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Snee, Kitchen are stars of first day

WILKES-BARRE – With one final push, Katie Snee defended her district title.

Brandon Kitchen used a hard kick to upheld his family honor.

No, they weren’t part of a martial arts class, but Coughlin’s Snee and Hanover Area’s Kitchen were both motivated by a hunger that cut down their competition in the Class 2A 50-yard freestyle events during Friday’s opening day of the District 2 Swimming and Diving championships at the Wilkes-Barre CYC.

In Class 3A action, Hazleton Area sophomore Bria Edwards pulled off an upset to while Wyoming Valley West senior Ashley Tugden pulled off a rare triple gold on the same night – although it was a feat she also accomplished last year.

Edwards chopped more than two full seconds off her No. 2 seed time and set a school record in the process by winning the girls 200 freestyle in 2:03.20.

“I’d rather be the underdog,” Edwards said. “Nobody expects it from you.”

Tugden captured the girls 200 IM and 100 butterfly after kick-starting her evening on the winning 200 medley relay team. She’ll get a chance to duplicate her four district golds of a year ago as a member of today’s 400 freestyle relay team.

“I wasn’t going to let my junior year overshadow my senior year,” Tugden said.

Snee, a junior, wasn’t about to be overshadowed by anyone or anything. She came in as the returning District 2 Class 2A girls 50-yard freestyle champion. She also came in as an underdog, because Scranton Prep freshman Rebekah Campo earned the top seed by swimming the event just a bit faster during the regular season.

But Snee trailed Campo at the only turn of the race, but shot past her main competitor over the final 20 yards to secure her second straight gold medal in the event.

“She pushed me,” said Snee, who finished with a time of 24.23. “I knew that she was ahead of me. And I knew I wanted it more than anything.”

She got it, with a strong stretch run that chopped nearly a full second off her No. 2 seed time and edged Campo’s 24.49 second-place finish.

“I think it meant more to her because she was the defending champ, and kind of an underdog,” Coughlin coach Donnie Williams said of Snee. “She proved today it certainly wasn’t a fluke last year.”

No wonder why Snee’s electric smile lit up the awards podium, after she gleefully exchanged hugs with dozens of Coughlin teammates and fans.

“I tried so hard,” Snee said. “I’ve been waiting for this for so long. I won last year, so I always think I should win and keep my title. In the back of my mind, I knew I could get it. I was thinking I had to keep going, I think I took on breath the whole time.

“I wanted this so bad.”

So did Kitchen.

His brother, Ryan Kitchen, was Hanvoer Area’s last district winner when he captured the 500 freestyle in 2006, but Brandon wasn’t about to get lost in that shadow.

The Hawkeyes junior earned his first district gold by blazing to a 22.19 finish in the Class 2A boys 50 free, besting Abington Heights senior Greg Barren’s time of 22.79.

“I’d never done it before,” Brandon Kitchen said of his district feat. “My brother has. I wanted to show him I could do it, too.”

Brandon Kitchen showed everyone, by using a hard kick off the turn to grab control down the homestretch. That could be the start of a big weekend for him, as Kitchen is also the top seed for today’s 100-yard freestyle event.

“It gives me a lot of confidence,” Kitchen said of his first district win. “One more to go.”

A few other Wyoming Valley swimmers also went to the top of the pack in individual events.

Valley West’s Joe O’Hara won the Class 3A boys 200 IM, while Holy Redeemer’s Lauren Barnes found her third straight district gold in the girls Class 2A 200 freestyle and Hazleton Area’s Grant Rowlands won the same event in the Class 3A boys division.

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