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Bedford senior Shackley leads area crop of swimmers to PIAA championships

Mar. 15—Bedford senior Leah Shackley has been putting in the work to make sure she situates herself for another possible golden weekend at Bucknell University, site of the PIAA Class 2A swimming and diving championships Friday and Saturday.

With four state gold medals and two swimmer-of-the-meet awards already on her resume, Shackley leads an area contingent looking to earn a spot on the podium over the next two days.

"I am really excited about the possibility of winning my fifth and sixth state titles," said Shackley, an eight-time District 6 champion and six-time state medalist. "It makes me really proud to again represent my hometown, Bedford."

The North Carolina State signee enters as the top seed in the 100-yard back and 100 butterfly with new District 6-record times of 50.43 and 51.16 seconds, respectively. Her state marks from 2023 stand at 51.61 and 51.93, respectively.

"Obviously, it is to win both events, but my reach goal is to go sub 49.61 in the 100 back," Shackley said.

The 2023 World Aquatics Junior Swimming Championships winner in the 50 butterfly and 2023 Junior National Championships victor in the 200 back has been training for the state meet as well as other important events on the horizon.

"We have been blending my preparation for the PIAA meet while staying focused on training for the U.S. Olympic Trials this June," Shackley said.

"This will be my last short course meet until I swim at N.C. State in the fall, so a lot of sprinting and focusing on the little things."

Westmont Hilltop senior Sasha Innis is in the 50 and 100 free events.

She is a six-time District 6 champion, three in each event. The Cleveland State signee's seeded times are 24.98 and 54.95, respectively. She finished in 18th place in both races in 2023.

"In her four years of swimming for Westmont Hilltop, Sasha has always put the team accomplishments first and her individual accomplishments second," Westmont Hilltop coach Jay Hicks said. "Sasha not only pushed herself at swim practices, but she also then worked outside the pool by building strength and agility through her dry land program.

"All of her hard work and dedication in and out of the pool showed why she was the district champion in both her events and why she was a valuable member of our medal-winning relays each year."

Innis, senior Karlee Kohan and juniors Reese Ramirez and London Baloglou have a seeded time of 1:48.31 in the 200 free relay.

"At districts last year when our girls relay team took second in the 200 medley relay and fifth in the 200 free relay, we decided that this year, we were not only going to get back on the podium at districts, but we wanted to be at the top," Hicks said.

"We have a very special group of girls that not only encourages one another in and out of the pool, but also push each other to be the very best every time they dive into the pool. Our four girls have been swimming together for a long time and this chemistry between them is what helped propel us to the state championship this year."

Richland senior Aiden Culp won a District 6 title in the 100 back with a time of 56.99.

"Aiden is driven to beat his time of 56.99 from the District 6 championship meet," Richland coach Maria Baroni said.

"We have been working on his starts and turns to make sure they are dialed in for the meet.

"Aiden wants to place higher than he is seeded at states, so we have been continuing to work on staying disciplined when fatiguing in the race to make sure we do not let off the gas pedal."

Culp, senior Caleb Coward and sophomores Ben Rzasa and Spencer Kovalsky have a seeded time of 3:38.3 in the 400 free relay.

"This relay is a labor of love for the boys," Baroni said.

"We accomplished our goal of winning the 400 relay at districts, now we have to finish the mission and do well at states. Caleb, Aiden, Ben and Spencer rally around each other and have brought the best out of one another.

"Within the relay, they each know their role and want to do their part for their teammates. Most importantly, they have fun swimming with each other. They have all had this goal and knew that it could only be accomplished by working together. I look forward to see our improvements this weekend."

Conemaugh Township sophomore Aidan Burnworth will race in the 50 free with a time of 22.7. Blacklick Valley senior Noah Marsinko has the 20th-best time (54.01) in the 100 butterfly. Central Cambria sophomore Ethan Haycisak is in the 500 free with a time of 5:23.6.

Jake Oswalt is a copy editor for The Tribune-Democrat. Follow him on Twitter @TheWizOfOz11.