East Xtra: Franklin Regional swimming finding ways to win

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In the navy, there's a different vessel for every mission.

Speedy combat ships can chase down pirates while nuclear subs sustain long-term surveillance missions.

The Franklin Regional boys swim team wins its battles with similar versatility.

On Dec. 18, the Panthers faced longtime rival Gateway in a non-section meet. Senior Dale Maholage, as usual, played a key role for Franklin. He won the 50-yard freestyle event as well as the 100-yard breaststroke.

But even as Maholage swam the breaststroke in the 200-yard medley relay, the Gators touched Franklin out. Halfway through the meet, Franklin remained behind.

At that point, freshman Tyler Stevenson and junior Nico Whiteman took their blocks for the 500-yard freestyle. For 20 lengths, they endured alongside Gateway's Alex Bolen in a three-way tie. The crowd cheered and suspense mounted, but Franklin Regional coach Vic Santoro had a plan.

"We'd backloaded our team so we could make up some points," he said.

As Stevenson and Whiteman took places one and two in the 500 free, the Panthers tied Gateway's score at 55 points.

The 200-yard freestyle relay was next, and Franklin Regional's David Maholage, Nieko Santoro, Nick Snyder and Stevenson won it handily. Those eight points put the Panthers into the lead, and from there it became their pool.

Franklin's divers helped to seal the win, as freshmen Andrew Sederholm and Kevin Schon took first and second place.

So it was a full-scale attack from the air and sea, resulting in a win for Franklin.

"Overall, it was a whole team effort by the boys," coach Santoro said.

That Dec. 18 meet revealed additional strengths of the Panthers. In late events such as the 400-yard relay, Dale Maholage's twin, David, swam with Stevenson, Whiteman and Santoro's son, Nieko. The four took first place to add a final eight points. The final score of the meet was 103-82.

Sophomore Ben Mendez and senior Jonathan Palmer did not win the 100-backstroke event that day, but each recorded his first WPIAL qualifying time (faster than 1:01.00).

"I think I'm on a run," Santoro said. "I think my boys team is in a seven- or eight-year run of section championships," he said.

Section meets do not begin for WPIAL swimming until Jan. 3, but both Franklin Regional's boys and girls teams are 2-0 with wins against Seneca Valley and Gateway.

Santoro noted that the Franklin Regional girls team is maintaining a similar tradition of excellence.

The Panthers girls were ranked third on the 2011-12 list of National Interscholastic Swimming Coaches Association Dual-Meet Teams (out of the top 30 schools of similar size). The team finished fourth (behind third-place North Allegheny) at the 2012 PIAA meet.

"Some of these schools [at states] graduate 1,000 kids a year," Santoro noted. "We're one of the few that can at least compete with them."

Franklin Regional enrolls approximately 1,300 students in grades nine through 12.

Santoro said that the Franklin Regional girls team has many athletes returning this year from last year's team that finished fourth at the state meet.

Senior Kaitlyn Ruffing was Santoro's key example; Ruffing took fourth place in the 50-yard freestyle event at the WPIAL championships last year. Ruffing's sister, Alyssa, a junior, took first.

Franklin Regional's first Section 1-AAA meet is at Latrobe on Jan. 3. Meanwhile the swimmers will continue to work, practicing almost daily.

The only days the Panthers will take off for the holiday break are Christmas Day and New Year's Day.



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