South Xtra: Upper St. Clair sends huge delegation to state meet

SWIMMING

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At most high schools, swimming teams have pared down into small "pods" by this point of the season -- the small group of talented swimmers training for state-level competition.

But the Upper St. Clair boys' and girls' teams are taking an 18-member contingent to the PIAA Class AAA championships, which begin Friday and will continue through Saturday at Bucknell University's Kenny Natatorium in Lewisburg.

The best thing about the Panthers' state-bound squad is the stories behind it.

Coach Dave Schraven cited the WPIAL championship victories of Ryan Dudzinski and Alex Hardwick as examples.

Dudzinski, a sophomore, won the 100-yard butterfly and the 100-yard backstroke. Hardwick won the 100- and 200-yard freestyle races.

"Each won two events," Schraven said. "That would be a highlight, but I fully expected those guys to win two events. So, it's a great achievement for them. For those guys, we're looking to get accolades at states.

"The WPIALs were more like something we did along the way; it was never supposed to be a 'be-all and end-all.'"

Dudzinski's butterfly victory happened after just his first season swimming that event.

"Ryan is especially good at underwaters," Schraven said.

He explained how Dudzinski was recruited to compete in the butterfly event. "Underwaters" are the portions of swim races that involve pushing off of the wall after a turn to gain distance before swimmers are required to surface.

Schraven, a former butterfly swimmer, was able to recognize that Dudzinski's underwaters technique would make him effective in that particular stroke.

"We looked to take advantage of those great underwaters and made a few adjustments to his butterfly technique," Schraven said.

Dudzinski's time in the 100-yard butterfly at WPIAL championships was 49.34. He is seeded first in the event for states.

Hardwick, a junior, also experienced a "first" first in the 200-yard freestyle. He'd placed third in the event the year before finishing a spot behind his teammate Dudzinski in that event. But now, Hardwick is a WPIAL 200-yard freestyle champion.

He is seeded fifth in the state for the 200 with a time of 1:41.86.

Interestingly, all but two members of the Upper St. Clair swim program had qualified for WPIALs. Schraven explained that although many of them had tapered workouts for WPIALs, the top swimmers did not.

"That would include Ryan and Alex, Brittany [Dudzinski] and Victoria [Shaffer], and a handful focused more on states," Schraven explained.

Brittany Dudzinski, a senior and Ryan's older sister, is a backstroke specialist, seeded eighth in the event for states (56.83).

Shaffer excels in the freestyle; her seed time for the 100-yard freestyle event at states is 52.63.

With a busload of 18 swimmers, Schraven said the Panthers were going to make the road trip to Lewisburg a fun experience.

In fact, they left Wednesday so they could enjoy today without a long drive.

To add even more levity, Upper St. Clair swimmers hold their own video game tournaments. Favorite games include Mario Kart and Pokémon (for Nintendo DS).

"In the last few days, they've been really going gung-ho on Pokémon," Schraven said.

He noted that the team had even played the game's theme music at practice.

But whether it's Pokémon or practice, there's a point to all of Upper St. Clair's activities.

"We can't really control what other people do [at states], so we're focused more on just being our best," said Schraven. "Everyone has their own personal goal to achieve.

"Once we get to states, if we do what we're capable of, I think there will be a lot of individual accolades that will come out."

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