By CORY ISENBERG
The hardest work is behind them and it’s now time to reap the benefits of all of that labor as hundreds of swimmers gather today and Saturday at the Penn State Natatorium for the District 6-AA meet.
On the line for the swimmers this weekend is the opportunity to represent their schools at the upcoming PIAA Swimming and Diving Championships set for March 13 and 14 at the Kinney Natatorium at Bucknell University.
This weekend’s meet is the first time that District 6 is swimming on its own without being in a regional with District 9 and thus there are some changes.
For one, only the top qualifier in each event is guaranteed a spot at the state meet. In the past, the top three swimmers automatically moved into the state competition.
Also qualifying for the PIAA meet will be the next top 16 swimmers time-wise from across the state in order to fill out the field.
“It makes it tough, but it shows that you have to set your goals even higher in order to make it to the next level,” Richland coach Sherri Kofmehl said.
“I’m not really sure what this will be like,” Central Cambria coach Anne Risaliti said. “It takes away some of the competition and we have less guaranteed positions at the state meet. We’ll just have to wait and see how it works out.”
The Westmont Hilltop girls have had a successful regular season and are geared up for the district meet.
The Hilltoppers’ Nollaig Noll holds the top seed in both the 50-yard and 100-yard freestyle races. The junior did not lose during the regular season in either of the events. Her time is 25.73 in the sprint and 55.31 in the 100.
Senior teammate Libby Atterbury is the third seed in the 200 individual medley and in the 100 backstroke.
Westmont’s 200 free relay is top seeded while the Hilltoppers, 200 medley and 400 free relays are seeded second.
Richland sophomore Nathan Mihalko is the top seed in the 100 butterfly and the 100 backstroke.
“Nathan just loves to compete and with his hard work and that love of competition, it’s a winning combination,” Kofmehl said. “Last year, Nathan had shoulder surgery in April after the season and this year he is able to lift weights more and really work even harder at practice. He’s had a dynamite year so far.”
Senior Kyle Guthrie is seeded third in the 50 freestyle.
“We implemented a dry land program with weight lifting and it is showing when we hit the water,” said Kofmehl, who instituted the program with her assistants, son Jon, and Jeff Mihalko, Nathan’s father.
Nathan Mihalko will swim with junior Josh Nider, junior Aaron Cooper and Guthrie in the 200 medley relay where the Rams are seeded second (1:52.97). The top seed is Bellefonte (1:41.67).
Sophomore Mackenzie Yagodich is the top seed in the longest event in the pool, the 500-yard freestyle, nearly three seconds ahead of second-seeded freshman Taylor Flaugh of Central. Yagodich is also the third seed in the 200 freestyle.
“Mackenzie has really stepped it up in training in the pool and is a lot stronger,” Kofmehl said. “We are really impressed with her work ethic.”
One of the top Red Devils’ swimmers in senior Alex Chiappini, who will swim individually in the 50 and 100-yard freestyle races and anchor the Central Cambria 200 medley relay and the 200 free relay.
“One of the great things about Alex is that he doesn’t take it too seriously, seriously enough to compete hard but he doesn’t let the pressure get to him,” Coach Risaliti said. “In the sprint (50), the start is the most important thing and he’s been working on that. Because of the nature of that race, it’s basically anybody’s to win. A lot of races at this level is basically who wants it more.”
The top seed in the event, senior Frank Aberegg of Bellefonte, has a fast time of under 23 seconds, 22.96, while no other swimmer in the field has cracked that mark. Chiappini is seeded second (23.55) just ahead of Richland’s Guthrie (23.96).
The other swimmers with Chiappini in the 200 medley relay are sophomore Frank Horne, junior Zach Gerlach and junior Collin Buynack. Gerlach, senior Gabe Hall and Buynack join Chiappini in the 200 free relay.
Other area swimmers ranked among the top three times are freshman Carly Grove of Northern Cambria, who will race in the 200-yard individual medley and the 100 breaststroke.
Somerset junior Mary Mack will race in the 50 freestyle and Bishop McCort senior Matt Christina in the 100 butterfly.
Ligonier Valley sophomore Bethani Meharey and Bishop McCort senior Taryn Kramer will participate in the 1-meter diving competition.
Other top relays include the 200 free relay of Ligonier Valley and the 400 free relay of Somerset.
By CORY ISENBERG