East Xtra: Norwin junior targets two golds at state meet

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Kathryn Painter prefers to win by coming from behind.

Unfortunately for Painter, there are very few swimmers in the WPIAL who can build any kind of lead ahead of her in her premier events.

A junior at Norwin, she entered the WPIAL Class AAA swimming championships as the top seed in the 200-yard individual medley and 500 freestyle. She held serve, winning WPIAL gold in both events.

"She doesn't like being seeded first," Norwin swimming coach Neil Rushnock said. "She was really nervous there, but she just pulled away in the IM and the 500 free, she is just so strong."

She won the 200 individual medley with a time of 2:02.69, coming within less than a second of a 10-year-old WPIAL record of 2:01.92. This year Painter was 2.37 seconds faster than her closest competitor, North Allegheny junior Morgan Soulia.

Painter won the 500 freestyle with a time of 4:56.48, finishing ahead of the runner-up, Peters Township senior Saoirse Paul-Benson (5:00.16).

Painter advanced to the PIAA Class AAA championships, which began yesterday and continue today at Bucknell University, and the good news for Painter is that she is no longer seeded first.

"She is seeded second in the state in both the 200 IM and the 500 free -- she is actually happy about that," Rushnock said.

In the 200 individual medley her seed time of 2:01.69 behind only Hershey senior Meaghan Raab (1:59.07) and in the 500 freestyle, her seed time of 4:56.48 is second only to Cumberland Valley senior Sabrina Mortell (4:54.31).

"She likes to come from behind," Rushnock said. "Being seeded second, that is really going to push her. We will see what happens."

Painter was scheduled to compete in the 200 individual medley on Wednesday with the 500 freestyle event being contested today.

Painter will not be traveling alone to Bucknell University, she helped a pair of Norwin relay teams finish eighth at WPIALs and the 400 freestyle relay was fast enough to receive an at-large bid to the states.

The relay is seeded 20th among the 24-team field with a time of 3:36.64. Painter swam the relay with sophomores Rachael Smrekar and Hannah Rusinko and junior Courteney Hubert.

"The girls are realistic about their chances but they are excited," Rushnock said. "They wanted to swim states on the Monday after WPIALs they were so excited. They are really pumped for states."

The relay dropped five seconds from its previous best time this season and came within two seconds of setting the school record in the 400 freestyle relay at WPIALs and at states the foursome of Painter, Smrekar, Rusinko and Hubert will have a great chance to make a run at the program record.

The relay team will compete today, the same day Painter swims the 500 freestyle.

Painter made her WPIAL championship debut two years ago as a freshman and she swam the 200 individual medley and 100 breaststroke, finishing fourth and eighth, respectively. Last season she took a year off from high school swimming and just swam with the Norwin Aqua Club.

She rejoined the team this year and at the Westmoreland County Coaches Association meet she set the school record in the 200 individual medley and 500 freestyle. She improved on those records at WPIALs.

"She brings a lot to the table," Rushnock said. "She can swim anything. She lifts the team and the girls step up.

"They can see in the relays with Kathryn they are getting close to the records and they really work hard."

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