In two of the biggest and fastest invitationals on the high school swimming calendar, the South Fayette High School girls swimming and diving team has risen to the occasion.
The Lions won the West Allegheny Christmas Invitational title on Dec. 28 and followed that up with a win in the Big Six Meet on Jan. 11 in York.
In the 14-team West Allegheny meet, South Fayette totaled 263 points to outpace Class AAA Seneca Valley (209) and the host Indians (208). The meet also featured strong WPIAL Class AA teams from Indiana, Quaker Valley and Blackhawk and two teams from Ohio, Martins Ferry and Catholic Central.
In the Big Six meet, South Fayette totaled 475.50 points to edge West Allegheny, which finished with 458. The meet also featured strong teams from Districts 1 and 3, the hosts, Central York, Boiling Springs, Scranton Prep and Lancaster Catholic.
In both invitationals, South Fayette relied on its two leaders, junior Maddie Bartrug and senior Sydney Briner, along with strong relay teams. Bartrug won the 100-yard butterfly at the West Allegheny meet and took second in the 500 freestyle.
"Maddie can really be put in any event," coach Matt Tucker said. "She gives me a lot of leeway in my lineup, she can swim the 500 free, the 50 free, the 200 IM. Sydney is always there when I need her. She didn't have her best swim in the 200 IM at West Allegheny but she came back and had a great relay for us in the 400."
Seniors Tiana Marrese and Sophia Hestad joined with Bartrug and Briner on a first-place 400 freestyle relay at the West Allegheny meet while Marrese, Briner, Bartrug and sophomore Jocelyn Colussy won the 200 freestyle relay.
At the Big Six Meet, South Fayette pulled out the narrow 17.50 point margin of victory thanks to first-place finishes in the 200 and 400 freestyle relay.
"Going into the Big Six meet, I thought they had a chance to win because of their performance at West Allegheny," Tucker said. "But you still never know, West Allegheny really came out and fought."
The Lions have a deep team with Bartrug, Briner, Marrese, Colussy and sisters Sophia and Emma Hestad. Sophia is a senior and Emma a sophomore.
At the WPIAL Class AA championships last season Briner finished sixth in the 200 individual medley. Bartrug and Marrese are two of the best sprint freestylers on the team. At WPIALs last season Bartrug finished fifth and eighth in the 50 and 100 freestyle and Marrese was seventh and 12th in the same events. Marrese transferred into the district two years ago from Kittanning High School.
"Winning these invitationals really helps, especially for these younger swimmers to get ready for WPIALs," Tucker said. "Without these big meets, you might get a deer-in-headlights reaction at WPIALs."
The South Fayette girls are 4-1 in dual meets to go along with their two invitational wins. Their lone loss came on the road to Class AAA Mt. Lebanon.
"Some of our dual meets coming up are really hard," Tucker said.
South Fayette's biggest challenge remaining in the regular season is a meet against Class AAA Peters Township. After the regular season comes the WPIAL championships on Feb. 27-28 at the University of Pittsburgh's Trees Pool. The Lions are the defending WPIAL Class AA girls team champions and they appear to be one of the favorites again this year.