The 16th annual West Allegheny Christmas Invitational concluded on Dec. 28, but even though the WPIAL Class AA championships are not until Feb. 28, the meet has proven to be a good indicator of what could expected when titles are on the line at the University of Pittsburgh's Trees Pool in two months.
Over the past three years the winners of the West Allegheny meet, both boys and girls, went on to win the WPIAL Class AA team title. The Indiana boys accomplished the feat the past three years while the West Allegheny girls did it in 2011 and '12 and South Fayette did it in 2013.
Based on the track record it would seem that the South Fayette and West Allegheny girls teams are in pole position in Class AA and that Seneca Valley should be a contender in Class AAA. The South Fayette girls won the team title at the meet with 263 points just ahead of Class AAA Seneca Valley (209) and West Allegheny (208).
Seneca Valley took the boys team title with 243 points.
"It was a fun and exciting meet with many great early-season swims," West Allegheny coach Bob Miller said.
The success the winners of the West Allegheny meet have at WPIALs is a testament to how much the meet has grown. It began in 1998 with seven teams with Chartiers Valley winning the boys title and the host Indians winning the girls title.
This year the event has swelled to 13 teams plus independent swimmers and divers from six different schools. All together an estimated 375 swimmers participated.
The girls portion was the most competitive, as expected. The top four finishers from the WPIAL Class AA girls team standings last year were represented, South Fayette, West Allegheny, Indiana and Blackhawk.
The other teams at the event were Hopewell, Freedom Area, Quaker Valley, Obama Academy, Freeport, Highlands, Seneca Valley, Catholic Central of Steubenville, Ohio, and Martins Ferry, Ohio.
"It is exciting to see which team does best at our event," Miller said.
Miller's team certainly has the firepower to hang with the best of Class AA. One of the Indians top returning swimmers is junior Casey Tokarski. Tokarski is a returning WPIAL and PIAA qualifier. She finished sixth in the 50-yard freestyle at the WPIAL Class AA championships last season and finished third in the 100 freestyle. She was also a part of two silver-medal winning relay teams at WPIALs.
"She is a freestyler pretty much. She did sprint freestyle last year and she did real well in the 50 and the 100, which is probably what she is going after this year," Miller said. "The 200 is not out of the realm of possibility.
"She is a very powerful girl, great starts and great turns. She made it out to states last year and made it to the consolation finals. Casey is pumped and wants to do a lot better this year."
At the Christmas Invitational Tokarski finished seventh in the 50 freestyle and fourth in the 100 freestyle.
The Indians have big holes to fill with the graduation of Nadiya Wahl, Kara Kaulius and Sydney Mangis. Kaulius was one of the top distance freestylers in the WPIAL over the past four years and a fixture atop the podium at championship events.
Along with Tokarski, the Indians other top returning swimmer is sophomore Hannah Charlton. Charlton finished second in the 100 butterfly and 100 backstroke at the Christmas Invitational.
Tokarski and Charlton will be joined by a number of other returning WPIAL qualifiers along with freshmen Kaylee Musiol, Jessica Wasek and Nicole Kadlecik. Wasek won the 100 backstroke and took fourth place in the 200 IM at the invitational, just ahead of teammate Musiol who was in seventh. Musiol finished fourth in the 100 butterfly.
Miller is also high on junior Kiera Acetelli, sophomore Jenna Josey and senior Jenelle Slodki, a trio of returning WPIAL qualifiers.
Josey was fifth in the 100 backstroke at the Christmas Invitational while Acetelli had a sixth-place finish in the 100 butterfly and Slodki finished 15th and 13th in the 50 and 100 freestyle respectively.
"I have some good freshmen -- they are good swimmers, they have talent," Miller said. "Our freshmen are probably our big keys."