Madeleine Hoopes, Gina Defrancesco, Kayla Owens and Monica Sowinski made a lot of wake as Greater Latrobe's 400-yard freestyle relay team last winter.
The four came in fifth at the WPIAL championship meet, and eighth at the PIAA meet. Because the Latrobe girls keep their "race focus" on themselves, the Wildcats will be tough to beat this season.
At the WPIAL race, Latrobe's lane was in a fast heat with other tough teams such as fourth-place Mt. Lebanon and sixth-place Oakland Catholic. But the four girls explained that it didn't matter.
They said what really drives each swimmer is her desire to do her job. At the 2012 WPIAL meet, Owens swam first and Sowinski dived in second. Defrancesco swam the third leg of the race before Hoopes took the anchor leg.
Hoopes, a senior, anchored the race for Latrobe to finish in 3:32.94, thirteen-hundredths of a second behind Mt. Lebanon.
Owens, the relay's lead-off swimmer, recalled clearly the need for individual focus in the race. She explained that swimmers were churning all eight lanes of Pitt's Trees Pool that day. Too much concern about any lane besides her own would have hindered her performance.
"You can't take chances," she said. "You just have to give it your best."
For the Greater Latrobe 400-yard relay team, success is found in a team's own lane. They race the clock, not the other teams.
With their "tunnel-vision" philosophy, the four Latrobe swimmers took an eighth-place medal at states. Their time in the relay was 3:34.52 -- a testament to the team's potential for this season.
Owens said she is ready.
"I would say getting the medal at states was really icing on the cake for us," she said. "It's more motivation for this year for us to try our best. "
Latrobe coach Grey Arrigonie noted that the team has been training non-stop. After a brief postseason break at the end of the high school season, Hoopes, Sowinski, Owens and Defrancesco swam for the Greater Latrobe Aqua Club, based out of their own high school's pool. The four put in 16 to 20 hours of training every week.
"Every girl in that relay is pretty dynamic," Arrigonie said. "They're all pretty good at 100 free ... We'll make sure they're at top performance in 100 free to be able to put this relay together."
Arrigonie echoed the fact that the team does not strategize purely on the tendencies of opponents.
"They will know the tendencies of the girls they match up against," he said. "For example Gina has more of a constant, even split."
Arrigonie cited Defrancesco as an example of swim pacing tendency within a 100-yard leg of the relay.
"But it's what the relay's going to do as a whole, not individually," Arrigonie said.
As a whole, the team of Defrancesco, Sowinski, Hoopes and Owens has some unique strengths.
"We're in different grades and different parts of our lives, but we can come together and work as a team," said Hoopes. a senior,
Defrancesco and Owens are both juniors, and Sowinski is a sophomore. The differences in age and class have allowed the group to use their varied experiences to help each other in their athletics and academics.
"My teammates really helped me get through the pressure of [surviving] WPIALs and states," she said. They told me not to worry about the other swimmers -- just to worry about myself and my own race."
It's advice all four follow in daily swimming, and advice that makes them formidable in competition.
Latrobe's 400-yard freestyle relay performance last season has set the bar very high, but the Wildcats four swimmers have the attitude to achieve great things.
"It's a lot of pressure," Sowinski said. "But you have to push through it and rely on experience. You have to trust in your teammates."