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OP TRIO HAS SIGHTS ON GRAND FINALE

As endings go, Martha Whistler, Alaina Thiel and Marie Wolbert are planning on this being a happy one.

When the three Orchard Park seniors end their high school careers at today's New York State Swimming and Diving Championships, they look for their exit to be a grand one by winning all three relay events.

The 27th annual championships are being held in the Erie Community College Burt Flickinger Aquatic Center. If Friday's preliminaries are any indication, the hardware is OP's for the taking. The Quakers had the fastest qualifying times in each relay. Consider:

The 200-meter medley of Whistler, Thiel, Wolbert and Hannah Whistler finished in 1:50.72, not far off Ursuline's state record of 1:49.53. The state title would be OP's fifth in a row.

The 200 free relay of Martha Whistler, Wolbert, Thiel and freshman Megan Smith finished in 1:37.92, a comfortable two seconds ahead of second seed Lockport. OP holds the state record at 1:37.35.

The 400 free relay of Martha Whistler, Smith, Wolbert and Thiel qualified in 3:34.91, awfully close to Newburgh's 2001 state record of 3:34.55.

"(Winning all three relays has) been their goal since Day One," said OP coach Art Aungst. "Whether we do it or not, I don't know, but I like our chances. I'm not going to bet against us."

Section VI qualified three teams in the final of the 200 free relay: OP (first), Lockport (second) and East Aurora (eighth).

Martha Whistler is also the favorite in the 50 free. She swam a 24.17 to finish with the fastest qualifying time.

"I have to get off the blocks and go faster," said Whistler, who went 24.09 last year. "It felt a little slow. I did what I had to do for tomorrow so that's OK."

Whistler will be in fast company when the finals in all events begin at 10:15 a.m. There are four defending state champions.

Senior Sara Daly of Garden City-VIII looks to win her fourth straight title in the 500 freestyle. She qualified second behind Kimi Kelly of Ursuline-I. Kelly is also the top seed in the 200.

Junior Kierstin Koronowicz of Newburgh Free Academy-IX, last year's 200 freestyle winner, is seeded third. Junior Bridget O'Connor of Scarsdale-I is the top seed and defending champ in the 100 butterfly. Senior Michelle Combs of Newburgh looks to make it two 100 backstroke titles as a No. 3 seed.

Karly Brooks of Scotia-II tries to double after finishing with the fastest prelim times in the 200 IM (2:05.53) and 100 back (57.19).

While OP's relays will yield its share of points, Section VI should also score well in diving. Following Friday's eight-dive prelims, Section VI had four divers in the top 10. Three dives remain today. Junior Kelly Beatty of Grand Island was third, seventh-grader Casey Matthews of Williamsville North was fifth, Section VI champion Shana Dege of Lockport was seventh and sophomore Christina Rua of North Tonawanda was ninth.

Junior diver Erika Matheis of Webster-V leads the field by nine points heading into the final.

It was a mostly humbling day for the young Section VI team in individual events. Section VI failed to qualify anyone for the finals in the 200 free, 200 IM, 100 fly, 100 free, 500 free and 100 back.

Freshman Samantha Palma of Lancaster joined Martha Whistler as a finalist in the 50 free.

Junior Anneli Johnson of Frewsburg will represent the section in the finals of the 100 breast. Her time of 1:07.71 gained All-American consideration.

The best finish among the four Monsignor Martin Association swimmers was freshman Laura Powalski of Mount St. Mary, who was 11th in the 50 free.
e-mail: mmonnin@buffnews.com

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