Yough swimmers hitting pool with some adversity
Zachary Cochran has gotten used to being the odd man out.
One of just five members of the Yough High School swim team, Cochran, a freshman, operates as an independent swimmer in the WPIAL because his school doesn’t have its own pool or coach.
In order to compete in dual meets, Cochran travels with the Mt. Pleasant swim team, while teammates Jessica Cochran and Olivia Cook travel with Norwin, and Madison Nestor and Codie Buglar travel with Greensburg Salem.
“Even though he does swim at Mt. Pleasant, he’s still the odd man out,” said Kathy Cochran, Zachary’s mother.
Because of their independent status, members of the Yough swim team don’t receive individual accolades for their accomplishments at dual meets.
“As a 14-year-old kid, it does affect (Zachary),” Kathy Cochran said. “We just tell him that the kid that he beat is still going to remember that he got beat by a 14-year-old who doesn’t have a pool. We’re trying to encourage him. You can’t give up the fight.”
Because team wins aren’t a factor in this format, the kids use dual meets to earn qualifying times for the WPIAL championships at season’s end.
But even the opportunities to qualify for the WPIAL championship are limited as independent swimmers. Only one Yough swimmer can qualify for a given event, which has led to frustration for the families involved.
“If you have two guys qualify, say, for the 50-yard freestyle, only the one with the best time gets to go,” Kathy Cochran said. “I mean, we only have five kids and no pool, and you’re only going to let one kid go?”
With no formal coach at the school, the parents take on the title of coach so their kids are allowed to compete. Often, that means leaving work early to be at meets with her son, Kathy Cochran said.
This has been the state of affairs for the swim team each of the past five years at Yough, athletic director Tom Evans said. He has helped the kids compete and earn qualifying times in any way that he can, albeit with limited help at times.
“They’re great kids with great parents,” Evans said. “Every time I call them down here, I tell them, ‘Mr. Evans knows nothing about swimming, so help me out here.’ ”
Despite all of the obstacles, the swimmers have made the most of the season.
While it’s rare that Yough swimmers see each other at a meet, they had the opportunity to compete together at the Westmoreland County Coaches Association championships Feb. 1. They finished ninth out of 17 teams.
Competing as a team at the WCCA meet was a welcome opportunity. Typically, independent swimmers are allowed to compete only when there is an open lane in an event. The girls often are forced to swim during a boys event to find an open lane.
“That was the nice part for county,” said Cheryl Nestor, Madison’s mother. “They were actually seeded with their times in the correct event and same gender.”
Each of the girls has earned at least one WPIAL qualifying time, and the boys have until Thursday to make one last push at doing the same.
“It’s a huge commitment,” said Jane Cochran, Jessica’s mother. “Considering they all had to do this on their own, and we had all three girls make WPIALs, that’s a big deal.”
Gary Horvath is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at email@example.com.