The longest race at a high school swim meet is the 500-yard freestyle, but the Pine-Richland swim team doesn't stop at 500. The Rams regularly swim 1000-yard freestyle sets and 400-yard individual medleys.
It may seem tough -- swimming 5,000 yards in 13 minutes -- but it makes the Rams' success look easy.
Last week, Rams senior Allie Sanzi was in a deadlock with Oakland Catholic's Lexi Namesnick in the 500-yard freestyle at a non-section meet along with Penn Hills and Central Catholic. The crowds were screaming and neither swimmer was giving the other an inch.
Namesnick touched after 5:13.93 for Oakland and Sanzi at 5:14.34.
"That's not even half an arm stroke between each," said Pine-Richland head coach Pete Barry. "The place was loud -- it was a fun meet."
Sanzi's 500-yard freestyle time may not have earned Pine-Richland the six points for a win, but it beat the WPIAL qualifying time for the event (5:35.50). And it's early in the swim season -- section meets begin today. Already, the Pine-Richland distance focus is getting results in competition.
"If they can do the five 1000s successfully, they can hop in and do the 500 free and feel pretty good," said Barry. "It's swimming 20 lengths vs. swimming 40."
The race between Sanzi and Namesnick took place Dec. 20 -- two days after Pine-Richland Aquatics (Pine-Richland's club team) swam through four days of the annual Pitt Christmas meet. Unlike many teams, the Rams did not rest their swimmers for the invitational. By the time Pine-Richland went to the non-section meet Dec. 18, the Rams were in need of their endurance.
Nine events passed and it was time for the boys 400-yard freestyle relay. Will Macon, Christopher Wattenpool, Matthew Tobin and Johnathon Schubert congregated at their block for Pine-Richland. The Rams were feeling the effects of four solid days in the water, but they readied themselves to start.
As Penn Hills' Chris Senoglietto, Bobby Fello, Gabe Larsen and Norm Gregory stepped up on deck, motivation took over for Pine-Richland.
"Penn Hills had it pretty loaded up," said Barry. "It helped pull us out and got us out a little faster."
With the Rams conditioned for the long haul, Pine-Richland touched in 3:34.27 for second place and the obliteration of the 3:39.10 WPIAL cutoff. Penn Hills won the event with a time of 3:32.06.
At the end of the day, Pine-Richland recorded girls and boys wins against the Indians. Although the Rams' girls and boys lost to Oakland Catholic and Central Catholic, six swimmers beat WPIAL qualifying times.
Four of those swimmers were from the boys team. Ryan Anderson qualified in the 100-yard backstroke with a time of 59:51 seconds. He also qualified in the 200 IM (2:09.14).
Anderson's twin brother Sean qualified in the 500-yard freestyle event (5:13.74). Tobin and Schubert each qualified in their individual events as well as their 400-yard relay. Tobin's 100-yard butterfly time was 58.89 seconds, and Schubert swam the 200-yard free in 1:51.95.
On the girls side, Siani Null qualified in the 50-yard freestyle (25.26) and the 100-yard backstroke (1:01.76). The other Pine-Richland girl to record a WPIAL qualifying time that day was Sanzi, in the 500-yard freestyle.
"A lot of this has to do with the training and the kids buying into it," said Barry. "And, a lot of it has to do with having a high school meet. They didn't want to lose."
Barry summarized by noting the Rams team pride in the face of a 22.5-hour swim week and grueling lifestyle.
"They love wearing their swimming gear," said Barry. "I see my kids coming in to school wearing their varsity warm-ups."
Barry added that the warm-ups are not actually "warm;" they're made of windbreaker material not insulated for winter temperatures. But to the Rams, it's the statement that counts.
"They walk around a little taller," said Barry. "They like that the warm-ups say 'Pine-Richland Swimming and Diving.'"