East Xtra: Penn-Trafford tries to specialize in winning

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Penn-Trafford swimmers are a little like doctors -- they can take the opportunity to specialize.

As of last week, there were eight boys' events in which Penn-Trafford swimmers were listed as having top times among WPIAL Class AAA teams that reported results. Those events were the 200- and 400-yard relays, the 200-medley relay, the individual medley, and 100-yard races in butterfly, freestyle, backstroke and breaststroke. But there are only 17 Warriors on the boys swimming team this season.

Because Penn-Trafford swimmers are able to become elite specialists in certain events, they can rise to the top of a tough WPIAL field.

Penn-Trafford senior Matt Loughner definitely rose to the top in a Jan. 3 meet against Hempfield Area. It was the Warriors' first meet following "Hell Week," the unrelenting week of practices scheduled during Christmas break.

Loughner swam the 100-yard freestyle race for a time of 48.5 seconds and the win.

"He is somebody who I expect will go very fast," said Penn-Trafford coach Dave Babik. "But that's a time that puts him way ahead of where he was last year."

Senior Jack Babik, the coach's son, won the 500-yard freestyle race with a time of 5:10 that same day.

"This puts him ahead of where he was last year, too," coach Babik said. "And it came at a time that was really significant for us. Hempfield was a really good quality team."

Babik noted that his son had actually dropped five seconds off his time in the 500 since the previous year.

The Warriors boys defeated the Spartans, 92-89, that day, in spite of feeling beaten up from Christmas break practices.

"I was just interested to see if we could come out of that and swim fast," the Warriors coach said. "They made me pretty happy."

Loughner and Babik are both examples of Penn-Trafford swimmers who specialize. What this really means for Warriors' training is that specialists branch off into their own practice groups and lanes. This is an opportunity given to juniors and seniors only.

"I really work on trying to make sure my athletes are well-rounded as freshmen and sophomores, but once they get up into their junior and senior years, I really let them specialize into their events," Babik said.

He explained that a couple of times a week, practices will divide into "specialty lanes." Loughner, for example, chooses sprint freestyle lanes and Jack Babik almost always chooses the distance lane. Junior Tony Sekowski, who was listed last week as having the WPIAL's 10th fastest breaststroke time (1:05.19), goes to the breaststroke lane.

Sometimes, the specialty lanes can aid versatility. For example, senior Jake Marino is a WPIAL top-10 backstroker (57.24 for the seventh spot in the Jan. 11 listing). But Marino is also a freestyle sprinter, so he utilizes both backstroke and sprint freestyle specialty lanes at practice. Likewise, Jack Babik will sometimes choose a sprint lane even though he is a distance freestyler. He uses the sprint lane to work on his acceleration.

Sophomore Anthony Montalto is already showing signs of becoming a backstroke specialist. At a Dec. 13 non-section meet against Gateway, Montalto and Marino both swam in the 57-second range in the 100-yard backstroke event. The two occasionally race at practice.

"They really use it to get themselves to improve," said Babik.

Babik did note that a balance to the specialists must be maintained -- the team mustn't accrue too many chiefs and not enough Warriors. But that's where Babik's well-roundedness requirement comes in.

"One of our team goals is to be successful in all of the events," Babik said. "If we have kids who can't do certain events, we haven't met our team goal."

Fortunately, team goals are at the heart of Penn-Trafford swimming. This goes for specialists and younger swimmers alike.

"I think that our swimmers take enormous pride in the fact that they're on the team," Babik said.

"We've been somewhat successful through the years, and the athletes take ownership in that -- they really have a strong identity on the team."

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