Parkersburg girls rally to win back-to-back state titles

MORGANTOWN — The Parkersburg High girls’ swim team delivered down the stretch in a big way Friday, claiming first-place finishes in the final two events of the state meet to come from behind and win the state championship at the WVU Natatorium.

In the second-to-last event of the meet, the Big Reds’ Jaden Welsh set a new state meet record in the 100-yard breaststroke, finishing in 1:05.79 to pull PHS to within one point of Bridgeport.

“I knew that I was close to my time and really needed to push myself to get there and it was one of the best feelings to be able to touch that trophy again,” Welsh said.

While the Indians entered the 400 freestyle relay with 139 points, the Big Reds had 138 and Wheeling Park remained plenty in the mix with 137.

However, in that final event, the quartet of Welsh, Grace Cox, Emma Padden and Olivia Collett worked together to finish first in the 400 freestyle relay with a time of 3:43.28.

With George Washington’s foursome taking second and Bridgeport coming in third, the Big Reds were able to win their second straight state championship with a total of 170 points.

“To be able to win back-to-back is awesome,” PHS coach Terry Nisewarner said. “Last year, we kind of had an idea we had a really good chance to win. This year, we thought we were just coming in and fighting for second. To be able to pull it out is amazing.

“On our last relay, we were a point behind, but we also knew we had the top time and we had a lot of our good girls in that relay so we thought we could win that relay. I just told them to make sure they had good starts and not to have a false start. That’s what they did and they pulled it out. It’s an amazing feeling.”

Bridgeport (163) and Wheeling Park (143) finished second and third, respectively.

Parkersburg got off to the start it desired when Welsh, Cox, Padden and Marymichael Strobl formed a first-place 200 medley relay team with a finish time of 1:50.52. That was good enough for a new state meet record, topping the previous mark of 1:50.84 that George Washington accomplished in 2016.

“The medley relay just kicked into gear. As soon as we broke the record, it was just like we were ready for the rest of the meet,” Welsh said. “We were all pumped up leading into everything and the team was really excited for it.”

Cox then made it two wins in as many events for the Big Reds by taking first in the 200 freestyle at 1:54.73.

After Spring Valley’s Elin Sodersten won the 200 individual medley at 2:09.46, Wheeling Park’s Abby Turner took first in the 50 freestyle at 24.44 and Cabell Midland’s Brooke Blom was the top finisher in the 100 butterfly at 56.82.

Turner and Sodersten then each won individual titles again, with Turner taking first in the 100 freestyle at 52.90 and Sodersten winning the 500 freestyle at 5:08.25.

Bridgeport earned a key victory in the 200 freestyle relay, with Maria Lacaria, Sarah Stallman, Darian Spencer and Cheyanne Rohde forming the winning team with a finish time of 1:44.08.

That set the stage for the 100 backstroke, an event won by Wheeling Park’s Sarah Heilman with a finish of 58.98. Heilman edged Bridgeport’s Olivia Urse (59.16), setting the stage for the frenzied finish.

“We had two state records today. Those don’t get broken every year and to be able to break two is rare,” Nisewarner said. “I couldn’t think of any better way to finish the season out.

Fairmont Senior and Hurricane rounded out the top five in the team standings with 108 and 95 points, respectively.

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