WHEELING - Athletes from five area schools will look to bring home the gold at the West Virginia High School Swimming Championships, which begin this morning at West Virginia University's Natatorium in Morgantown.
Swimmers from Wheeling Park, Wheeling Central, John Marshall, Brooke and Weir will jump into the pool for the preliminaries. Boys' events will begin at 8:30 a.m., with the girls' starting at 4:30 p.m. Finalists will return at the same times Friday.
All told, 37 local athletes will participate - 26 girls and 11 boys. Wheeling Park has the most entrants with 12, followed by Brooke (11), John Marshall (six), Weir (five) and Wheeling Central (three).
Park is participating in 14 events, with Brooke swimming in 13. John Marshall is taking part in 10, with Weir and Wheeling Central swimming in eight and three, respectively.
Wheeling Park's girls are poised to make the most noise. The Patriots have eight competitors swimming in 10 events.
''We should be in the top five, at least,'' Park coach Pat Durkin said Wednesday while on his way to Morgantown with the team.
Park is led by the junior duo of CeCe Jebbia and Katlyn Curnes.
It's been a big season for the pair, who continued to set records. Curnes set an OVAC Championships mark in the 100 Breaststroke a few weeks ago and, at the same event, teamed with Jebbia, Emilee Heilman and Cristin Dolan to establish a mark in the 200 medley relay.
''We have a lot of girls participating,'' Durkin said of the eight participants swimming in 10 events. ''The only event we're not in is the 500 freestyle.''
The Patriots will swim in all three relays with the 200 medley foursome of Heilman, Curnes, Jebbia and Maddie Friday seeded second. The 200 free group consists of Jeri Carenbauer, Hannah Butts, Dolan and Friday, while the 400 free unit includes Heilman, Butts, Curnes and Jebbia.
Individually, Jebbia is a close second seed in the 200 freestyle. She will also race in the 100 freestyle.
Curnes will also swim in the 200 IM and the 100 breast. Heilman, a freshman, will race in the 100 Freestyle and 100 backstroke. Katherine Stamper, another rookie, qualified for the 50 freestyle.
''We had two freshmen qualify,'' Durkin said, ''and that's pretty impressive.''
Carenbauer will swim in the 100 breaststroke, with Butts taking part in the 100 Butterfly.
John Marshall will swim in seven events, including a pair of relays.
The foursome of Rosemary Targosky, Jade Worrels, Jenna Ingram and Nicole Nuce will compete in the 200 medley and 400 freestyle events. Everyone but Targosky will also swim in two individual races.
Worrels and Nuce will compete in the 50 freestyle. Ingram qualified for the 200 IM and 100 butterfly, while Worrels will also swim in the 100 breaststroke.
Weir qualified in eight events with five athletes. Four of them - Dominique Gilbert, Allyson Martin, Kristin Mastrantoni and Alexis Virtue - will compete in the 200 and 400 freestyle relays.
Individually for the Red Riders, Kiara Candelario will race in the 200 freestyle and 100 backstroke.
Martin will swim in the 200 IM and the 100 Freestyle, with Virtue and Gilbert racing in the 100 freestyle and 100 breaststroke, respectively.
Brooke will be represented by Sara Riggs, Jessie Wayne, Morgan Zopp, Hannah Cebula, Emiley Czesztilcki and Michelle Woodstuff.
Riggs, Wayne, Zopp and Cebula will swim in the 200 and 400 freestyle relays.
Wayne and Cebula qualified for the 200 freestyle, while Riggs, Czesztilcki and Woodstuff are in the 100 butterfly.
Cebula and Wayne will race in the 500 freestyle, with Woodstuff and Riggs swimming in the 100 backstroke.
Jocie Humpe will compete in the 200 and 100 freestyle for the Maroon Knights.
She will be joined in the pool by teammates Megan Kirkpatrick (100 breaststroke) and Shelby Grendel (100 backstroke).
Brooke leads the boys' contingent with five swimmers competing in seven events.
''I'm really thrilled,'' Bruins coach Gina Reitter said. ''We lost a lot of talent from last year so this was more of a rebuilding year for us.''
Reitter was pleasantly surprised with a number of qualifiers, including the 200 medley relay team of James Harrick, Zach Barnette, Dante Rosso and Jordan Harlan.
''I think we have an outside shot to do well there,'' she said.
Harlan will race in the 50 and 100 Freestyle, while Rosso qualified for the 200 IM and 100 butterfly.
James Harrick, the younger brother of former Bruins' standout Josh Harrick, will swim in the 200 IM and 100 backstroke.
Alex Wilson, a junior rookie, qualified for the 100 Breaststroke.
''He's only swam the breast two times all year,'' Reitter said. ''He shaved five seconds off his time at regionals and that got him qualified. I just couldn't believe it. It was a big surprise and I'm looking for him to do well.'
Wheeling Park qualified its 400 freestyle relay team of Zach Sherman, Trent Connor, Michael Mueller and Noah Salvatore.
Salvatore will also compete in the 200 and 500 freestyle. Sherman will compete in the 100 backstroke.
Aaron Mull (200 IM, 100 Breaststroke) and Alex Vannest (200 IM) will represent John Marshall.