South Fayette girls win WPIAL Class AA swim and dive title

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PITTSBURGH – Morgan Fink will have more important moments in her life than what transpired yesterday.


Just doesn’t seem that way at the moment.


After all, what could possibly trump turning it on over the final 25 yards to win the 100 breaststroke, then joining three teammates and cruising to a four-second rout in the 400 freestyle relay?


About the only thing is what both moments produced: the Lions’ first WPIAL Class AA swimming and diving title.


South Fayette accumulated 252 points – 29.5 more than second-place West Allegheny – to snap the Indians’ two-year winning streak at Pitt’s Trees Pool.


“It’s amazing,” Fink said moments before taking a celebratory leap into Lane 8. “From my breaststroke on, I’ve had the biggest smile on my face.”


Fink trailed Holly Stein of St. Joseph and Indiana’s Anna Paccapaniccia for much of the 100 breaststroke, but after the final turn, Fink emerged from the water a few feet ahead. No way she was going to let either Stein or Paccapaniccia, located on either side of her, back in the lead.


“This was the same thing that happened last year,” said Fink, who edged Stein by four-tenths of a second to win WPIAL gold a season ago. “Holly is a great swimmer. I knew that if I would focus on my race, I would win. But until that last turn, I didn’t think it was going to happen.”


Which was, ironically, the same way Fink felt about South Fayette winning the team title, an accomplishment made possible by the Lions placing first in the opening and closing relays of the two-day event here.


West Allegheny, Indiana and Shady Side Academy were all historically strong programs, Fink figured. Especially the Indians, who racked up 304 points to second-place South Fayette’s 212 last winter.


But South Fayette got a ton of production not only out of Fink but also Mary Rosati, who qualified for the PIAA meet in the 500 free by finishing fourth in 5:06.65, this after qualifying in the 200 individual medley Thursday.


“I’ve coached Morgan Fink since she was 9 years old, Mary since she was 10,” said South Fayette coach Matt Tucker, who’ll have to shave his head with the Lions qualifying all three relays for states. “I’ve known these girls for a long time, so it’s really emotional for me, coaching them all the way since they were little girls, into teenagers, into young ladies now.”


Charleroi’s Luke Simpson provided another memorable moment yesterday when he beat his seed time by nearly six seconds to take third in the 100 backstroke with a time of 54.17.


Simpson finished less than fourth-tenths of a second out of second place in an event where he wasn’t even competing in the fastest heat.


“I was really excited for this for some reason,” said Simpson, who also qualifying for the PIAA meet by finishing second in the 50 free on Thursday. “I knew I was in a slower heat than I should have been, and I wanted to impress people.”


Beaver’s Cameron Clerici won the 100 free and Elizabeth Forward’s Braelyn Tracy the 500 free, giving both multiple medals. Mars’ Margaret Gruber broke her own WPIAL record in the 100 backstroke with a time of 54.51, and Indiana held off Mars to win the boys team title, 203-172.


But as West Allegheny closed to within 2.5 points after the backstroke, Fink came up with a clutch performance that won’t soon be forgotten.


“They had gotten to within a few points, and we needed that win to push us over,” Tucker said. “When she got it, I was ecstatic, especially being close and coming from behind on that last turn. It was awesome.”


Class AAA finals


For being a self-professed first-half swimmer, Peters Township senior Chris Buzard sure put on a show in the second half Friday afternoon.


Seeded next-to-last in the final heat and thus in an outside lane, Buzard trailed Penn Hills’ Gabriel Larson by less than a second after the first half of the 100 breaststroke.


He never could make that final push but still wound up finishing third in 57.65, good enough for a trip to the PIAA meet March 13-16 at Bucknell University.


“I’m a front-half swimmer,” Buzard said. “If there’s one thing for states I have to work on it’s my second half. I have to hold on better than that.


“But I dropped over a second from my seed time. I’m pretty happy with that.”


Buzard will also advance as part of Peters Township’s 200 medley relay team that punched its ticket Thursday.


Saoirse Palu-Benson made it to states in a 500 free race that was so lopsided multiple cameras would’ve been needed to make it a photo finish, as Oakland Catholic’s Leah Smith won in a record-setting 4:39.78 – a time that would’ve had her fourth in the boys race and was roughly 22 seconds faster than the second-place finisher.


Palu-Benson, a two-event qualifier after she made the cut Thursday in the 100 fly, was third in (5:04.16).


“It’s a tough race,” Peters Township coach Tom Fletcher said of the 500 free. “She knows she could have a better swim than that. Again, this meet was like a business meet for her. We had a pretty good idea she was going to make it out. It was a very strong swim for her. I think she’s certainly capable of going better than that at states.”


North Allegheny won both team titles, the girls racking up 417 points to Oakland Catholic’s 257, the boys holding off Upper St. Clair, 327-269.5.


Peters Township, which also got a fourth-place finish from Buzard in the 400 free, a sixth from Connor Martin in the 500 free and a fourth from Kyle Higgins in the 100 back, took fourth with 198 points.


“I can’t be happier with how performed,” Fletcher said. “I’m really overwhelmed with the kind of meet we had.”


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