O'Toole delivers dynamic debut after moving back to area from Maryland
BUTLER TWP — Stephanie O'Toole found herself surrounded by familiar faces, but ones she hadn't seen in years.
O'Toole grew up in Butler through the sixth grade, then moved to the Fox Chapel School District for two years, before spending the next three years at Towson High School in Maryland.
As a senior, O'Toole returned with her family back to Butler, where she competed in her first varsity swimming match for the Tornado Monday evening.
Just being back in the area has been a unique experience.
“It was pretty exciting ... and a little weird,” O'Toole said. “I haven't seen everyone since the sixth grade.”
In addition to high school at Towson, O'Toole swam with the North Baltimore Aquatic Club in her three years in Maryland, the club made famous for mentoring 18-time Olympic champion Michael Phelps.
“I learned so much down there, inside and outside the water, dry land and lifting,” said O'Toole, a University of Toledo recruit. “Literally, everything I worked on there.”
And she plans on using that experience to the fullest for her senior campaign at Butler, eyeing the record board on the pool.
“I have goals to break the records,” O'Toole said.
The only question is how many will she finish with.
In her first varsity meet of the year Monday against Indiana, O'Toole broke a 36-year-old school record in the 50 freestyle with a time of 24.55 seconds, edging Linda VanBuren's 24.6 set back in 1976.
The pool record is held by a Shady Side Academy swimmer at 24.13.
Later in the meet, O'Toole set the school and pool record in the 100 backstroke with a time of 58.87, besting Molly Evans' 1:00.35 in 2007 and the pool mark of 59.09 from 1993.
“Stephanie's done everything we've asked of her,” said Tornado coach Dave Bocci. “With all of her hard work, the sky's the limit.”
With those records already in hand, she and her 200 medley and 400 free relay teammates were not far off from breaking those marks, as well.
All that could just be the beginning.
“I had swam the same events, but when I got back here, I wanted more variety,” O'Toole said. “I swam the 200 IM and 100 breaststroke and I did the 400 IM and 200 breast (at NBAC) but they don't have those in high school.”
“Competing in the relays are exciting because that's a team thing,” she added.
With the excitement generated by O'Toole in the opening-night meet, her teammates and the crowd could sense something special.
“When you have a great swimmer in the program, the team feeds off that energy,” Bocci said. “Everything she brings to the pool, you can't say enough.
“It's like the quarterback of a football team,” he added. “Everyone feeds off that.”
“It's definitely nice to see everyone up and cheering,” O'Toole said. “In club swimming, you don't have that because it's more individual. It's nice to have that now.”
Bocci is excited at the prospect of how much better O'Toole can become.
“What she lacks in size, she makes up for in heart and training,” Bocci said. “She has that inside desire when she trains. I've poured it on her since she's been here and she's responded.”