West Xtra: Unheralded Blackhawk impresses in pool


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The Blackhawk swimming team is the little engine that could (and does).

The Cougars' girls' team is 10-1 overall, 5-0 in section, and the boys are 7-4, 3-2. There are only 20 Cougars swimmers on both teams combined.

"We may be little but we're dang fast," Blackhawk coach Andrea Collins said.

She explained that the Cougars swim at "ramming speed" day in and day out.

"All of my training at practice is about racing and being smart swimmers," Collins said. "It's all about who's got the better turns, who's got the better finish, who's got their head down ..." Collins said.

Cougars' swimmers become instinctive about efficient technique, right down to ceasing taking breaths as they hit a final set of flags.

As Blackhawk swimmers train, they are continually pitted against each other. They fight for spots in the dynamically changing relay teams.

"I always yell at them, 'That's not your teammate -- that's your competition at WPIALs trying to take your place at states,'" Collins said.

Basically, the Blackhawk swimming teams thrive on an intense game of "sharks and minnows." But Blackhawk, a Class AA team, is beating Triple-A programs and making WPIAL cutoff times. So it's clear that the game works.

On Dec. 11, Blackhawk took on Norwin, a Class AAA team which outnumbered the Cougars two to one. And the Blackhawk girls still won, 99-78.

By the end of January, 10 out of the 12 girls had qualified for the WPIAL championship meet, and six of the eight boys had also qualified.

Collins also said that Blackhawk's current girls roster held six team records in the 11 swimming events. Last year, two members of the 2011-12 girls' roster had notched team records that stood through the end of January. The Cougars are also going for pool records now.

Sprint freestyler Alexis Lopez holds the team record in the 50-yard freestyle, but she has her eye on the Blackhawk pool record in that event.

"She'll get it by the end of the year," Collins predicted.

In fact, all 12 of Blackhawk's girls swimmers can be counted upon to put points on scoreboards and scrap to win meets. Collins had difficulty knowing which swimmer to list first.

Take for example, Marissa Camp. She had made five WPIAL qualifying times by the end of last month. Lopez holds the team record in the 100-yard breaststroke as well as the aforementioned 50-yard freestyle.

Between Casey Cerbus and Elizabeth Bigley, Blackhawk consistently takes places one and two in 200-yard and 500-yard freestyle events.

On the boys' side, the 200-yard freestyle relay is looking to return to the PIAA championships. The members of that group are Adam Rastatter, Dewey Fry, Ryan Hart and Chris Vogler.

"They're all solid swimmers," Collins said in describing her teams.

Interestingly, five of Blackhawk's 20-member roster compete only in diving events. Four of the five have already qualified for WPIALs this season. These include Andrea Peance and Laura Fritz, who never dove prior to this season.

Fry, Josh Burgfelt and Eric Racan are the three boys who dive for Blackhawk. They're a crucial asset to the eight-man team, because they typically sweep at dual meets.

"That's 13 points going into the meet," Collins said.

Blackhawk's divers are coached by both Collins and assistant coach Jamie Planitzer, although neither had coached diving prior to their time at Blackhawk. Collins joined the Cougars three years ago as an assistant coach to Troy Kroll, and one student showed up wanting to be a diver that season. It became Collins' task to learn to coach him.

Collins consulted books about diving, and thus the program was born. After being made Blackhawk's head coach, she entrusted Planitzer to help her with diving coaching responsibilities. Since Collins' first foray into diving, two Blackhawk divers have qualified for state competition.

In a nutshell, Blackhawk puts up a battle like a Navy destroyer -- it may be small but it can sink your battleship.

"We've had so many good races," Collins said. "I have, basically, a team where they're all good swimmers ... At his point in the season I'm thinking about WPIALs."



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