By: Michael Love
Wednesday, March 13, 2019 | 10:11 PM
Michael Love | Tribune-Review
Ian Shahan started Wednesday’s evening session of the PIAA Class AA swimming championships with his Belle Vernon teammates in the boys 200-yard medley relay.
The quartet finished fifth overall, and Shahan found himself on the medals podium.
But the sophomore wasn’t done.
Shahan returned in the 100 butterfly and produced a personal-best time of 48.83 seconds to capture the state title.
“Deep down, I felt I had a best race in me,” he said. “I was a little nervous. I always am when it comes to these big meets. I want to do whatever I can to see how fast I can go.”
Shahan, the WPIAL champion in the 100 fly, was seeded fourth for the finals after recording a 50.15 in the preliminaries.
“I knew when I came to the wall I had a really bad finish,” he said. “I had short-stroked my wall. But when I looked up, it was exciting to see my time and see first place.”
Shahan was focused on bringing home the crown after finishing runner-up last year. Holy Redeemer senior Adam Mahler, last year’s state champion, placed third (49.03).
“I just want to swim my best race and improve my times, but there also is a little of, ‘(Mahler) beat me last year. Let’s see if I can beat him this year.’ ”
Shahan swam three times in the preliminaries and three more in the finals, and he was grateful for a little rest before his 100 freestyle prelim Thursday. He is seeded first with a time of 45.48 recorded in winning the event at WPIALs.
On the girls side, Heather Gardner was seeded second for the finals in the girls 50 free Wednesday at the PIAA Class AA championships at Bucknell.
The Mt. Pleasant junior swam a time of 23.43 seconds in the finals and bettered her seed time by 30 one-hundredths of a second.
But Grove City senior Emma Wilson went just a little faster and edged Gardner for the state crown with a time of 23.14. It was the second straight PIAA title for Wilson, who also beat Gardner for the gold last year.
“I think my turn could’ve been a little better, and it could’ve been a better race all together,” Gardner said. “(Wilson) just had a better race than me.”
Gardner will return Thursday in the 100 breaststroke, and the WPIAL champion in the event is the No. 2 seed (1:03.92).
“I am looking forward to trying to beat my (seed) time, going out strong in the prelims and coming back with a good time for the finals,” she said. “I only have one person (seeded) ahead of me, so I hope I can (win the title).”
Belle Vernon senior Robert Spekis remembered his 10th-place finish in the 200 individual medley at states last year, and he made sure that he put himself in a better standing this time.
He was third after the preliminaries (1:56.84), and he held his place in the finals with a time of 1:56.95. Both were faster than his WPIAL-winning time of 1:57.41.
“I was really happy to go a best time (in the preliminaries) and come back in the finals and hold my place and my time. That was nice to see because a lot of times, people come from WPIALs to states and add time.”
Marian Catholic senior Danny Berlitz defended his 200 IM state title and cruised to a winning time of 1:47.58, seven seconds ahead of runner-up Christian Coleman, a senior from Lewisburg.
“(Berlitz) is such a great swimmer, and it’s amazing to race against him,” Spekis said. “Since he’s so fast, you have to really stick to your race strategy. I went out a little faster than I wanted, and my back half wasn’t as strong but I held my time and I’m happy with the way I swam.”
Spekis will test his mettle Thursday in the 100 breaststroke, and the WPIAL champion is the top seed (56.99).
The Belle Vernon 200 medley relay of Shahan, Spekis and seniors Isaac Evans and Alex Miller placed fifth (1:39.35), and Greensburg Salem senior William Crites finished sixth (21.62) in the boys 50 free.
The Class AA races continue Thursday morning with girls and boys preliminaries at 8 and 10:50 a.m., respectively.
Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at email@example.com or via Twitter .