Indiana's reign as WPIAL swimming champ ends
PITTSBURGH — Indiana’s run is over.
Chasing its fourth straight team title at the WPIAL swimming and diving championships, the Indiana High School boys — like the rest of the field — couldn’t keep up with Mars and saw their three-year reign as Class AA champs come to an end.
Indiana racked up 158 points — though only 46 of that total came on the second day — and finished in fourth place, a mere point behind third-place Chartiers Valley.
Mars ran away with the title, outdistancing the field by more than 60 points.
On the girls’ side, Indiana junior Anna Paccapaniccia placed second in the 100 breaststroke to lead the Indians to a fifth-place team finish.
“Day 2 is always a tough day,” Indiana coach Garet Weston said. “The kids put their bodies through some painful things, and then to come back for Day 2 is always tough. But we swam well all around. We had good swims today, and we continued with the time drops. The kids put good effort in the pool.
“The team places didn’t end up quite where I was hoping for, but overall the kids left everything in the pool. I couldn’t ask for any more.”
The highlight of the day for the Indiana boys came in the 100-yard breaststroke. Sophomore Grant Hess, one of the two sons of late coach Mark Hess on the team, overcame an emotional day and put forth an inspiring showing to take third place in 1:01.45, improving 14 spots from his seed.
“The two Hess boys, they kind of pushed through some difficult times in terms of emotion,” Weston said. “I can’t give enough credit to these kids for the things they’ve kind of gone through emotionally and fighting those emotions and putting everything into a meet like this. It was very hard for them, but they did very well. I told them after the meet I couldn’t be more proud.”
Hess was the lone medalist for the Indiana boys on the second day as points were hard to come by for the Indians. Considering Indiana had only five swimmers left to compete in Friday’s action, that was to be somewhat expected.
“Going back to what I said at the beginning of the year,” Weston said, “some people outside of our program wouldn’t have really thought with our numbers and everything, that we’d still be able to get a top-four finish at WPIALs.
“And also on the girls’ side, we finished in the top five. We didn’t have very many swimmers at the meet, but the quality of swimmers we had were very big and gained us a lot of points when we needed them.”
Two other Indiana swimmers placed among the top 16 in the 100 breaststroke to score crucial team points for the Indians: Ben Peng took 10th in 1:03.50, and Wei Wei Wu was 12th in 1:04.27.
Indiana got the last of its points with a ninth-place finish in the meet’s final event, the 400 freestyle relay. Indiana dropped an eye-popping 12 seconds off its seeded time.
On the girls’ side, Paccapaniccia’s second-place finish in the 100 breaststroke was the junior’s career-best finish at the WPIAL Championships.
“I know she wanted the title more than anyone,” Weston said, “but that’s the thing about swimming: We’ve got two more weeks and we have states to go, so we have another shot at getting the time she wanted to post. We’re going to get back in the water and we look forward to states.”
Paccapaniccia touched the wall in 1:06.07 to take silver, and she was also part of the Indians’ fifth-place 400 freestyle relay to cap the meet. Paccapaniccia was part of all three of the Indians’ relay teams, all of which finished in the top five and could earn a berth to the PIAA Championships on March 12-15.
Gabby Bobak added a 10th-place finish in the 100 breaststroke for Indiana, and in the 100 backstroke, Sarah Henderson (1:03.06) and Anna Manges (1:03.19) placed 11th and 12th, respectively.
The Indians automatically qualified 11 swimmers — six girls and five boys — for the PIAA Championships, and there is a possibility that number could rise.
The boys’ 200 freestyle relay and the girls’ 400 freestyle relay teams “are on the bubble,” Weston said, and could qualify based on time. The full list of PIAA qualifiers will be released Sunday.
Also, the Derry girls finished sixth in the team standings, two points behind Indiana. The Derry boys finished 17th.