Monday, February 5, 2024 | 9:18 AM
Kevin Clougherty is coaching his 27th season for the Hempfield swimming teams.
This is the youngest roster he’s had.
“Most years, you always teach, but you focus more on work,” Clougherty said. “This year has been a lot of teaching, instruction and refining.”
This year’s young swimmers have a lot to live up to given what last year’s seniors accomplished. Gone are WPIAL champion sprinter Dom Falcon and five more departing seniors who made last year’s all-state team.
“It was a dynamite class, and it’s tough to lose a class like that,” Clougherty said.
Clougherty’s first lesson to start the season was getting the young swimmers acclimated to the Spartan way. He’s relied on his upperclassmen to be the guides.
“We’re fortunate enough that we’ve had a good number of years of solid success,” Clougherty said. “It was important that our upperclassmen were able to make sure the younger kids knew that by teaching them the work ethic, the commitment and the responsibilities that come with the tradition of being on this team.”
The boys, who finished 10-2 overall and second in Section 1-3A last season, sit third in the section at 1-1 and a 3-3 overall.
According to Clougherty, the biggest hurdle they cleared was the first meet of the season against Derry on Dec. 12.
“It was a chance for the two seniors to step out of the shadow of the guys that went before them,” he said. “It was a chance for them to establish their leadership.”
Those seniors are Brock Maloney and Mikah Lohr. Maloney is working hard and doing a solid job in the 50 freestyle.
“We’ve been fortunate over the years to have a number of very fast sprinters who have either won or come in second at the WPIALs in the 50 free,” Clougherty said. “Brock has moved up to be our next big sprinter.”
Lohr takes on the most physically demanding job for the team, swimming the 100 butterfly and 500 freestyle in back-to-back events during meets, something that is quite rare.
“He just loves it, relishes a challenge,” Clougherty said. “If he can’t swim them back-to-back, he feels like he’s letting the team down.”
Sophomore Isaac Cooper is showing signs of being a future great Spartans sprinter, and sophomore Connor Morgese is in just his second year of competitive swimming but has become a bright spot in the 200 and 500 freestyle.
“Isaac has shown that innate ability to swim fast, and Connor has the potential to be a very strong kid in the future and a main kid in Westmoreland County in his events,” Clougherty said.
On the diving board for the boys, Tanner Collins is putting together a solid season, even after dealing with three coaching changes in his four years.
Collins has qualified for WPIALs in diving, and Maloney has qualified in the 50 and 100 free and Lohr in the 100 fly.
Senior captains Hannah Uhrinek and Brynn Mayercheck lead a girls team (2-4, 0-2) that struggled at the start of the season with two straight losses but has won two of its last four meets.
Clougherty loved the fight he saw from the girls Jan. 16 at Gateway.
The Lady Spartans were losing from the beginning of the meet, and at one point were down 12, but they slowly kept creeping back and needed first- and third-place finishes in the last race to pull out a win. They placed first and second, closing out the meet with a 94-89 victory.
“They were engaged the entire time, and that was interesting to see,” Clougherty said. “Kids kept running up to me with ideas on strategy. Pretty fun to see the way these kids are committed to the program and being successful.”
Uhrinek swims the 100 fly, and Mayercheck is a key component of the relay teams. Junior Addi Busch is swimming well in the 200 and 500 freestyle, and fellow junior Kacey Williams has become a sprinter this year and is showing signs of being in the role full-time next year.
On the board for the girls, senior Kate Livingston could break the team record for diving before the season is over.
“She leads our strong group of divers, which might be the best group we’ve had in 25 years,” Clougherty said.
The teams will look to close out the season strong against section foe Penn-Trafford on Feb. 8.
“We’re all mirror images of each other. All of us have recently lost big time swimmers, we all have young teams,” Clougherty said of the Warriors and fellow rival Norwin. “There’s a youth movement in the sport across the county, and it’s interesting to see how it all plays out over the next couple of years. It should be fun.”
Even though the Spartans suffered losses coming into this season, the future looks bright with the young talent being developed.
“Our seniors’ leadership this year has been exceptional,” Clougherty said.
“They have communicated what it means to be successful to the younger swimmers. We’re fortunate, we have great kids.”