South Xtra: Mt. Lebanon swimmers push each other

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One of the most competitive rivalries in the WPIAL is also one of the friendliest.

Katie Ford and Meghan Schilken are two of the fastest backstrokers in the state and they also happen to be teammates.

The Mt. Lebanon High School seniors hold numerous pool and team records and when they are setting them, they are usually breaking one another's.

At the new Mt. Lebanon pool, Schilken set the initial 100 backstroke pool record, Ford broke it and now Schilken has it again with a time of 58.3.

Last year at the WPIAL Class AAA championships, Schilken and Ford finished second and third respectively in the 100 backstroke. Schilken set a program record with a time of 56.16. That record lasted all of one week as Ford broke it with a time of 56.13 at the PIAA championships.

"It is really back and forth with us," Schilken said. "Right now the team record is 56.13, both of us are planning and hoping to be far under that. We are both seniors so it is a competition to see who gets to keep it."

Both seniors will be swimming in college next season with Ford committed to the University of North Carolina and Schilken committed to the College of William & Mary in Williamsburg, Va. Both are Division I programs.

"It is really nice to have somebody who is always competitive and always racing you in practice and meets," Ford said. "We are definitely always racing to beat each other. If you don't have the record, your next goal is to have your name on it."

Although they are each other's biggest competitors in the 100 backstroke, they are also each other's biggest fans in their other events. Ford is the reigning WPIAL Class AAA champion in the 50 freestyle while Schilken took fourth in the 200 freestyle at WPIALs last year.

The early plans for the WPIAL meet are for Ford to compete in the 50 freestyle and Schilken to compete in the 200 freestyle with both swimming in the 100 backstroke.

"When they race in the 100 backstroke, they both know the winner will get the pool record," Mt. Lebanon coach Tom Donati said. "It is very competitive and it is good for the team. The kids have been around a long time. That is good and bad -- I am going to miss them next year."

Last season at WPIALs, Schilken and Ford combined with Anna McGlade and Veronica Bogdanski on a silver-medal winning 200 freestyle relay and a fourth-place 400 freestyle relay. McGlade has since graduated but Bogdanski is a junior this year.

The relays finished with All-American times at the PIAA championships.

"Katie and I have been close, close friends since our freshman year," Schilken said. "We are training a lot in the same events and we are each other's biggest competition. The two of us have been training back and forth and it usually equals out, if I do better at WPIALs, she will do better at states."

At the WPIAL championships this season, Mt. Lebanon has its eyes set on a top-five finish. The Blue Devils have dropped dual meets this year to Bethel Park, North Allegheny and Upper St. Clair, but with gold-medal potential in Schilken and Ford along with strong swimmers behind them, including Bogdanski, sophomores Hannah Bumgarner and Emma Buerger, freshman Kathryn Nicholson and freshman diver Kalliope Bicket, Mt. Lebanon is built for championship events.

"We lost three dual meets and I hate to say it but we got better by losing," Donati said. "I have a great championship team. Our goal is to be top five with the girls and get five, six or seven girls to states and go up there and get All-American times."

The Blue Devils finished sixth last season and an improvement, even in a loaded WPIAL Class AAA girls field, should be expected this year.

"I feel like everyone has stepped up this year," Schilken said. "We have freshmen, sophomores and juniors coming up who are contributing to the team so much more. We are more of a team this year."

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