North Xtra: Hampton senior a threat to win WPIAL title

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Hampton High School swimming coach Kristen McKnight believes first impressions count for a lot -- especially where Katie Fernander is concerned.

A senior, Fernander will compete in the WPIAL Class AAA girls swimming championships with the top time in the 100-meter breaststroke at the two-day event that begins today and wraps up Friday at Trees Pool on the University of Pittsburgh campus.

"For Katie, the breaststroke is a power event," said McKnight, who is in her first season as the Talbots coach. "When you see people swimming the breaststroke, it looks like a slower stroke. But Katie swims it with such power from start to finish. She's being driven to have a great finish to her high school career."

Fernander, who has the top qualifying time in the event at 1 minute, 4.84 seconds, also will swim in the 200-yard individual medley where she's seeded seventh. She'll also compete in the 200 medley relay and the 200 freestyle relay, where she will swim the anchor leg for the Talbots.

"She swam her qualifying time in a dual meet at the Moon pool," McKnight said. "She broke the old record, which was 1:10.01"

Fernander, who is one of two female captains, joined the Talbots swimming team as a freshman, and she puts in a lot of practice time.

"I'm in the pool anywhere from two to five hours five days a week," she said.

She hits the water at 5:15 a.m. most mornings and swims until 7 a.m. After a full day of class, it's back to the pool for two more hours followed by 30 minutes of dry-land training which includes weight lifting, plyometrics, abdominal-strength exercises and running.

While acknowledging that she'd like to achieve her greatest high school feat this week, Fernander is quite pleased with what occurred on Feb. 6.

"It was Senior Night, and I set the Hampton pool record for the breaststroke with a 1:04.86," said Fernander, 17.

She believes she can swim faster.

"I'm locked in at 1:04, and I know I can get to 1:03 or better," said Fernander, who at the moment plans to walk on at Pitt and will study pre-med with an eye toward a career as a pediatrician. "I do well under pressure, and I know how to handle emotion."

She has the respect of her teammates.

"She works hard at practice and is always trying to improve herself any way that she can," McKnight said. "Her biggest concern is with the team.

"She cares about her teammates, and it's been fun to see the way the team has bonded, and that has a lot to do with Katie and the other three captains."

She also has her coach's respect.

"I've been honored to coach Katie this year," McKnight said. "I've watched her grow as a swimmer and as a leader. She works well under pressure, and she's shown that swimming can be fun."

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