East Xtra: Franklin Regional coach rebuilds relay teams

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Franklin Regional swimming coach Vic Santoro is going back to the drawing board when it comes to putting together his girls relay teams for the WPIAL Class AAA championships.

The three Panthers relays last season were a big reason why the team finished fifth in the team standings at the WPIAL meet.

But Santoro must replace four seniors who participated in the three relays, Kaitlyn Ruffing, Samantha Tower, Nicole Stevenson and Rachel Barkey.

The relays all posted top 10 finishes with the 200-yard freestyle relay taking third and 200 medley relay taking second.

The good news for Santoro is that he has one of the best building blocks of any coach in the WPIAL when putting together relays, senior Alyssa Ruffing.

Alyssa Ruffing is the younger sister of Kaitlyn Ruffing who graduated after last season. The younger Ruffing is one of the top sprint freestylers in the WPIAL. She took third and forth, respectively, in the 50 and 100 freestyle sprints at last year’s WPIAL meet. She was also the strongest leg of Franklin Regional’s second-place 200 medley relay and third-place 200 freestyle relay.

“The only sure thing on the relays is Alyssa,” Santoro said. “I probably have eight girls who have qualified or are very close to qualifying for WPIALs in the 50 freestyle.

“All three relays are wide open right now. We are trying different things in the medley and different combinations.”

Other returners who were part of those WPIAL relays along with Alyssa Ruffing are senior Julianna Carolla and sophomores Megan Remaley and Meredith Easterling. Carolla swam the 200 and 400 freestyle relay last season while Remaley was a part of the 200 freestyle relay.

The other returning individual WPIAL qualifiers are sophomore Lauren Snyder, junior Rosie Maholage and seniors Tori Frydrych and Cheyene McIntyre.

“We are looking for our strongest 100 freestyle swimmers [to compete on the 400 freestyle relay],” Santoro said. “We have quite a few girls who have qualified for that. We are not seeing the 52 and 53 [seconds] yet, hopefully later on when we start resting and tapering down those 55s and 56s will be 52 and 53.”

With Ruffing, Carolla, Remaley and Easterling back along with a talented influx of freshmen, headlined by Morgan Birdy and Elise Scalon, Santoro has options but also some hard decisions.

“It is fun when girls can swim different events,” Santoro said. “It will be tough for me making some of those relay decisions, I am hoping that it becomes very obvious. Right now, if I had to pick who would be swimming relays, I really couldn’t.”

Franklin Regional will have plenty of WPIAL “dress rehearsals,” so to speak, in the coming weeks. Still up on the dual-meet schedule is North Allegheny, arguably the top girls team in the state, and Mt. Lebanon. Franklin Regional also participates in the Westmoreland County meet that features Class AAA powerhouses, including Greater Latrobe.

“I am hoping to try a couple things in those meets to see what they are capable of,” Santoro said.

Through five dual meets, Franklin Regional is undefeated with non-section wins against Gateway and Seneca Valley and section wins against Latrobe, Penn-Trafford and Norwin.

Regardless of what relay combinations Santoro goes with, the two relays featuring Alyssa Ruffing will have championship potential.

“Alyssa is a team leader,” Santoro said. “She was sick at the beginning of the season and we had to take it easy with her, but now we are using her in some of her signature events and she is doing very well. She is just now getting back into the groove of things and I am hoping for a good postseason from her. She is a big leader on the team.”

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