The West Allegheny Christmas Swimming and Diving Invitational took place Dec. 28. It was the perfect venue for South Fayette to demonstrate its competitive edge.
The Lions' girls team came in first at the meet with 332 points, while the boys came in second with 249. Indiana won the boys event with 398 points.
As the evening had neared, the Lions' Mary Rosati found herself swimming a close 500-yard freestyle event next to West Allegheny's Kara Kaulius. Kaulius was the WPIAL Class AA silver medalist in the 500-yard freestyle; Rosati had never beaten her before. But as the two went into their 17th lap, Rosati began to overtake Kaulius.
"They were right next to each other with three laps to go," said South Fayette head coach Matt Tucker. "Then, Mary kind of pulled away."
Rosati touched first with a time of 5:16.05, and Kaulius touched second in 5:18.76. It was a landmark first place for Rosati.
"It was a really big step for her," said Tucker. He noted the psychological importance for Rosati: the knowledge that she could beat Kaulius.
On the boys side, Tim Bernhardt had been deadlocked in the 200-yard individual medley with Indiana's Grant Hess.
"Grant just really pulled away on the last length in the 50-yard freestyle," said Tucker.
Bernhardt and Hess were in lanes three and four; they could see each other as they neared the touch. But in the end it was Hess at 2:07.37 -- not an arm's length before Bernhardt at 2:08.23.
The air attack had also been valuable for South Fayette at West Allegheny. Divers Stephen Zombek and Grace Klimek took first place to start off the meet. However, an all-diving invitational at South Park caused Zombek to depart for the remainder of the meet. This left the Lions' boys team short-handed.
"Stephen swims really well, too," said Tucker. "So he would have gotten us points."
In spite of Zombek's absence, the South Fayette boys had many highlights on the day. Ryne Fromholzer, a senior, won the 200- and 500-yard freestyle races.
"With 11 boys, we still got second place," said Tucker.
Additional highlights from the Lions' girls victory included the races of Maddie Bartrug and Morgan Fink. Bartrug won the 100-yard freestyle with a time of 54.34 seconds, and Fink won the 100-yard backstroke with a time of 100.35. Both times were West Allegheny Christmas meet records.
Overall, the West Allegheny meet was a great one for South Fayette. But Tucker explained that the greatness was more than just good fortune.
"We did quite a few yards last week," Tucker said. "It was a really good Christmas -- training for 40,000 yards in a week comes out to 20 some miles. They definitely train a lot for the Christmas meet. We do doubles, which means we swim in morning and afternoon. A lot of times on [school] break we do longer practices with lifting right after. The teams lift three times a week, even with all the swimming that they do."
But like many elite athletic teams, the Lions take pride in their intense work. They wear their swim warm-ups and sweatshirts at school. They even have team T-shirts which read: "Be the fish."
Tucker summarized. "They think of each other as almost family -- they spend so much time together during the year."