Chartiers Valley swimming coach John Nemeth is hoping one step back leads to a giant leap forward for his program.
After years of competing in a section with perennial powers such as Mt. Lebanon and Upper St. Clair, the Colts dropped to Class AA. Char Valley will compete in Section 1 with Brentwood, Carlynton, Carrick, Keystone Oaks, Serra, Seton LaSalle and West Mifflin. The girls also will have Ellis School in their section.
Now, the Colts will match up with more comparable programs.
“Going against teams more in line with us will be more of a motivating force,” Nemeth said. “There’s an opportunity to compete in the section, and we really haven’t been in the running. I think we will be able to compete and get a nice group of kids down to WPIALs.
“Our kids did a great job competing (against the bigger schools), but our kids are just not in the same boat as those other programs.”
In the past, Nemeth’s main goal was to get relay teams to the WPIAL championships. Being in Class AA, he said, should give his swimmers ample chance to qualify individually.
The girls team took heavy graduation losses, including WPIAL qualifier Hannah Lindh. Nemeth will look to a core of five to anchor the girls team: seniors Christina Butler and Morgan Bittner, juniors Natalia Santilli and Sydney Jacobs and sophomore Grace Janas.
Santilli, Janas, Jacobs and Bittner will compete in freestyle events. Santilli also competes in the butterfly, and Butler will swim back and breaststroke events.
All five likely will make up parts of all three relays.
The boys will lean on a quartet of experienced swimmers: seniors Josh Gardner (freestyle) and Chris Santilli (free, fly) and sophomores Eric Tagg (distance free, IM) and Chris Sherman (free). Nemeth said all have a chance to qualify individually for the WPIAL meet.
With renewed enthusiasm brought on by competing in a Class AA section, the Colts are anticipating a breakthrough.
“I don’t even know half the teams (in the section),” Nemeth said. “It’s crazy. But it will be nice to have a change of pace and some different schools.”
Carlynton coach Michael Schneiderlochner saw his numbers go up again this season.
Last season, he added six boys to the fold. This winter, he will have six new girls on the team — all from Bishop Canevin, with which the Cougars have a co-op.
That brings the Cougars to 12 boys and 21 girls on the roster.
“Twelve is the magic number,” Schneiderlochner said. “With 12, you can fill every individual event with three guys and every relay with two (teams). And this is the biggest girls team I’ve ever had. And the strongest.”
The girls team is led by Katie Kozy. Schneiderlochner said Kozy has the ability to qualify for the WPIAL championships in every event, and his goal is to have her do just that.
Amy Ulizzi, Gina Ulizzi and Natalie Lustiv qualified in multiple events last season, and Sara MacMurdo qualified for the WPIAL meet in the 50 free. Isabelle Irwin, a senior, returns to provide depth and experience.
The boys are led by a pair of 2018 WPIAL qualifiers: Colton Gaitens (100 breast) and Evan Walker (100 fly). Also back are Carson Gaitens, Avery Brehm and Anthony Killen, all with another year of experience under their belts.
The boys team didn’t get any new freshmen like last year but did add two juniors. Schneiderlochner isn’t certain what to expect from the newcomers on both teams, but he likes what he sees in the early going.
“We’re just starting to get to know them,” he said, “but there’s definitely some talent there.”
Chuck Curti is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chuck at [email protected] or via Twitter @CCurti_Trib.