East Xtra: Franklin Regional sisters primed for WPIAL swim meet

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The WPIAL swimming championships have arrived.

It's an event to which Franklin Regional sprint freestylers Kaitlyn and Alyssa Ruffing have been eagerly anticipating.

The championship meet will take place today and Friday at the University of Pittsburgh's Trees Pool.

The sisters made their marks at last year's district championships.

Alyssa, a junior, won two WPIAL championships last winter, taking the 50- and 100-yard freestyle titles in 23.92 and 53.05.

Kaitlyn, a senior, was fourth in the 50 free at 24.67 seconds.

The sisters also played key roles for the Panthers' relay teams. Kaitlyn swam the first leg of the Panthers' second-place 200-yard freestyle relay (1:38.52) and Alyssa swam the anchor leg. The pair also swam the third and fourth legs of the 400-yard freestyle relay, which took second place in 3:31.68.

Kaitlyn anchored Franklin's WPIAL third-place medley relay team (1:49.98).

This season has been a tale of two Ruffings.

Alyssa has emerged as a big-time point-getter for the Panthers in dual meets.

"Because of her talent, she's one of the best swimmers in every event across the board," Franklin Regional coach Vic Santoro said.

This season, Santoro has put Alyssa in various races in order to score points for the Panthers. He cited the Westmoreland County Coaches Association meet earlier this month as an example.

"Alyssa swam the 200 IM, which I think is the most grueling event," Santoro said. "She took second, and she took third in the 500 free. There are very few swimmers who can be as fast a sprinter as Alyssa is and then turn around and finish as high as Alyssa did in the 500."

Alyssa's time in the 200 IM was 2:12.91, and her 500-yard freestyle time was 5:22.22.

On the other hand, Kaitlyn's swim season has been a dynamic one intermixed with high-level musical competition. Even while specializing in sprint freestyle events for Franklin, she plays the flute in the Pennsylvania Music Educators Association district band and orchestra.

"I want to make it to states in all three of my activities," Kaitlyn said.

She has made it for swimming as well as spring track. As a senior, she is seeking to add a state-level musical ensemble to her repertoire.

"We have focused [Kaitlyn] on sprint events this year," Santoro noted.

Kaitlyn must occasionally miss swim practices due to travel for band and orchestra. Santoro has seen Kaitlyn's diverse ambitions as a reason to make her a sprint specialist for the Panthers.

"At the WCCA meet, I won the 50 free and the 100 free and got my best seed times for this year," Kaitlyn said.

Her time in the 50-yard freestyle at the WCCA meet was 24.31 seconds, and her 100-yard freestyle time was 53.09.

"Kaitlyn had the races the whole way," Santoro said. "A tenth of a second or two-tenths of a second could be the slap of a hand." he added.

He was referring to the fact that both second-place times in the 50 and 100 freestyle were a few tenths of a second behind Kaitlyn's.

One contrast between Alyssa's and Kaitlyn's respective seasons involves each athlete's competition schedule. At the beginning of the season, Alyssa tapered workouts prior to the 2012 SPIRE Institute meet in Cleveland. Then she competed at another SPIRE meet in Columbus.

Alyssa then went from SPIRE competition to the Pitt Christmas Invitational This meant that she had to rebuild her practice schedule in late December, scaling up to her heaviest training by early February.

"She's beat up pretty good right now," Santoro said. "So hopefully as we start to rest her and taper her back to peak performance [for WPIALs]."

Kaitlyn actually won the 100-yard freestyle event at the December Pitt meet, with a time of 51:24. When she's not traveling for band or orchestra, she completes the same intense training as Alyssa: six days per week. It's 21 hours per week, not including meets.

"It should be a good competition between the two of them at WPIALs and states," Santoro said.

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