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Franklin Regional swim teams exceed expectations

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Franklin Regional's 2017-18 WPIAL swimming and diving qualifiers include, in front, from left, Abbie Ramey, Laura DiNunzio; row two, Ava Spinola, Erin Rafferty, Elissa Novelli; row three, Michelle Lopes, Lily Wang, Shaleigh Lingg, Julia Perry, Baylee Horvath, Evelyn Siler; row four, Max Wang, Max Martin, Eli Holm, Patrick Cavanaugh, Anthony Piraino, Marshall Mao; and in back, Ethan Yant, Ryan Remaley, Mason Fishell, Aidan Spinola, Drew Harris, Axel Schon, Matthew Busche and Riley Rizzer. Jacob Bailey also qualified.

With about 15 qualifiers graduated from last year’s teams, Franklin Regional swim coach Vic Santoro didn’t know what to expect this season. Several young and inexperienced swimmers have impressed, however, and there’s plenty of optimism for the Panthers heading into the WPIAL Class AAA swimming championships.

“I expected this to be a rebuilding year for us, and we ended up having about 25 kids qualify total between swimming and diving, and that really surprised me,” said Santoro, who is in his 26th year guiding the Panthers.

He said the junior class is particularly strong, and the Panthers appear to be ahead of schedule for this year.

Last season, the Panthers finished seventh in the team standings on the boys side and fourth on the girls side. North Allegheny is likely the team to beat in both boys and girls again this year, but Santoro anticipates his teams could fare well March 1-2 at Pitt’s Trees Pool.

“I would think if we have good relay showing, I’d like to end up top six on both sides,” he said.

Last year, the relays were a strength for Franklin Regional, as all six teams qualified for the PIAA competition.

“I don’t think we can repeat that this year, but I’d like to send four relays if I could,” Santoro said.

To that point, the Panthers’ girls qualified with the fourth best time in the 400-yard freestyle relay, and the boys ranked fifth. Additionally, the Panthers girls earned the seventh qualifying spot in the 200 medley relay, and the boys ranked 11th. The boys had the better of the qualifying positions in the 200 freestyle relay, finishing as the seventh qualifier, while the girls are ninth.

For girls individual events, junior Abbie Ramey could be the best bet to win gold for Franklin Regional. Ramey is the fourth seed in the 200 IM, and seventh in the 100 breaststroke. Senior Michelle Lopes earned the fifth qualifying spot in the 50 freestyle and 10th in the 100 freestyle.

Junior Patrick Cavanaugh has been a standout for the Panthers, as he finished ninth among qualifiers for both the 200 IM and the 100 breaststroke.

After qualifying for the state competition last year, junior Mason Fishell won the WCCA diving competition this season and broke the Franklin Regional school record. In the Class AAA diving championship held on Saturday at North Allegheny, Fishell finished eighth.

Other WPIAL girls qualifiers include junior Laura DiNunzio (200 freestyle), junior Shaleigh Lingg (200 freestyle), sophomore Evelyn Siler (200 IM, 100 breast stroke), junior Baylee Horvath (50 freestyle) and senior Lily Wang (50 freestyle).

Additional boys qualifiers include senior Matthew Busche (200 freestyle, 100 freestyle), sophomore Elias Holm (200 freestyle, 100 butterfly), freshman Anthony Piraino (200 freestyle, 500 freestyle), sophomore Jacob Bailey (200 IM, 100 butterfly), senior Ethan Yant (50 freestyle), junior Axel Schon (50 freestyle), senior Ryan Remaley (50 freestyle), sophomore Andrew Harris (100 freestyle), senior Marc Secasan (100 freestyle), junior Aidan Spinola (500 freestyle), sophomore Marshall Mao (100 breast stroke) and senior Maxwell Martin (100 breast stroke).

Santoro said his teams already exceeded his expectations, despite a significant number of swimmers struggling with illness. In a meet against Hempfield, he couldn’t fill a girls lineup.

“This has been a bad year, illness wise,” Santoro said. “We got hit really hard before Christmas. I have kids who are sick again for a second time.”

The top three finishers in each event automatically qualify for the PIAA meet at Bucknell University, while other strong times could qualify for at-large spots.

Sean Meyers is a freelance writer.

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