West Xtra: West Allegheny junior has golden moments at state swim meet

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Jarod Kehl had a feeling his hard work was going to pay off.

A junior member of West Allegheny High School's boys swimming and diving team, Kehl had lost three very close races to Chartiers Valley's Drew Damich during the past two years.

Kehl narrowly missed out on state gold at last year's PIAA finals when he lost to Damich in the 500-yard freestyle. Then, three weeks ago at the WPIAL championships, he was edged by Damich in the 200 freestyle and again in the 500 freestyle.

Kehl, though, finally dethroned his swimming nemesis.

At last week's PIAA swimming championships at Bucknell University's Kinney Natatorium pool, Kehl emerged from the waters with gold medals in the 200 and 500 freestyle events. Damich finished second in both races.

"I knew last year when Drew beat me I had to start working hard to get better," said Kehl, who lives in Imperial. "That really drove me this year to get those gold medals and basically just win."

Kehl swam a 1:42.19 in the 200, while finishing 4:28.80 in the 500.

"I put in a lot of hard work training," Kehl said. "All the time and effort really paid off and I was able to accomplish my goals."

Longtime West Allegheny swimming coach Bob Miller was well aware Kehl had his sights set pretty high this season.

"Jarod is a goal-oriented kid," Miller said. "He's the type of kid you love to coach. He asks and studies what he needs to do to improve.

"He works hard to know what he needs to do to compete and knows what times other people across the country are swimming.

"Every night he works after practice to get better.

"He'll do whatever it takes to improve."

Damich won WPIAL gold in the 200 with a 1:42.51 finish compared to Kehl's time of 1:42.78. In the 500, Damich's time (4:35.88) just beat Kehl (4:36.96).

Kehl, however, quickly forgot about those WPIAL times.

"Winning a WPIAL gold is nice for our district, but once you get to states, everything changes," he said. "You always want to do well and go for gold, but winning state gold means more to me than anything."

At the state finals, Kehl also had to the opportunity to compete with West Allegheny's 400-yard freestyle relay team. He led off and was followed by freshmen Gary McMutries, Ashton Pietrovoni and Michael Kocher.

"Jarod is a versatile young man and he can perform anywhere in line," Miller said. "He's been a good leader for our younger guys. We had 15 swimmers this year and 10 were freshmen, so these guys get to see what they need to do to get to that level.

"I'd love to have a dozen more of Jarod. The younger guys feed off him and learn from him. He sets the bar so high and pushes them to get better."

Throughout the year, Kehl competed in the 100, 200 and 500 freestyle events as well as the 200 individual medley. He set school record times for each, as well.

"In nearly 40 years of coaching, I have only had a few swimmers as goal-oriented and who worked so hard toward those goals," Miller said. "Jarod is obsessed with swimming faster every day. Even when he's not feeling his best, he comes back to the pool the next day and digs it out."

Kehl also has noticed a few obvious improvements since last year.

"My strokes have improved, big time," he said. "I've become stronger and have more leg power. I guess overall, I've become bigger and stronger and that has made me more efficient in the water."

Kehl will continue to compete as an individual at both regional and national competitions. In May, he will swim at USA Swimming's Arena Grand Prix in Charlotte, N.C.

"I'm going to continue to swim and continue to work to get better results," Kehl said. "I do extra stuff in and out of the pool almost every day. I continue to do more than I did the previous year and I'm starting to set and go after goals for next year."

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