Observer-Reporter Athlete of the Week
Name: Nate Swart
Swart’s week: With Washington battling for second place in Section 4-AA and favorable seeding in the WPIAL playoffs, the Prexies needed a strong finish to the regular season and Swart provided that. The 6-3 guard scored 25 points and grabbed 10 rebounds in a 55-54 win over South Fayette Wednesday. With Wash High finishing section play Friday at Burgettstown, the Prexies needed a win to secure second place.
Though they surrendered a 20-point lead in the second half, Wash High head coach Mark Gaither turned to his sure-handed sophomore to close the door on the Blue Devils in overtime. Swart scored 19 points to propel his team to a 57-50 win.
Progress: When Swart took the floor as a member of Wash High’s junior varsity team, Gaither saw a player with incredible potential. With the Prexies having a senior-laden varsity team, there was no rush to push Swart into a major role. Though he did see time off the bench, Swart was given the opportunity to grow as a versatile guard who can score from the perimeter and in the lane.
“We wanted to get him as many reps to hope he would learn,” Gaither said. “We wanted him to be ready to make that big step. He has been getting better each week. It’s going to be exciting, not only this season, but the next couple of years as he keeps improving.”
Swart finally got his opportunity to start for the Prexies when they opened the season at the Canon-McMillan Tip-off Tournament. In wins over Trinity and Canon-McMillan, Swart scored a combined 38 points to lead Wash High to back-to-back wins.
He followed the performance with a 22-point showing at Ringgold just three days later. The strong start infused confidence in Swart, who is averaging 14 points and 8.5 rebounds per game.
“I’m having a strong year this year,” Swart said. “Last year, I knew I could do what I am doing right now, but being young on a senior-filled team, it was hard to find minutes. This year, I came out and worked hard in the off-season. The hard work is paying off.”
The closer: A regular-season finale against a sixth-place section-rival sounds like a cakewalk. But as coaches in the area will say, playing at Burgettstown is anything but easy. The Blue Devils showed that by coming back from a 20-point deficit to take a lead over Wash High in the closing seconds. Swart sank a shot with 10 seconds remaining to force overtime before Wash High pulled away in the extra period.
“He has some special skills,” Gaither said. “When we need buckets late in the game, we can go to him, inside or out. We didn’t play our best game the other night and late in the game, we just kept feeding him.”
The nail-biting victory could have played a part in Wash High’s playoff future, which was revealed at Tuesday night’s pairings meeting. The Prexies will play Burrell at noon Saturday at Chartiers Valley for the No. 12 seed and the right to face Summit Academy.
“I think we honestly have a great chance of making it to the WPIAL championship, and not only making it there, but winning it,” Swart said. “Double-A is wide open. There is no one team that can dominate anyone.”
Compiled by Lance Lysowski