The high school swimming season was still young, but in mid-December the North Hills swim team already was far ahead of pace compared to last season.
The progression of the 2013-14 team could be evidenced by times, records and training.
In preseason training in October, the North Hills swimmers already were reaching yardage that they did not achieve in training until the heart of last season.
In December dual meets, the Indians were achieving times not seen until they were peaking at WPIAL championships last season.
“Right now we are pretty much where we were at WPIALs last season,” coach Lizzy Cleary said. “They have improved a lot. They did a lot of work over the summer, a lot of weightlifting, they are getting used to a different program.”
Cleary is in her second season at the helm of the North Hills swimming and diving program. She is a 2003 North Hills graduate who swam at West Virginia University in the Big East Conference under coach Sergio Lopez.
“It was neat to come home and come back to my alma mater,” Cleary said. “Coming back and being at my home pool, it has been fun. The first year, I didn’t necessarily know the kids, it was kind of testing the waters to see what they could or couldn’t do.”
The North Hills girls team qualified five swimmers for the WPIAL Class AAA championships last season and the boys team sent eight. Of those, the girls return four this year and the boys return seven.
“Now this year I really know these kids after spending the past 12 months with them,” Cleary said. “They are just a really close group of kids. I know their limits and how far I can push them. They are really open to accepting a challenge.”
By Christmas training, the North Hills team had already eclipsed its peak training last season in terms of intensity.
North Hills is headlined by junior Brian Lovasik, one of the top freestylers in the state. Last season, Lovasik earned silver in the 100-yard freestyle and bronze in the 200 freestyle. He swam a 47.05 and a 1:43.27 in the two events. This season, Lovasik helped North Hills to a win in its first dual meet of the season at Montour. At the meet, Lovasik broke the Montour pool record with a 200-freestyle time of 1:45.17.
“Brian is versatile, I can throw him in the 200 IM. He is really hungry, he is one of those athletes who knows who is where. We try to set him up for races,” Cleary said.
At the dual meet at Montour, Lovasik wanted to race WPIAL champion Jarod Kehl of Montour, one of the top distance freestylers in the state. Kehl was away at a junior nationals meet.
“We’re going to Montour and he knows the one swimmer was a state runner-up and he wants to race him,” Cleary said. “He is that one in a million athlete you get. He does whatever you ask of him and he listens. He will get WPIAL cuts in every event.
Lovasik is part of a junior class that makes up the majority of the North Hills team. Another junior, Andrew Suchin, is a sprint freestyler who qualified for WPIALs last season.
The Indians will get a boost in dual meets with a strong diving program highlighted by senior Noah Bostick, a WPIAL silver medalist last year who went on to finish fourth at states.
On the girls side, senior Katelyn Schmidt qualified for WPIALs last season as a swimmer and diver and she will likely do the same this season.
“We are growing,” Cleary said of the program. “We are headed in the right direction. We want to take it to the next level. We want to be an up and coming team.”