Swimmers Peaking Heading Into States

The Foxes really poured on the speed at the recent 2023 WPIAL Class 3A Swimming and Diving Championships and came away with some of their strongest performances ever. Fifteen athletes will advance to the upcoming PIAA championships March 17-18 at Bucknell University.

Coach Dan Taylor wasn’t surprised by the teams’ successes.

“I have high expectations for the swimmers, and they always seem to meet or exceed those expectations,” he says. “This year was no different. Between both teams, we had 12 top-three finishes (four gold, two silver, six bronze). We were confident that the girls could finish as runner-up to North Allegheny and that the boys could finish in the top five, and both of those goals were met.”

All-American Sophie Shao won gold in the 100-yard butterfly, her fourth in as many years, and her second in the 200-yard individual medley. She is now the most decorated swimmer in Foxes history, with 10 WPIAL gold medals, six of them for individual performances, and the other four as a member of relay teams. She broke the WPIAL record in the 100 butterfly last year and, so far, has earned two PIAA gold medals in the 100 butterfly.

“I feel very grateful I got the opportunity to swim on this team and am very happy to see how much this team has grown,” Sophie says. “Coming into high school, I always imagined putting my name on that record board, but as the most decorated swimmer in Fox Chapel Area? I never thought I would be labeled as such.”

Going into states, she has a unique way of relaxing before such a milestone event – her high school finale before swimming at Brown University next season.

“I like to crochet and read to keep my cool,” Sophie says. “I’m excited and anxious as always, but I know this year will be exhilarating, and I want to enjoy my last states to the fullest. I want to leave my high school career on a good note and swim fast. With taper and more rest, I hope to have a full tank for states.”

Sophomore Christian Dantey’s gold medal in the 200-yard freestyle (1.40.85) broke a school record and signified the first time in Foxes history that a male won that event at WPIALs. His preparation for this season was a combination of intense and targeted physical training and gaining confidence.

“My main goal was to improve from last year,” says Christian, also a state qualifier in the 100-yard breaststroke, as well as the 200-yard medley and 400-yard freestyle relay. “My coaches and I had a goal time of around 1:39-1:40 (for the 200-yard freestyle). Thankfully, they set me up with practices that were wired toward achieving a 1:40. Hitting the goal times they were setting in practice really gave me confidence going into WPIALs, because I know that my coaches know what it takes to get to that next level.”

The girls 400-yard freestyle relay team earned its second consecutive gold medal and broke the school record from last season. It was an emotional win for Sophie and fellow seniors Talia Bugel and Payton O’Toole, and sophomore rising star Sarah Pasquella.

Payton, an Ashland University recruit, changed her thought process and training style this season.

“This year, specifically, I evaluated how much pressure I put on myself and how that affected me mentally,” says Payton, who also qualified for states in the 100- and 200-yard freestyle events, as well as with the 200-yard medley relay team. “I noticed that it was way too much and decided to take a new look at swimming this year. This year, I viewed swimming as a privilege and opportunity, and I think having a very positive mindset going into every practice improved my performance. Another thing is the attention to detail. I pay attention to the little things, like pushing off the wall, the timing of my breathing, the tempo of my arm speed, and so many other things.”

She also is treasuring the many momentous events this year, her last, that she shares with her teammates.

“Being a part of the back-to-back gold medals (with the 400-yard freestyle relay team) is so special,” Payton says. “Being able to see my coaches, teammates, and all the spectators’ faces when we did it was something I will never forget. Looking over to see Coach Dan smiling from ear to ear and getting a hug from him after the race was over is something I cherish and will always remember. When I moved here two years ago, I never thought I’d accomplish the things I did, but I’m beyond happy with my performance, and I’m so excited to continue it at states.”

The WPIAL competition was held March 2 and 3 at Trees Pool at the University of Pittsburgh. The medalists and/or state qualifiers are listed below.

­­­WPIAL Class 3A Swimming Championships Results
(Top 8 Finishers Medal)


Girls 200 Yard Medley Relay† – 2nd Place

Talia Bugel, Sarah Pasquella, Sophie Shao, Payton O’Toole

Girls 200 Yard Freestyle                

– Payton O’Toole† – 3rd Place

Girls 200 Yard IM       

– Sophie Shao† – 1st Place

Girls 50 Yard Freestyle                 

– Sarah Pasquella† – 3rd Place

– Talia Bugel† – 6th Place

Girls 100 Yard Butterfly                

– Sophie Shao† – 1st Place

– Margaret Rusche† – 3rd Place

Girls 200 Yard Freestyle Relay† – 4th Place

Grace Kovach, Gloria Wen, Claudia “CJ” Smith, Margaret Rusche

 Girls 100 Yard Freestyle               

– Payton O’Toole† – 4th Place

Girls 100 Yard Backstroke             

– Talia Bugel† – 3rd Place

Girls 100 Yard Breaststroke           

– Sarah Pasquella† – 3rd Place

– Isabella Marcos† – 9th Place

Girls 400 Yard Freestyle Relay† – 1st Place (3:28.06)*

Sarah Pasquella, Talia Bugel, Payton O’Toole, Sophie Shao

† = State Qualifier
* = New School Record         

The Fox Chapel Area girls team finished second overall in the WPIAL team standings.


Boys 200 Yard Medley Relay† – 6th Place

Aadil Pattada, Owen Howell, Christian Dantey, Emmanuel Drappatz

Boys 200 Yard Freestyle               

– Christian Dantey† – 1st Place (1:40.85)*

Boys 200 Yard IM                      

– Owen Howell† – 4th Place (1:54.27)*

– Henry Koloc† – 10th Place

Boys 100 Yard Backstroke             

– Aadil Pattada† – 11th Place

Boys 100 Yard Breaststroke     

– Christian Dantey† – 3rd Place (57.41)*

– Owen Howell† – 4th Place (57.52)*

Boys 400 Yard Freestyle Relay† – 2nd Place

Emmanuel Drappatz, Henry Koloc, Owen Howell, Christian Dantey


– Jackson Hagler† – 4th Place

† = State Qualifier
* = New School Record         

The Fox Chapel Area boys finished fourth overall in the WPIAL team standings.