South/West Xtra: Canevin girl a WPIAL title threat

SWIMMING

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When the Bishop Canevin swimming team visited Class AA power South Fayette last month, senior Danielle Pekular left it all in the pool for the Crusaders.

Pekular won the 100-yard freestyle with a time of 58.05 and anchored the 400-yard freestyle relay, which touched at 4:43.17. And, the 100-yard backstroke was usually Pekular's favorite. But alongside South Fayette's Morgan Fink, the race was a battle.

Pekular stayed with Fink through the race, despite Fink's height advantage. Nonetheless, Fink pulled ahead at the end and Pekular took second place with a time of 1:02.

"It was crowded in the stands," recalled Pekular. "South Fayette gets a lot of people who come to watch their meets."

Although the Bishop Canevin girls lost the Jan. 10 meet, 98-54, Pekular had a great day of competing and contributing for her team. The two things epitomize Pekular's character.

"Danielle is one of four captains this year," Bishop Canevin coach Mike Schneiderlochner said. "All the girls listen to her -- she's probably one of the nicest girls I've ever met and one of the best swimmers I've ever met in 38 years of coaching."

Schneiderlochner qualified this by noting that he'd coached five swimmers in the course of his career who went on to Olympic trials.

A resident of Rosslyn Farms, Pekular first met Schneiderlochner as a young swimmer with the Crafton Crocodiles club.

"I've been coaching Danielle since she was, like, 7 or 8 years old," Schneiderlochner said.

Now, Pekular swims for the Chartiers Valley Swim Club as her year-round club team.

"It's so she can continue to get better, and so she can do morning practice as well as evening," Schneiderlochner said.

Bishop Canevin does not have its own pool, and the team trains in the evenings at Pittsburgh Classical Academy.

Pekular first attempted the backstroke at about the same time she met Schneiderlochner. She explained that no part of swimming came easy, but that the backstroke was the first stroke to "click" for her.

"I think ever since I started swimming, backstroke was just one of those strokes that came naturally to me," Pekular said. "As I got older, I got better and picked up on the key elements that helped."

Pekular swam a 1:02.47 in the 100-yard backstroke at the WPIAL Class AA championships last March. She qualified and went to states with several of her teammates, one of Pekular's favorite experiences. Juniors Jocelyn Gentille and Emily Bergman stayed in the same hotel room as Pekular and her mother, Michelle.

Pekular has committed to Wheeling Jesuit for her college swimming. According to Pekular, the school is an ideal convergence of academics and athletics.

"I applied for the nursing department," Pekular said. "I got accepted and I was really fond of the swimming program and coaches.

"I think Wheeling Jesuit is a great combination for the swimming program and the nursing program."

For Schneiderlochner, Pekular is one example of the type of student-athlete he enjoys working with as they grow into a swimming career.

"It's kind of neat to remember when they were carrying a teddy bear around on the pool deck, and now they're getting scholarships," he said.

Looking back on the journey from the Crocodiles to Wheeling Jesuit, Pekular emphasized her gratitude to Michelle for all of her help and support.

As for Bishop Canevin, Pekular's memories are centered on her teammates. "It's every meet and practice - just being with all of my best friends," she said. "We're one happy family."

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