North Xtra: North Allegheny senior enjoys a golden finish

PIAA SWIMMING

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Zach Buerger closed out his high school swimming career by defending his title.

Actually, he defended both of his titles.

After winning a pair of gold medals last year as a junior at the PIAA Class AAA swimming and diving championships in the 200 individual medley and the 500 freestyle, Buerger returned as a senior member of the North Allegheny boys swimming team last week to reclaim his crown in both events.

"He had an outstanding weekend," North Allegheny coach Patrick Wenzel said. "He was fantastic. He was the defending champ in both events and set some big-time goals this season. He reached those goals over the weekend."

Buerger swam a 1:45.64 in the 200-yard individual medley and a 4:22.75 in the 500-yard freestyle at Bucknell University's Kinney Natatorium. He also earned the event's outstanding swimmer award.

"It was an awesome way to end his high school career," Wenzel said. "Zach was a great leader for us. He was awesome to coach. It has been nice to see him grow into the man he is and see him progress in his swimming career."

Buerger also competed with North Allegheny's 400-freestyle relay team that finished third at the state finals. He led off the relay and was followed by Max Staresinic, Casey Melzer and Sam Rutan.

Behind Buerger, North Allegheny's boys team finished in second place overall with 202 points behind winner La Salle College High of suburban Philadelphia (280 points) and ahead of third-place Upper St. Clair (192.5).

"It really was an exciting meet," said Buerger, who lives in McCandless. "As a team, we swam really well. For myself, I'm obviously happy with how I performed, especially since I thought I didn't have the greatest of seasons last year."

At last year's state finals, Buerger swam a 1:48.08 in the 200 IM and a 4:28.12 in the 500 freestyle.

"I really focused on my weaknesses," Buerger said. "I wanted to fix my breaststroke for the [individual medley]. Working on that really helped give me an edge and advantage this year."

At the WPIAL finals three weeks ago, North Allegheny won gold as a team with 373.5 points. Buerger set a district record at Pitt's Trees Pool in the 200 IM with a 1:49.13 finish.

"Zach is a true all-around swimmer," Wenzel said. "He swims the 100 freestyle, the 100 backstroke and the 400 freestyle relay. He can do anything for you.

"He's always been pretty good and never stopped working hard. He had so much success this year and that's because he always put in the extra work to get better."

Buerger credits his success this season to the training he did with his teammates as well as the additional work he put in toward improving his breaststroke.

"Working on my breaststroke with Casey Melzer was a big help," Buerger said. "He really was there with me through every stroke. It was nice to have a good partner to train with.

"Sam Rutan was also someone good to swim against. He beat me many times in practice. He had an outstanding year, too."

Buerger actually comes from a successful swimming family.

His father, David, competed for both Churchill High School and Allegheny College, while his uncle, Daniel, swam at Duke. Buerger's older brothers, Jonathan and Matthew, both competed at North Allegheny and currently swim collegiately. Jonathan is a senior at Virginia, while Matthew is a sophomore at Notre Dame.

"I didn't have the opportunity to swim with Jon in high school, but outside the pool he's always encouraged and motivated me," Buerger said. "With Matthew, it was really nice to train and compete with him in high school. He's always helped and encouraged me. Competing against him in the same events was some good motivation."

Zach Buerger will continue his swimming career at the college level next year at Princeton University.

"I knew I wanted to go to a school that was really good in academics as well as athletics," Buerger said. "I narrowed it down between Harvard and Princeton and visited both campuses. At Princeton, I really liked the team and I really felt comfortable there."

Wenzel believes Buerger has a bright future.

"If he continues to keep working hard and put up the times he needs in that league, he'll strive to make it at the NCAA finals and at Olympic trials," Wenzel said. "He's a great swimmer and was a great leader for us."


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