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GIRLS' SPIRITS WILL RUN DEEP WITH ECIC SWIM TITLES ON LINE

The Western New York girls swimming season comes to a dramatic finale with division leaders meeting in regular-season finales with ECIC I, ECIC II, ECIC III titles on the line.

Orchard Park (8-0) and Williamsville North (8-0) travel to UB on Oct. 28 at 7 p.m. to decide the ECIC I title. In meets Friday, Williamsville East (6-0) is at Amherst (5-0) to swim for the Division II crown, and Cheektowaga (5-0) is at East Aurora (5-0) in Division III.

The Quakers ended North's ECIC I title run at four last year. North coach Doug Cassidy said he expects times to be "blistering" and added, "this could be the fastest dual meet of all time. I hate to throw in hyperbole, but it's certainly going to be exciting."

The meet features the Western New York swimming leaders in 10 of 12 events. North expects its share of first places from senior Ilene Solomon, a member of last year's Section VI state team. Solomon has the fastest times in Western New York in the 200 freestyle, 50 free and 100 free.

Gigi Tapia is having a solid senior season with the fastest time in the 200 individual medley. "Mentally, she's the toughest competitor I've ever coached," said Cassidy. "She's unflappable. It doesn't matter who she's going against."

Sarah Brodbeck has the area's fastest time in the 100 backstroke. Solomon, Brodbeck and Lisa Ranzenhofer are members of North's three relays teams that have the area's best times.

Three freshman -- Ranzenhofer, Heather Solomon and diver Tracy Hoover -- give the Spartans depth. Hoover is a fearless, all-around athlete who rountinely nails dives with a difficulty over 2.0.

"I tell my girls, and this is the gospel truth, that on paper there's no question that Orchard Park is better than us," said Cassidy. "But when you're in a pool, it's the team with the greatest desire and the biggest heart, and I would never sell the Spartans short."

Orchard Park hasn't had its fastest combinations together yet on its relay teams, but that's expected to change by Tuesday. The Quakers are experienced and deep. Five swimmers have state meet experience: sophomore Lauren Cadigan, sophomore Kierstyn Thayer, senior Jeannette Nigon, sophomore Kristy Stone and senior Laura Bartlett. Seven-grader Martha Whistler is emerging in the sprints.

In ECIC II, Williamsville East looks to repeat as champions. Senior Renee Zimmerman can swim a variety of events, but her strengths are the 200 IM and 100 fly. Senior Misha Wagner is a freestyle specialist, and senior Priscilla Caputo has not lost this season in diving.

Amherst counters with senior sprinter Penny Johnson, who holds three individual school records. Freshman Meghan Fadel is solid in the distances, and eighth-grader Sarah Morris just broke a pool record in the 100 butterfly.

In ECIC III, Cheektowaga is looking to unseat perennial powerhouse East Aurora for the second straight year. "We're pretty much a nobody team because nobody expects us to be any good," said Warriors coach Lori DeSimone. "It's been a big thing for us since we managed to come from nowhere last year."

Cheektowaga's Melissa Luczkowiak leads the area in the 100 breaststroke. Lisa Schirching will be considered a favorite in every event she enters.

East Aurora is led by its tri-captains: twins Patsy and Theresa Ernst and Alyssa Darmott. Patsy is a freestyler while Theresa thrives in the 200 IM, backstroke and breaststroke. Darmott's strengths are the butterfly and freestyle events.

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