 200 medley relay, but the Indians weren’t able to continue the momentum.


Dan Pletz, Chris Buzard, Kyle Higgins and Jason Lee combined to swim 1:35.72, though Buzard said he was the only one happy with his split – about a second less than usual.


“I think we could have been faster,” Buzard said. “I think we could have taken it. Now we just have to focus on states. I think we can place top eight at states, maybe top three.


“I think our other three guys can maybe drop some time. None of them were happy with their times, but we swam fast for this point in the season.”


The area’s next PIAA qualifier didn’t come until seven events later, when Peters Township’s Saoirse Palu-Benson placed third in the 100 butterfly at 56.94.


Palu-Benson cut nearly two seconds off her seed time (58.86).


“I didn’t think I would go that fast,” Palu-Benson said. “I was surprised with how fast I want.”


Kyle Higgins, a Kentucky recruit, followed Palu-Benson with a second-place finish in the boys 100 fly, a ho-hum sort of thing after Higgins held back in favor of the PIAA meet, which runs March 15-16 – March 13-14 for Class AA – at Bucknell University.


“I didn’t shave (time) because I’m going after states,” Higgins said. “I was happy with how I did today. We’ll see how I do at states.”


North Allegheny girls (200 medley relay) and Oakland Catholic’s Leah Smith (200 free) broke their own WPIAL records. The North Allegheny girls, who are comfortably in first with 253 points, later set a third WPIAL record, this one in the 200 free relay.


North Allegheny’s boys team finished the first day with 177 points to shoot past Upper St. Clair, which had 158.5.


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