This is the sixth in a series of eight articles profiling the Seneca Valley Sports Hall of Fame's Class of 2019.
WHEELING, W.Va. — Some athletes are driven by trophies and medals. For Tony Sunseri, they were just a by-product of his true motivation.
“There was an inner-competitiveness with me, simply wanting to get better,” said the former Seneca Valley swimming star. “I was more focused on establishing a goal and the process it took to achieve it.”
That mentality led to a WPIAL title in the 100-yard breaststroke his junior year, four trips to the state championship meet and a successful career at the University of Pittsburgh.
His efforts have earned Sunseri, a 1992 graduate, induction into the Seneca Valley Sports Hall of Fame, which he will officially accept in September.
Sunseri began swimming competitively when he was 7-years old. He also picked up soccer and wrestling as a youth.
“By the time I was 13, I was swimming year-round,” he said. “For me, swimming was more of a challenge than the other sports and it won my attention.
“It requires you to lead a certain lifestyle — waking up at an ungodly hour, diving into the pool and getting work in before school. Everything is focused toward that next swim.”
Despite not being at full strength, Sunseri rose to the occasion at Pitt's Trees Pool in the WPIAL championship meet his junior year, winning the breaststroke crown in one minute, 1.48 seconds.
“Winning that WPIAL title was a pleasant surprise,” he admitted. “I wasn't rested for that meet and wasn't feeling great. I didn't feel as fast as the clock said I was.”
Sunseri closed his junior season by placing eighth in the breaststroke at states (1:00.5) and 13th in the 200 freestyle (1:47), both school records at the time.
Those accomplishments came under the guidance of SV coach Dale Wagner, who had a positive impact on Sunseri.
“He was a tremendous silent motivator,” he said. “He was a likable man and it was hard not to respect him. You wanted to have a good swim because you knew he appreciated the hard work that went into it.”
Sunseri earned more medals his senior year, taking second in the breaststroke and third in the 200 IM at WPIALs and sixth in the latter at states.
He was rewarded with a partial scholarship to start out at Pitt, earning more money after his sophomore year. He contributed to Pitt's Big East championship team in 1994 and was team captain his senior season.
After graduating, he enrolled in law school at Duquesne University. Now a lawyer, he and his wife, Holly, have two daughters — Mia (16) and Ava (14).
Sunseri has coached YMCA swimming in Wheeling for five years. He looks back fondly on his days at Seneca Valley.
“I had a very positive high school experience,” he said. “There were great coaches and educators at Seneca Valley and I'm very grateful for what I was able to walk away with. I appreciate it more the longer I get away from it.”