East Xtra: Hempfield senior lives up to expectations

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So much is expected of an athlete when he or she is the favorite going into an event. That was the case with Hempfield's Judson Shiffler when the field lined up to compete in the 50 freestyle, the sport's version of track and field's 100-meter dash.

It's a race where a bad start or a bad turn can spoil all the hard work for an athlete.

Shiffler, a senior, lived up to the pre-meet expectations as he won the 50 freestyle with a time of 21.27 seconds, but he had plenty of company at the finish.

The first four finishers were within one-tenth of a second of each other. Two of them -- Upper St. Clair's Tomas Williams and Nathan Novak -- tied for second with identical times of 21.367 seconds. Norman Gregory of Penn Hills was fourth in 21.37. Gregory also finished third in the 100 freestyle with a time of 46.25 seconds and qualified for the PIAA championships March 12-13 at Bucknell University.

Shiffler was the favorite going into his championship event, but Latrobe's Monica Sowinski wasn't favored in either the 100 or the 200 freestyle.

In the 100, she placed second with a time of 51.09, less than a half-second behind the record-setting effort of Mt. Lebanon's Katie Ford.

But in the 200, Sowinski jumped ahead early and held on to win the event with a time of 1:50.45, just ahead of North Allegheny swimmers Lauren McGrath (1:51.14) and prerace favorite Jade Song (1:52.41).

"I just went for it," said Sowinski, a junior. "I had a good start, and I wanted to extend the lead and finish as far ahead as I could. I could feel [runner-up McGrath] in the turn, but I just try to keep the lead and not worry about where they are. This means a lot to me because I've been working for this since my freshman year. It's been my goal to win an event. I beat [race favorite] Jade Song [of North Allegheny] last year in this event."

Latrobe coach Grey Arrigonie said Sowinski finished second in the 200 a year ago and was determined to do better this year. He also said her title could mean some dividends for his team.

"When you have an athlete like that on your team, it's going to motivate the girls to train harder and push themselves," he said.

The Wildcats almost had a second individual champion as Kayla Owens was leading in the final few yards of the 100 breaststroke, but was outtouched by favorite Katie Fernander of Hampton. Fernander won the event with a time of 1:03.20 with Owens just behind in 1:02.23.

Arrigonie said the program has had some WPIAL champions in the past, but he has hopes for the program's future.

"It's a little hard to say if it will bring kids into the program," he said. "But people do notice it and can see what we are doing."

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