North Xtra: North Allegheny swimmer claims two gold medals

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North Allegheny junior Zachary Buerger brought home a couple of gold medals from the PIAA swimming championships at Bucknell University last week.

But no achievement was more remarkable than Buerger's time in the "Angry Mob" race. This a North Allegheny post-meet tradition in which the swimmers race to consume a cluster of annoyed-looking brownies at King's Restaurant. Each brownie has a frown painted on it with icing.

Buerger's first win at the PIAA meet was in the 200-yard individual medley. He recorded a time of 1:48.08, beating Penn Hills' Gabriel Larson, the runner-up, by almost two seconds. Last year, Buerger took second place at states in the IM -- behind his brother, Matthew.

"I knew Gabe Larson was going to give me a good run," Buerger said. "But I didn't expect [West Chester Henderson's] Tommy McCormick. He surprised me a little."

McCormick was third in the race with a time of 1:50.87.

Buerger had trained to improve upon his IM techniques prior to the race.

"This year, I did improve upon the backstroke," Buerger said.

Interestingly, he noted that he felt he was actually better at freestyle swimming last year. Buerger expressed interest in working harder on his freestyle racing.

Despite being his own toughest freestyle critic, Buerger's second state win came in the 500-yard freestyle. Buerger swam the 20 laps in 4:28.12 (Bethlehem Freedom's Sam Magnan was second at 4:29.60).

Like the 200-yard IM, the 500-yard freestyle was a solid win for Buerger. But he had gone into the 500 without much knowledge of the competition.

"That one I came into a lot more 'not really knowing' what I was going to be up against," Buerger said. "The guy who got second hadn't been in the top [at states] the last couple years, and all of the swimmers put up pretty solid times in the morning ... but I thought I would put up a pretty good time at finals."

Overall, Buerger was happy with his times: "I think a couple of them could have been faster, but I was glad to be breaking the barrier of getting my first gold there."

Buerger will have his chance to make his times faster -- he and his swim club (Allegheny North Swim Club) will be competing in Florida next weekend. It won't mean much break time for Buerger.

"I'll probably take a week or two off before I get back into the regular training session," he said.

Normal training for Buerger means a minimum of 12 hours per week in the water (not including dry-land conditioning).

"Zachary is a consummate team guy," North Allegheny head coach Corky Semler said. "He really has a lot of respect for his teammates ... He gets what it takes to be good, and he encourages others."

Meanwhile, the North Allegheny girls' swimming team had a successful showing at states. The medley relay placed second behind Hershey by only 0.03 seconds (NA's time was 1:44.25).

"The relays were the story of our team," said Semler. Between Morgan Soulia, Jade Song, Kristen Bishop, Arielle Krigger, Jacquelyn Du, Gabrielle Borza, and Kayla Churman, the girls' had three top-three relays at states.

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