There’s something about the rivalry between the Foxes and Franklin Regional swim teams that brings out the best and most competitive performances on each team. That didn’t change on February 6th when the Lady Foxes all but wrapped up the WPIAL Class 3A section 3 title. Overall, seven pool and two school records were broken and a third was missed by.5. Overall, there 30 WPIAL qualifying times between the boys and girls.
For the seniors on this team, it was a fitting bookend. The last time the girls team won the section was when they were freshmen. There were many highlights this time around too, including those of two of the WPIAL’s best swimmers in the 100 backstroke, senior Leia Ross and freshman Talia Bugel. Both had already qualified for WPIALs, but their performances on the sixth were their best yet and put the Foxes in a good position to have two medalists from the same event on the WPIAL winner’s podium.
Impressively, Talia’s new school record time of 55.87 in the 100 back leads all WPIAL Class 3A girls swimmers. She also qualified for the championship races in the 200 IM, 50 free, 100 free, 200 free, and 500 free, and as a member of the record-setting 400 relay team that beat the pool record by nearly three seconds.
Leia’s was previously ranked seventh in the 100 back, but her new time should lift her final ranking. At that same meet, Leia set a new pool record in the 200 freestyle with a 1:56.78 and swam as part of the 400 free relay team. Additionally, Leia qualified for the 2020 WPIALs in the 200 IM, 200 freestyle, and as part of the 400 relay team. She has decided to focus on the 100 back and 200 freestyle at the WPIAL championships.
Leia: A lot of enthusiasm and energy
“I’ve loved the water since I was young,” says Leia, an Edinboro University recruit. “I didn’t start swimming until I was about 10, but when I did, I took a natural liking to it and started taking lessons on the weekend.”
When she started swimming competitively, her main events were the fly and freestyle, but Leia eventually transitioned to include the backstroke.
“I think backstroke fits me well because I have pretty nice underwaters,” says Leia. “If you can do nice underwaters and get the footage, you can do well.”
In order to get to the level of success she’s reached so far, Leia has been swimming year round for some time now, and estimates she only takes off about three weeks out of the entire year – and they are not consecutive weeks.
Unlike her younger counterpart, Leia has a lot of experience at the WPIAL and PIAA levels. Last year, she was on the 200 medley relay team that broke the school record, qualified for WPIALs in the 100 back, 200 IM, 200 free, and as part of the 4 x 100 relay team. She finished as a WPIAL finalist in the 100 back and advanced to the PIAA championships.
“Leia brings a lot of enthusiasm and energy to the team. She is always has a positive attitude both at practice and at meets,” says Coach Dan Taylor.
Talia: Never takes off a set
Talia loves to read science fiction novels, so perhaps it’s not too far off to say her swimming is otherworldly, especially for someone so young who is competing against girls who are up to four years older than her.
“I’m always a little nervous before a big meet because I know there is a lot at stake,” she says. But those nerves have worked to her benefit. In her second meet of the season, she broke the school record in the 100 back, and then did it again. Her most recent time brings her closer to her personal goal of near 55 seconds. She also is a member of the new pool record-setting 4 x 100 relay team. In club swimming, Talia swam at the Junior National Meet in December 2019.
“Talia really pushes herself in practice and never takes off a set. Her work ethic is a big reason why she is the top ranked backstroker in the WPIAL,” adds Coach Taylor.
Talia’s start in the sport goes way back.
“I started swimming when I was really young with the Mommy and Me classes, and then did lessons,” says Talia. “My teacher said I had some talent, so I started competing at eight or nine years-old, and by the time I was 11, I was super serious about it and started to really want to win.”
In addition to her achievements on the high school circuit, Talia qualified for the USA Swimming Junior National Meet, where she swam the 50 free, 100 fly, and 100 back. Her next big meet after PIAAs is the AMS Junior Olympics that will be held March 5, 2020. She enjoys competing against the boys on the team as well as the girls. She says part of her success is due to discipline that enables her to swim year-round and travel to club swimming competitions.
“It’s tight,” Talia admits, “so I have to have a set schedule every day, and I have to follow it exactly, or it won’t work.”