Abby Duncan mimics the mail carrier. Snow, sleet or rain doesn’t stop her either.
The South Fayette High School senior is out the door every morning by 4:45 a.m. to attend swim practice with Mt. Lebanon Aqua Club.
“I usually look at the weather before hand and if snow is predicted, I’ll leave earlier,” said Duncan, who makes the journey to Mt. Lebanon in her Ford Escape. “I always go to practice.”
Those morning workouts as well as her afternoon practices from 2:30 to 6 p.m. at South Fayette have paid off. Recently, she signed a national letter-of-intent to continue her career at Ohio University. Duncan also had scholarship offers from other MAC schools as well as Duquesne University.
Duncan said there was “so much” she liked about Ohio.
She recalled the first time she visited the campus, she confided to her mother, “I think I will wind up here.”
Gina Duncan, however, encouraged her daughter to visit other schools before she made her final decision.
“I did look at other schools, but when I came back to Ohio, I said ‘I am going there.’ I know it sounds so cliché but it’s true. It was my ‘aha moment’ because I felt so welcomed and I bonded with the team and coaches. Definitely, it was the team and coaching that made the difference. The whole team has the potential to get the MAC title back and they are so excited to do that. I want to be a part of that. I want to help them do that.”
According to her high school coach Matt Tucker, Duncan will help the Bobcats in the backstroke events.
“Abby will do well at Ohio,” he said. “She should be able to help them right away.”
For four years, Duncan has supported the Lions. Her 200-yard medley relay team is on the cusp of breaking the school record and the 4x100 freestyle relay team has also registered WPIAL best times.
In addition to Duncan, the relay teams feature Hailey Poe, a standout triathlete, Lexi Ray, Allie Whalen, Morgan Young as well as Gabby Baiano. Several of those athletes helped the Lions win WPIAL and PIAA titles in cross country, a sport for which Duncan has little interest.
“I can’t run,” she said with a laugh. “Because I need to focus on swimming,” she added.
Since age 7, Duncan has focused on swimming.
“My mom tried to put me in different sports like soccer and basketball, but I would chase the butterflies instead of the ball,” she said. “When my parents signed me up to see how swimming would go, I just took to it. I liked it a lot. The team aspect was a plus, but the individual aspect was nice.”
As Duncan improved, the search was on for a competitive club. Initially, Duncan swam with a combined club with Moon and South Fayette. The family looked into North Allegheny and Chartiers Valley, but settled on the Mt. Lebanon Aqua Club because it was a good fit for her evolving talents.
With Mt. Lebanon Aqua Club, Duncan does drills for sprint as well as pace work. The mix also includes challenging and different land workouts.
“The cycling class I had there was the hardest thing I ever had to do,” said Duncan, who swims as much as 8,000 yards a day with Mt. Lebanon Aqua Club while racking up an additional 6,000 yards at South Fayette.
“The workouts are more intense at MLAC because at the high school there are a lot of different levels and most are not swimming year-round. MLAC also has so many coaches. They put so much thought into what we all do. You can always go up to them and ask why you are doing something and there is always a reason behind it and they will explain how it will help in the long run.”
Duncan has developed into one of the WPIAL’s premier swimmers in the back stroke despite entering high school without a preferred event.
“Going into my freshman year, I didn’t have a stroke,” she said. “I swam whatever they needed and after I realized, I guess I am a backstroker. When you first start out you like it a lot because you get to breathe all the time. But the back uses all the muscles in the body. It’s such a different stroke and it’s fun to be different.”
Duncan, indeed, is different. Her unselfish nature earned accolades from her coach and a captaincy from her teammates.
“Abby does whatever the team needs her to do,” Tucker said. “Abby has a great feel for the water and her work ethic has been growing in the last few years. She is dedicated in the classroom, water and weight room.”
In 2019, she was the WPIAL runner-up and a PIAA sixth-place finisher in the backstroke. She also finished fifth in the WPIAL in the 200-yard freestyle and made it back for finals at states.
“So the goal this year,” she said, “is to win the WPIAL in the back and to go faster at states.”
By improving her underwater swims, Duncan likely will earned All-America honors, a recognition she just fell shy of last season. The automatic cut time is 54.80. Without rest and taper, Duncan swam a 56 at Junior Nationals held in December in Atlanta.
“All-American is what I want to be especially since I was so close last year,” she said. “I’m hoping this year I get it. I’m hoping with more taper and more rest, I will get a faster time.”
Duncan, however, knows how unpredictable swimming can be.
“That’s not always a bad thing,” she said. “You can always learn from a bad swim or bad day in the pool.”
Likewise, a bad day at school could produce a great workout in the pool.
“I always have those days when I have a bad day at school and I come to swim practice in a bad mood, but I can take my anger out in laps,” she said. “It helps me.”
Perseverance has always aided Duncan, who has also participated in Eastern Zones and will attend sectionals this year. She said Junior Nationals was her scholastic highlight and a learning experience.
“It’s fun to see all the people that came back for finals and how insanely fast they all are here,” she said. “It motivates you.
“I know there are always times in practices where you don’t want to do this or that set,” she added. “It’s never that you can’t do it. But when you look at the end result and you want to be in that moment, then you do it because you know it will produce the end result you want.”
Duncan plans to earn a degree in education and teach at the elementary level like her aunt, Angela Getty. But, if she can achieve some of her swimming goals along the way, Duncan will embrace those opportunities, too.
“I want to be on the podium for a MAC championship and be part of a team that brings that title back to OU,” she said. “I also want to make lifelong friends and make memories.”
With wins against Moon and West Allegheny, the Lions improved to 4-0 overall and moved into the driver’s seat to capture a section title.
Allie Whalen, in the 200 free and 100 butterfly, and Hailey Poe, in the 200 free, have earned their WPIAL qualifying cut times.
SF’s 200 medley and 400 free relays have also qualified for the WPIAL championships set for Feb. 28-29 at University of Pittsburgh’s Trees Pool.