East Xtra: Hempfield junior set to sprint

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In track and field, one of the sport's glamor events is the 100-meter dash -- there's nothing quite like seeing how fast a man or a woman can run in such a short distance using a combination of speed, strength and power.

That same sense of awe carries over to swimming's version of all-out sprinting, the 50-yard freestyle. The way the event will be swam at the WPIAL swimming championships today and Friday at the University of Pittsburgh's Trees Pool, swimmers will race 25 yards from one end of the pool and swim back to the place where they started.

As is the case in track's 100-meter dash, speed, strength and power are on full display. And as far as Hempfield swim coach Kevin Clougherty is concerned, he has a bona fide threat for the 50-yard title in 17-year-old junior Judson Shiffler.

"He has nerves of steel and a very short memory," said Clougherty, who has coached Spartans swimmers for 16 years and saw Shiffler swim the top qualifying time of 21.82 seconds at the Westmoreland County Coaches Meet in early February.

Shiffler agreed with his coach about the mental approach he takes before, during and after a race.

"Before the race, my mind is set and I never feel a lot of pressure, and I think that helps me out a lot. By the time I get out of the pool, I've forgotten about the race and I'm either thinking about the next race or about practice the next day if it's the last race of the day."

Clougherty believes Shiffler's approach stems from the way he was raised, and it has a major factor in the success he has enjoyed.

"Regardless of the situation, he stays calm," the coach said. "The second thing is that he's explosive off the block. And the third thing is that he keeps his body relaxed while swimming fast."

In such a short race, the turn at the midway point is such a key factor in a swimmer's success or failure. Clougherty likes the work Shiffler has put in to making his turn a smooth one.

"Last summer, his turn was above average," he said. "Now, it's very good because he's put a lot of work into it."

Just as football teams will spend the last few minutes of practice working on special teams, Shiffler and his teammates will work on their turns as practice is winding down.

"We work on the turn for about 10 or 15 minutes at the end of each practice," he said. "That's helped a lot."

Clougherty believes Shiffler is a Division I talent, but he also believes that the WPIAL title could go to any of the top four or five competitors.

"Judson's time means he's in the middle of the pool which is where you want to be," he said. "But once the race begins, it doesn't matter a whole lot. Whoever has the great start, great turn and great finish is going to win the race."

Still, he likes Shiffler's chances.

"Every test he's faced, he's met the test," the coach said. "He's done a heck of a job."

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