The Central Catholic swim team has had trouble scheduling non-section opponents and invitationals in the early season. Head coach Jim Skirboll speculated that Central's competition level is so high that other teams are afraid of getting beat.
Take a Dec. 20 meet in which Central Catholic emerged victorious against Penn Hills and Pine-Richland.
Neal Smith had lined up early in the meet for the 200-yard freestyle. As the crowds gathered on Pine-Richland's packed pool deck, Smith managed to out-touch the Rams for first place. Not stopping there, Smith added a win in the 500-yard freestyle as well.
Central defeated Pine-Richland, 97-88. The Vikings lost to Peters Township before the Dec. 20 meet, and the loss was still fresh in their minds. Skirboll had actually called his team together before racing the Rams and Indians.
"We had a little team meeting before the Pine-Richland meet -- just to get the guys fired up," Skirboll said.
When asked what was said at the meeting, Skirboll replied, "That's between us and the swimmers."
Other highlights of the day included T.J. Benedict recording a WPIAL qualifying time in the 100-yard backstroke (qualifying time is 1:01.00). Similarly, Brian Corletti qualified in the 100-yard breaststroke with a sub-1:07.00 time.
When asked if it was unusual for swimmers to record WPIAL qualifying times this early in the season, Skirboll replied, "If they've been swimming year round, they should get it right away."
Skirboll added that approximately 40 percent of the Central Catholic swim team swims year round, and that approximately 20 percent of the team swims year round for a club team. But during the varsity season, swimmers who swim for Central do so because they want to win for the Vikings team. This is regardless of club affiliation.
For example, Skirboll explained that Benedict as well as Dan Mozely both came strictly through the high school program. Mozely is skilled in the 100-yard breaststroke and is an instrumental part of the Vikings' 200-yard medley relay (alongside Benedict, Smith and Grant Gustic).
"T.J. and Dan are doing quite well," said Skirboll. "T.J. is going to surprise some people this year in the WPIAL."
Central Catholic placed ninth in the WPIAL in 2012 (out of 22 boys teams), and the Vikings are not as publicized as their sister team, Oakland Catholic. But Skirboll noted that the Central team still carries a well-known competitive reputation.
"Last year we finished in the top 10 at WPIALs -- people know about us," he said. "We have some good standout swimmers in Central Catholic's teams."
Central swimmers become standouts using different training regimens than those common to other programs in the WPIAL.
The Vikings aren't able to hold morning practices like other teams; the long and variable distances students must travel to attend school make morning practices impractical.
Likewise, Skirboll relies on intense drilling each afternoon so that the Vikings can win with the training time they have. He noted that he wasn't a fan of sets of 1000-yard swims. "I'd rather have them do two 500s or 10 100s in a row, just to break it up a little bit."
Although Skirboll may have wanted the Vikings to have more meets in December, he was excited for a couple of January meets. On Jan. 8, Central will take on Upper St. Clair. The Panthers placed second in the WPIAL in 2012 to North Allegheny.
The [USC] boys team is really strong and they have a really strong girls team, too," said Skirboll. Skirboll was also looking forward to the Jan. 24 matchup with Fox Chapel. The Vikings are new to Fox Chapel's section (3-AAA) this season. Skirboll had coached at Fox Chapel before coaching Oakland Catholic and Central Catholic.
"It will be fun swimming in a different section back at Fox Chapel where I used to coach," Skirboll said. "I haven't been back there in 18 years."
Overall, Skirboll felt that Central's swimmers would swim fast as long their fastest opponents were put in adjacent lanes.
"If you can see someone, you're going to race them," he said. "That's what it's about. Our swimmers are going to do whatever it takes to try and beat the swimmer next to them. It's second nature -- they don't like to lose. That's something you're born with."