Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Despite Obstacles, Mars Girls Find Way to Win

Newspaper article Pittsburgh Post-Gazette (Pittsburgh, PA)

Despite Obstacles, Mars Girls Find Way to Win

Article excerpt

Early in the morning on Jan. 8, the Mars Area High School swimming team shivered in the cold Pine-Richland pool.

Mars shares Pine-Richland's pool, because the Planets do not have their own. On that particular winter's day, the heat had been off overnight and the pool hadn't warmed up in time for the Planets' morning practice.

"They were a little chilly," Mars coach Heidi Brandon recalled. "So I kept them moving."

When asked if the cold temperatures made the Planets swim faster, Brandon answered: "No, they just shivered a lot."

Icy practices, a shared pool, and only 13 swimmers on the girls' side -- these are situations that might pose difficulty for many swimming teams. But the Mars girls motor on, ready to compete in any event to which they are called.

Before Christmas, Mars competed against Section 2-AAA's Hampton. Mars usually competes in Section 3-AA, but the school size difference didn't stop the Planets girls team from contending.

Hampton won the 50-yard freestyle. The Talbots also swept the dives -- a predicament that gave Mars the task of making up a 13- point deficit.

So Mars scrapped and swam. Maggie Gruber, a four-time WPIAL champion and Virginia Tech signee, won the 200-yard individual medley as well as the 100-backstroke. Junior Caroline Pacey won the 200-yard freestyle event for Mars, and junior Nicole Parrish won the 100 butterfly.

But the 500-yard freestyle race became the go-ahead race for the Planets. Senior Phoebe Pierre and junior Amanda Alikhani skillfully secured first and second place in the event. But junior Jessica Ott had a close battle with Hampton's Samantha Petrisko for third place.

Petrisko's lane was between Alikhani's and Pierre's. Ott still swam fast enough to beat Petrisko. The race occurred in front of a packed pool deck of fans from both Hampton and Mars.

In the end, Mars tied Hampton, but the event marked a significant comeback for the small Planets team.

"I have a group of girls who can really swim a lot of different events," said Brandon. …

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