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Trio helping Seneca Valley succeed in pool

Seneca Valley DME

JACKSON TWP — In this case, second would be good enough.

As the Seneca Valley girls swim team tunes up for this week’s WPIAL Class 3A swimming championships, a few members are realistic about the group’s goals.

Rival North Allegheny is seeded first in a pair of relay events and three more individual events. It’s not waving the white flag for the Raiders to admit silver would suffice.

“We’re trying to get runner-up,” said Seneca Valley junior Morgan Baker, who’s seeded 10th in the 200-yard freestyle with a time of 1:58.45 and eighth in the 100 freestyle (54.69). “We’re just really excited for all of our races. Last year, we got fourth and a lot of people always seem to forget about us.”

Fourteen different Raiders girls met the requirements to compete at the district meet.

“We’ve had a lot of people qualify on the girls side, which is really great,” freshman Katie Bookwalter said. “We have people who dropped a ton of time to qualify, so hopefully we’ll get second at WPIALs.”

Baker, Bookwalter, and senior Bella Kling are three performers that have made a mark for Seneca Valley this go-round. Bookwalter is rated 13th in the 200 IM (2:14.06) and Kling seventh in the 100 butterfly (58.53).

The season has been nothing but a thrilling obstacle to this point, Kling said.

“It’s been challenging but in the most exciting way,” she explained. “There’s nothing more enjoyable than having goals and challenges that you have to push through, and being surrounded by a team that’s so focused on, ‘How can we always be better?’”

The Raiders’ 400 freestyle relay is ranked first with a time of 3:35.85. That mark, a school record, was posted in the team’s final dual meet of the season. Baker, Sasha Myers, Audrey Wolfe, and Alissa Wilson made that quartet up.

“It just means a lot to us because we’ve been trying to go for it for a long time,” Baker said. “We’ve been talking about it and we’ve been working for it. ... It’s meaningful because after we leave, we still know that our names will be up (on the record board).”

It’s been Bookwalter’s first campaign with the group. She’s been swimming since she was seven years old and has stood out as the team’s top breaststroker.

“Katie’s a freshman and coming on, she really added some speed to our breaststroke,” Seneca Valley coach Brian Blackwell said. “We’ve had some good breaststrokers in the past, but ... she’s already at the top eight in the WPIAL, which gives us a really good position for our medley (relay), as well.”

Bookwalter is seeded fourth in the 100 breaststroke, her best time being 1:05.25. That’s less than two seconds behind Fox Chapel’s Sarah Pasquella, who’s ranked first.

“I really love breaststroke,” Bookwalter said. “I’ve been swimming it since I started. It’s been my stroke. I feel like if you really love a stroke, you can keep doing it for a long time.”

Kling is seeded eighth in the 100 backstroke with a time of 1:00.42.

“Bella is our flyer and our backstroker,” Blackwell said. “She’s been solid in our relays, but she also pulls in some sprint freestyle for us. She really gives us some well-rounded depth in all of our relays and individual events.”

The trio, along with the other girls who reached the WPIAL meet, help set a tone for success that should produce a solid performance.

“The camaraderie and the way they push each other in practice — the fact that they’re excited when everybody gets better, not just themselves — they really push each other to keep resetting goals,” Blackwell said.

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