Saving the best for last is the mantra the Upper St. Clair swimming team has when it comes to scheduling and the Panthers hope to save their best swimming for last as well.
The Upper St. Clair girls swimming and diving team has a jam-packed February featuring meets with District 6 powerhouse State College, section rival Bethel Park and perennial WPIAL title contender Oakland Catholic.
All those competitive dual meets are followed by the WPIAL Class AAA championships on Feb. 27 and 28.
"I think it is really great to finish with strong competition and rivalries," coach Dave Schraven said. "These are teams we are going to be battling at WPIALs. I think it is really helpful -- our meets have been kind of lackluster lately. A lot of teams can't really challenge us, so it was nice to have a good meet with State College."
Upper St. Clair (7-2) lost to State College, only the second loss of the season for the Panthers but it was a welcome challenge as the team prepares to vie for a section title tonight at Bethel Park.
"We swam hard, our team is just really tired right now," Schraven said. "Having that meet was really helpful for me, to kind of see where we are right now and that they need a little bit more rest."
Upper St. Clair's only other dual-meet loss was to powerhouse North Allegheny. The team is unbeaten in the section and tonight's meet at Bethel Park will decide the section champion. Bethel Park has one section loss.
"It will be a good meet," Schraven said. "I think we would be considered the favorite but it will be close. Last year they swam really well against us but we prevailed. I am prepared for anything to happen. We are not taking it lightly."
The Bethel Park meet will be followed by a showdown against Oakland Catholic on Tuesday at Chatham University in the regular-season finale. Oakland Catholic has not lost a dual meet in four years.
That streak will be on the line Tuesday as Upper St. Clair is one of the strongest teams Oakland Catholic will face this season. The two teams squared off the past two seasons at the WPIAL Class AAA championships with Oakland Catholic finishing second in the team standings in 2012 and '13 with Upper St. Clair in third place both years, both behind North Allegheny.
"The last two years Oakland Catholic has been second and we have been third, that is the immediate team that we are trying to catch," Schraven said. "I think it is good for us to face them heading into WPIALs."
North Allegheny is a heavy favorite to win its sixth consecutive team championship this year but the race for second appears to be wide open.
"Given that we have been third two years in a row, we are looking to move up," Schraven said. "I am not saying that is likely or a given, but I think certainly if we swim as well as we are capable of, it is a reasonable goal to have. We would like to move up in the standings this year and I think beyond that, we cannot really control what other people do."
Upper St. Clair qualified four individual swimmers for the PIAA championships last season and one returns, junior Victoria Shaffer. Schraven said the goal this season is to qualify five individual swimmers for states. Shaffer's top events are the 200-yard individual medley and the 100 freestyle.
The 200 IM is an event in which a number of Upper St. Clair swimmers excel, including freshman Maddie Yoos and sophomore Lindsey Choate. Yoos' and Choate's other top events are the 100 breaststroke. Yoos broke the Upper St. Clair record in the 100 breaststroke this season with a time of 1:05.9.
Maddie's older sister, sophomore Emily Yoos, is a distance freestyler swimming the 200 and 500 freestyles while freshman Maeve Lersch will likely swim the 50 freestyle and 100 backstroke at WPIALs. Junior Carly Olsakovsky is a sprint freestyler while senior captains Sophia Benoit and Megan Reilly also swim freestyle.
With a versatile group Upper St. Clair's 200 medley relay has the potential to be one of the fastest in the WPIAL.
"The medley relay I would say is our strongest of the three this year," Schraven said. "Everybody has an opportunity to swim their way onto one of those relays.