After claiming 1st WPIAL title, Mt. Pleasant swimmers again off to strong start

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Monday, January 16, 2023 | 9:50 AM


Looking the part of an established vet, the swagger of promising swimmer Lily King was evident as she emerged from the Mt. Pleasant locker room and headed toward an exit.

Just a sophomore, the 5-foot-11 King already is a Pennsylvania high school champion in three events.

“She’s fast, and she works super hard,” Mt. Pleasant swimming coach Sandy Felice said while eyeing King with an admiring glance. “She’s only really been swimming competitively for five years.”

After leading the Mt. Pleasant girls team to its first WPIAL championship last season as a freshman, King won the 50- and 100-yard freestyle events and anchored the Vikings’ winning 400 freestyle relay team at the PIAA Class 2A championships at Bucknell.

A year later, the 16-year-old budding phenom is continuing to turn aside the competition.

A Vikings sweep

On this particular night, King won an individual event and swam on two winning relay teams for Mt. Pleasant, which claimed first place in every race in a 96-52 victory against Greensburg Salem, improving the Vikings’ overall record to 4-0 in their first WPIAL Section 4-2A meet of the season.

Mt. Pleasant, which not only won a WPIAL championship in 2022 but also came home as the PIAA Class 2A runner-up, was looking to stay unbeaten on Thursday at Derry.

Meanwhile, nearby, in the steamy aftermath of the Vikings’ sweep of Greensburg Salem — the Mt. Pleasant boys bested the Golden Lions, 82-67 — stood Felice, a true veteran of 19 seasons covering two coaching stints at Mt. Pleasant dating to 1986.

It seems Felice, a Hempfield graduate, would know a bit about what it takes to be a successful competitive swimmer.

Along the way, she also served as diving coach for one season at Norwin as well as swimming coach at the Greensburg YMCA and Penn-Trafford Aqua Club, and she continues to coach the Mt. Pleasant Aqua Club, of which she is the founder.

For the love of water

Though Felice officially is retired as a gym instructor at Mt. Pleasant, she insisted she “didn’t really retire” mainly because she’s stayed on as proprietor of the school’s swimming programs.

Prior to becoming a coach, Felice swam backstroke and freestyle events first at Hempfield and then at Penn State and Slippery Rock.

“I remember swimming, myself, and I loved it,” Felice said.

And now, King’s early path appears similar. Indeed, it is reminiscent of Felice’s childhood love of the sport.

“It started way back, when I was young,” Felice said.

Every day, she explained, she would join her brothers and sisters at the Youngwood Park n Pool, which opened in 1961. It was about a 5-mile jaunt mainly over back roads from the family’s Hempfield home on Shrader Hollow Road.

“I was probably about 6 years old when it began,” she said. “My sisters were older, and sometimes my whole family would be there, too.”

Felice’s brother, John Wingfield, later coached the U.S. Olympic diving team at the 2008 Beijing Games.

“We all just have a love for water,” Felice said. “I was just always begging my mom to go.”

Throughout her life, she took a break from the sport just long enough to help raise her three young children.

Why not swimming?

“I was 10 when I became interested in swimming,” said King, who recently satisfied the Olympic qualifying time in the 50-meter freestyle less than a year after claiming her three gold medals at the PIAA championships, one the result of a state-record time in the 50-yard freestyle event.

“I wasn’t doing any sports at the time, and my mom said, ‘You haven’t tried swimming yet,’ so I did,” King said.

When she began her venture, King was introduced to the fundamentals from Felice at the Mt. Pleasant Aqua Club.

“When I started swimming, it wasn’t long before I knew I wanted to keep doing it,” King said.

Already, King has become the centerpiece of a well-established girls program that returned much of its roster this season. The Vikings lost four seniors from the girls team and two from the boys squad.

Welcome back!

In addition to King, the girls team returns the remaining three legs of the 400 freestyle relay team: seniors Reegan Brown, Trinity Graft and SaraJo Gardner.

McKenna Mizikar joins King, Brown and Gardner in returning to the 200 medley relay team, which earned a silver medal at the PIAA championships.

Graft and Mizikar teamed with then-freshman Kiersten O’Connor and Ashlyn Hornick, who has graduated, to finish fifth in the 200 freestyle relay. O’Connor placed sixth in the individual backstroke.

Senior Morgan Baughman and sophomore Maddie Barrick are also among the returnees after serving as alternates at the state meet.

Sophomore Joseph Gardner is back for the boys team after claiming PIAA silver medals in the 100 breaststroke and as a member of the 200 medley relay team, as well as a fifth-place finish with the 400 freestyle relay team.

The remaining members of the Vikings’ place-winning relay teams were junior Logan Snively, sophomore David Mutter and Joe Barrick, who has graduated.

Barrick was joined by current seniors Brendan Korpiel and Matthew Koch, along with Snively in the 200 freestyle relay event at the state meet, where the Vikings finished fifth in the team scoring.

Sophomore Seth Painter attended the meet as a freshman alternate in the relays.

In the Mt. Pleasant boys team victory this month against Greensburg Salem, Gardner and Mutter shattered three school records established in 1989.

Mutter broke Carl Boyd’s standards in the 100 backstroke and 500 freestyle, and Gardner eclipsed Scott Melego’s 100 freestyle mark.

“They’ve been swimming really well for us,” Felice said.

Following a year in which both Mt. Pleasant teams won Section 4-2A championships — the girls continued on to a WPIAL title and the boys wound up fifth among 48 teams — Felice said there are enough seasoned swimmers to keep the Vikings among the contenders for section crowns.

Along the way, it’s likely all eyes will be fixed on King.

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