The Upper St. Clair boys swimming team spent the week before Christmas rewriting the record books at two pools home to top-flight teams.
On Dec. 17, the Panthers set eight pool records at Mt. Lebanon. Of course, that may have been a simple task considering the Mt. Lebanon pool is in its inaugural season.
It was no simple task two days later when Upper St. Clair recorded three pool records at North Allegheny, which has been home to some of the fastest dual meets in WPIAL history. The Panthers also set four team records at the North Allegheny meet.
Upper St. Clair coach Dave Schraven splits each season up into two phases, one running from fall to the end of December and the other running from January through the state championships. The goal is to be peaking in December and at the state championships.
So far, so good for the Panthers. They certainly appeared to be peaking in December.
The weekend before the dual meets against Mt. Lebanon and North Allegheny, the Panthers had a number of swimmers competing in two prestigious club meets, the University of Pittsburgh Christmas meet and the Winter Junior National Championships in Greensboro, N.C.
The Junior Nationals are basically the under-18 national championships. At that meet, competing against all the fastest swimmers in the country under 18, junior Ryan Dudzinski placed third in the 100-yard backstroke, third in the 100 butterfly and eighth in the 200 backstroke.
Dudzinski carried the momentum from his superb showing at Junior Nationals back to his high school team. At Mt. Lebanon, Dudzinski set pool records in the 200 freestyle (1:40.97), 50 freestyle (21.08) and 500 freestyle (4:47.93).
His teammates got in on the fun, too. Senior Alex Hardwick set pool records in the 100 freestyle (47.19), 100 backstroke (51.91) and 200 individual medley (1:57.35)
The 200 freestyle relay team of Dudzinski, Braedon Wong, Nate Novak and Patrick Lersch set a pool record in the 200 freestyle relay (1:26.77) and Hardwick, Dudzinski, Lersch and Nikhil Narayanan did the same in the 400 freestyle relay (3:11.25).
If anyone thought pool records might be easy to come by at the new Mt. Lebanon pool, after the Upper St. Clair/Mt. Lebanon meet, the pool could be one of the toughest in the area to set pool records. The times recorded by the Panthers would be pool records at many in the WPIAL.
“With the new pool, they were starting fresh with pool records,” Schraven said. “But those records we set, they might stay around for a while.”
At North Allegheny, Dudzinski set Upper St. Clair program records with a 1:51.85 in the 200 individual medley and a 47.57 in the 100 backstroke. His backstroke time was also a team record and was faster than the state championship winning time from last season of 48.8.
Hardwick set a pool record in the 100 freestyle (46.47) that stood for all of a few minutes until North Allegheny’s Zachary Buerger broke it leading off the 400 freestyle relay, an indication of just how blistering fast the meet was.
“It was probably the fastest boys meet in WPIAL history,” Schraven said.
Junior Fynn Minuth set a team record in the 500 freestyle with a 4:39.51. Minuth is a newcomer to the district, moving in from Germany. Tomos Williams set a team record in the 100 breaststroke (59.86) and Hardwick, Dudzinski, Lersch and Minuth combined on a pool record in the 400 freestyle relay (3:07.74).
The Panthers defeated Mt. Lebanon in the dual meet but fell to North Allegheny.
With six seniors and added depth with the likes of Novak, one of the best sprinters in the area, and Jake Johnsen, who swam a 100 butterfly that would have scored points at the state meet last year, and with the addition of Minuth, Upper St. Clair has a chance to challenge perennial power North Allegheny for a WPIAL Class AAA team championship.
When the current group of seniors were freshmen, the Panthers upset the Tigers for the WPIAL title. Since then, North Allegheny has won back-to-back team titles.
“The meet against Mt. Lebanon, they swam fantastic. We had to rise to the challenge for that and we did,” Schraven said.
“The thing about setting records at NA, that pool has been the site of the best meets in the WPIAL over the years. In the medley relay, we broke the pool record and NA beat us by a second and a half.
“We have a lot of really fast swimmers and a lot of depth. With six seniors, this is our year. We know that every year [North Allegheny] is the team to beat and right now is our time to challenge them.”