East Xtra: Franklin Regional shows quantity with its quality

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The Franklin Regional boys swimming team will be bringing a contingent of 11 swimmers to the WPIAL championships next Thursday and Friday.

Now the goal is to get as many of those as possible to the PIAA championships.

With top-tier swimmers in senior Nicholas Whiteman and sophomore Tyler Stevenson and with two swimmers prepared to swim three relays in senior Nieko Santoro and junior Nick Snyder along with a talented duo of off-stroke swimmers in juniors Ben Mendez and Nick Munson, the Panthers have a shot to qualify swimmers for states both individually and in relays.

"We are trying to get people to states. I have two swimmers with very legitimate individual shots," Franklin Regional coach Vic Santoro said. "And we are going to see what we can do with our relays to put together our best possible combinations."

The tentative plans call for Whiteman to swim both distance freestyle events, the 200 and 500-yard freestyles. He won both events at the Westmoreland County Coaches Association meet earlier this month. With a time of 4:51.37 Whiteman broke the meet record in the 500 freestyle set by former Penn-Trafford standout Christian McCurdy.

Last year at WPIALs, Whiteman finished 24th in the 200 freestyle and 14th in the 500 freestyle. The top three swimmers in each event automatically qualify for the PIAA championships in addition to the next 16 fastest times from district championships around the states.

Stevenson will likely swim the 200 individual medley and the 100 breaststroke. He swam the 200 freestyle at WPIALs last season, finishing 12th. The 200 individual medley and 200 freestyle take place on the same day at the two-day WPIAL event.

Stevenson won the 200 individual medley and 100 freestyle at the county meet.

"We looked at last year's results, we looked at what we could find across the state," Vic Santoro said of the WPIAL decisions. "For Tyler, we looked at every single event. With him only being a sophomore, we chose the two that we thought would be his best shot of making it to states.

"I have a lot of confidence in Tyler, he trains very, very hard. He is a true team player, he puts the team in front of himself. If I would have gone to him and said 'Let's shoot for three relays' he would have gone along with that."

With Whiteman, Stevenson, Nieko Santoro, the coach's son, Snyder, Mendez, Munson and a talented crop of freshmen, Vic Santoro has plenty of options when it comes to filling spots on the three relays, the 200 and 400 freestyle and 200 medley relays.

The boys team finished 8-3 this season. Its only section loss was to Hempfield Area, which went on to win the section title. The Hempfield meet was the team's first meet without Nieko Santoro, who had been battling through an illness.

He slowly built his strength back up and on Feb. 1 he was cleared to re-enter the water. Nieko Santoro has benefited from the numerous weather-related cancellations of dual meets that pushed events into February when he has been able to participate.

"His times are as good as they were before he got sick," Vic Santoro said.

At WPIALs, Nieko will likely swim the 50 freestyle along with competing in two or three relays.

Another PIAA hopeful is sophomore diver Andrew Sederholm. As a freshman he finished 10th last season at the WPIAL championships. The top six divers qualify for states. The WPIAL Class AAA diving championships are Saturday at North Allegheny. Sederholm finished second this season at the county meet.

"Our diver, Andrew, has a very good shot at states," Vic Santoro said. "He is one of the top divers in the WPIAL."

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