Swimming: Upper St. Clair junior among state's best

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When it comes to the Upper St. Clair swimming team, junior Alex Hardwick will give everything he's got.

Hardwick is all in ... for a 45,000-yard workout week in the pool, three hours of dry-land training, or even being called to the blocks for an event in which he doesn't usually compete.

In a meet last month against Pine-Richland, for instance, Hardwick raced in the 100-yard backstroke. It was unusual for him, one of the state's top-ranked freestylers, to be facing the ceiling.

"It was very nice," Hardwick said. "Coach Dave [Schraven] has us swim different events at different meets just to get training in. It was a chance to swim fast in an event I don't compete in for WPIALs or states."

Nonetheless, Hardwick swam the backstroke in 53.63 and won.

"He's a good backstroker," Upper St. Clair coach Dave Schraven said. "But he's so good at freestyle that he doesn't normally swim backstroke."

In recent rankings, Hardwick was listed as Pennsylvania's fifth-fastest 50-yard freestyle, with a time of 21.25 seconds. In the 100-yard freestyle, he's third (46.42) and in the 200 freestyle, he's sixth (1:43.39).

In fact, Hardwick recorded the state's third fastest time in the 100-yard freestyle during Upper St. Clair's Dec. 18 meet against Mt. Lebanon. The accomplishment came just a couple of days after many of the Panthers had been at the University of Pittsburgh for Pitt's annual holiday invitational.

Hardwick's top-three 100-yard freestyle time also came before a rare challenge, however.

On Dec. 20, Upper St. Clair swam at North Allegheny. Hardwick was beaten in the 100-yard freestyle event by the Tigers' Zach Buerger. Buerger won the event in 46.70, and Hardwick was second at 47.02.

"I faced Zach Buerger, who is a great swimmer all around. Our job [at North Allegheny} was to race as hard as we could facing one of the better teams in the WPIAL and state, and use it not only as a race against great swimmers, but as training."

Upper St. Clair had not tapered workouts or rested much between the Pitt invitational and North Allegheny meet. But Schraven explained what tapering practices would mean at season's end for Hardwick as well as the other USC swimmers.

"You're maintaining your conditioning, but you're resting your body so you can have peak performance," Schraven said. "If you look at it in terms of yardage -- when you're doing hard training in January (45,000 yards in a week) -- approaching WPIALs you start to reduce that yardage. Before WPIALs we might only swim 20,000 yards."

Schraven explained that one other dimension of tapering includes cutting the "dry land" workouts from three to two per week. Interestingly, the Panthers' dry land program does not include weight lifting.

"It's kind of a customized workout," said Schraven.

Hardwick is an elite swimmer, but he works as hard in dry land training as he does in the pool.

"Alex is a hard worker in general -- he's a beast in dry land training," Schraven said.

Hardwick said professional trainer Steve Palombine, who works with Panthers swimmers, called it "farmer boy training."

"The toughest thing we have to do is alligator crawls with [resistance] bands," Hardwick said. "I look at my teammates and the hard work they're putting in and I just want to match what they're doing. That's what keeps me going."

As exhausting as the Upper St. Clair swimming lifestyle would be to an average person, Hardwick takes it one step further. According to Schraven, Hardwick's passion for achievement goes well beyond his sport.

"He's very well-rounded," Schraven said. "He's an intense kid. He does well in school, takes hard classes, he's in the choir -- he's a leader. He strives to excel in all areas of his life, not just in swimming."

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