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OP swimmer Ernst has a secret weapon: the snooze button

If Andrea Ernst wants to pick up her share of W’s in her races, she knows she needs plenty of ZZZZZZ’s.

The Orchard Park junior is convinced a good night’s sleep before her bigger meets has helped make her the accomplished swimmer she is.

“I like to get a lot of sleep the night before,” Ernst said. “If I don’t get enough sleep, it’s hard to wake up in the morning and I can tell throughout my daily activities that I am lacking in my sleep.”

Ernst, 16, likes to get eight-plus hours of sleep on the eve of big races. She’ll be hitting the sack early next week as the Section VI Championships are Nov. 6-7 at Erie Community College.

In a season in which so much talent in Section VI graduated, Ernst is the returning face of girls swimming in Western New York. A fierce competitor, she is the defending state champion in the 100 freestyle. Her time of 50.88 at last year’s states in Ithaca also broke the Section VI record.

“After I swam that race I looked up at the wrong lane and I thought I got second,” said Ernst, “but everyone was really excited, and then I finally realized I won. I was really excited to break 51 seconds.”

Ernst would love to duplicate the success she had at last year’s sectionals. She was a double winner as a sophomore, taking the 200 free in 1:50.66 and the 100 butterfly in 57.04. She said she knows she’s swimming well when she gets off the wall fast and develops a steady stroke count and breathing pattern.

So far she has hit the state cut time in the 50 free, 100 free and 100 fly, and is within decimals in the 200 free.

Ernst started swimming when she was 9. Before that she was in dance and also tried skiing, basketball and soccer before her family joined a country club swim team. From there she was hooked. She said she stays motivated by watching her times drop, the direct result of the work she puts in.

First-year Quakers coach Bret Norvilitis said Ernst is capable of dropping her times like crazy in the big meets. He’s also impressed with how respectful and gracious Ernst is with her competitors.

He said at this year’s meet at Lancaster, Ernst went up against another of the section’s top swimmers in Kristen Romano. Their 50 freestyle race couldn’t have been any closer with Ernst touching out Romano for the win.

“They were racing each other as hard as they could, and as soon as it was over, they looked up and they hugged and laughed; she was an instantly happy kid with her buddy, that made an impression on me,” Norvilitis said. “I get the impression she’s reserved, focused, determined, and I also don’t get the idea she’s dragging around a lot of baggage. It’s important that she has a perspective like that.”

Orchard Park has plenty of swimmers who will score points for them at sectionals. In diving, senior Morgan Wellenzohn was the only representative from Section VI at states a year ago. She finished an impressive third with 439.45 points. She cruised to the ECIC title on Saturday.

Last week at Jamestown, she shattered the pool and OP school six-dive record with 314.85 points. Another diver, freshman Jolie Blodgett, is ranked second in Section VI behind Wellenzohn and has been improving consistently.

“She’s got all the tools to be fantastic in the years to come,” said Norvilitis.

Sophomore Olivia Sapio has already qualified for states in the 200 and 200 individual medley.

OP finished 9-1 in ECIC I with the loss coming to Clarence. They also lost to Fairport by three points in the second meet of the season.

“It was good to push ourselves early,” said Norvilitis. “These girls are not afraid of a challenge. Some teams don’t want to face a team that may beat them. These girls want to go out and that’s what I love about them.”

email: mmonnin@buffnews.com