After strong 2021 finish, Mt. Pleasant swimming wants gold

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Tuesday, January 11, 2022 | 11:56 AM


Sandy Felice has high hopes for the Mt. Pleasant swimming team in 2022. And why shouldn’t she?

The Vikings are coming off a solid year in 2020-21, particularly on the girls’ side, which finished third as a team at the WPIAL championships last winter.

That stellar mark was bolstered by a gold-medal time in the 200-yard freestyle relay, a silver in the 200-yard medley relay, and eighth-place finish in the 400-yard freestyle relay.

“I was very pleased, especially on the girls’ side,” said Felice, who is in her second stint with the program but goes back with the Vikings to 1986. “We had four girls go to states and place at states. And they’re all back this year.”

Mt. Pleasant already has had its three successful relay teams from 2021 qualify for the 2022 WPIAL meet.

That group is made up of juniors Reegan Brown, SaraJo Gardner, McKenna Mizikar and senior Ashlyn Hornick — who will swim at Cal (Pa.) next year — as well as the team’s alternate, junior Trinity Graft.

“They are great role models,” Felice said. “At practice, they’re encouraging everyone. Younger swimmers see them constantly pounding away at the workout and never sitting out. It’s a hard work ethic that’s carrying down through the whole team.”

Individually, Brown placed fourth in the 2021 100-yard butterfly and fifth in the 100-yard backstroke. Gardner finished fourth in the 100-yard backstroke and placed sixth in the 50-yard freestyle last year.

And while that group is becoming leaders and upperclassmen, the Vikings are getting a shot from a youngster with a familiar name in the swimming world. Freshman Lily King — not to be confused with Olympic gold medalist Lilly King — already has taken Mt. Pleasant swimming by storm.

“She’s really good, we’re glad to have her,” Felice said. “She just broke the school record in the 200 (individual medley). She’s an awesome freestyler, great backstroke and butterfly. … She’s a good all-around swimmer.”

Despite not having a diving board at their home pool, Mt. Pleasant has two female divers on the roster: freshman Rayna Wisneski and junior Paige Richter, who finished second and third, respectively, at this year’s first meet.

“They’re very good, and they can help us get some points towards possibly winning WPIALs,” added Felice.

While the girls’ side is primarily paced by older swimmers, the boys are a little younger.

Daniel Lynch and Ben Fisher graduated in the spring after qualifying in both relays and individual events in 2021.

“We have some really good freshmen that joined us,” Felice said. “SaraJo’s brother, Joseph Gardner, has been wrestling and swimming. We didn’t know which one he was going to pick, but he picked swimming, and I was so elated. He already set the school’s breaststroke record.”

Joseph Gardner is also part of a boys 400-yard freestyle relay team that recently broke a school record.

Backstroke and butterfly specialist David Mutter, another freshman, is also an encouraging young piece for Felice. Joe Barrick is a senior who could swim in college, if he chooses that route. And, thanks to a newly formed co-op with Greensburg Central Catholic, sophomore Logan Snively can swim in relays with Mt. Pleasant.

Felice’s connection to the pool runs deep, and her experience is enhanced by her years on the job and her time leading the Mt. Pleasant Aqua Club, which has allowed her to develop her athletes from a young age, well before their high school years.

She also has the benefit of leaning on some of the people closest to her. Her brother, John Wingfield, is in IUP’s Hall of Fame and has served as an Olympic diving coach. He helped deliver to Mt. Pleasant’s athletes Felice’s biggest message, which is to take swimming and let it be a guide in life.

“I had him come and talk to the team before the season started,” Felice said. “It was an inspirational talk, about what all this can do for you, and how you can carry this over into your adult life.”

Those long-term goals inevitably will be fueled if Mt. Pleasant can end up where Felice believes the team is capable.

“In the section, we’d like to be undefeated,” she said. “We’d like to win the county meet. And, I think for both the boys and girls, that’s doable. (The girls) were runners-up two years ago and third last year. I’d love to win WPIALs.”

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