South Xtra: Bethel girls figure to be in WPIAL swimming elite

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Very little comes easy for the Bethel Park girls swimming team and the Black Hawks would not have it any other way.

They compete in arguably the fastest section in arguably the fastest district in the state.

In section competition Bethel Park is swimming against the likes of Upper St. Clair and Mt. Lebanon. When it comes time to compete for WPIAL championships there is the powerhouse from North Allegheny that enters the meet as an overwhelming favorite nearly every year. Individually there are tough battles, too.

Senior Allie Brinkhoff is one of the fastest swimmers on the Bethel Park team. Her top events are the 200-yard individual medley and the 100 backstroke. She finished fourth and sixth in the events, respectively, last year at the WPIAL Class AAA championships.

"The 100 backstroke, probably for the last four straight years has been one of the strongest events at WPIAL championships," Bethel Park girls swimming coach Bill Kennedy said.

Last year the 100 backstroke field at WPIALs featured Mt. Lebanon's Meghan Schilken and Katie Ford and North Allegheny's Jacquelyn Du and Kayla Churman. All four return this season.

"It is the same group of backstrokers so it will be tougher and tougher," Kennedy said. "She loves it. Allie has always performed at her absolute best against tough competition."

The competition has brought out the best in Brinkhoff and the rest of her teammates.

She has accepted a scholarship to swim at the University of Toledo.

"Allie is looking stronger and stronger," Kennedy said. "I am expecting a lot of good things from her."

Currently, Brinkhoff has the eighth fastest reported time among WPIAL Class AAA swimmers in the 100 backstroke with a 1:03.97 and the seventh fastest reported time in the 200 IM with a 2:16.35.

In dual meets Bethel Park is 2-1 this year with non-section wins against West Allegheny and Moon Area and a loss to North Allegheny. The Black Hawks will begin section competition tonight against Chartiers Valley on the road. The following Thursday the team has a huge challenge when it plays host to Mt. Lebanon. The schedule only gets tougher after that with dates against Peters Township and Upper St. Clair.

"It has always been a tough section and it just keeps getting tougher," Kennedy said. "Mt. Lebanon, us, Peters Township, Upper St. Clair -- we are all strong. On any given day someone may be swimming very well and someone might be a little off. Our depth has to step up; depth always plays a role in dual meets."

The Black Hawks have plenty of senior leadership in Brinkhoff, Megan Douds, Jessica Hirsch, Brenna Doyle and Kelly Kramer.

"The senior girls are just a really good group this year," Kennedy said. "Those five are year-round swimmers, all of them are at their best every single year and I wouldn't expect anything less."

In the section Upper St. Clair is the big favorite with Mt. Lebanon and Bethel Park likely to battle for second place. The teams trained together in the summer at Mt. Lebanon's outdoor pool and again at Bethel Park as the season neared when Mt. Lebanon was waiting for its new pool to be ready.

"We are fairly equal," Kennedy said of the two teams. "If we swim very well, we can give them a very good meet. It should be a good meet, we know them very well, it is a good rivalry."

Looking forward to the WPIAL Class AAA championships, Kennedy concedes it will be nearly impossible to defeat North Allegheny with Upper St. Clair and Oakland Catholic also vying for a top-three spot and his group right behind vying for a top-five finish.

"I am looking to see a lot of fast swimming," Kennedy said. "We had good Christmas training and I'm looking forward to a great season. This is when the fast swimming starts, every meet means something."

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