Countdown to WPIALs: Mt. Pleasant’s Heather Gardner has golden expectations

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Saturday, February 24, 2018 | 6:39 PM


Tribune-Review sports reporter Michael Love and the TribLive High School Sports Network will be profiling 10 swimmers to watch leading up to the 2018 WPIAL championship meet, set for March 1-2 at the Pitt's Trees Pool.

TRIBHSSN is the exclusive audio and video home for the WPIAL Class AAA and AA championship meets, which will be broadcasted and video streamed live at TribHSSN.triblive.com.

Here is the seventh installment of a 10-part series featuring some of the area's top swimmers.

Heather Gardner

School: Mt. Pleasant

Class: Sophomore

Events: 50 freestyle, 100 breaststroke, 200 free relay, 400 free relay

2017 WPIAL AA results: 50 freestyle, 2nd (24.18); 100 breaststroke, 2nd (1:06.74); 200 free relay, 9th (1:45.23); 400 free relay, 8th (3:49.95).

Heather Gardner is seeded first in both the 50 freestyle and 100 breaststroke for Thursday's and Friday's WPIAL Class AA championships, and she recorded both qualifying times against stern competition at the Westmoreland County Coaches Association meet in late January.

The WCCA meet included some of the area's top Class AAA swimmers.

“We are looking back to what she did to prepare for (the WCCA meet) and mimicking her workouts,” Mt. Pleasant coach Sandy Felice said. “That's giving her confidence that she's on the same road.”

Gardner is gunning for WPIAL titles after finishing runner-up in both events as a freshman at last year's championships at Pitt.

She hopes to go under 24 seconds in the 50 free at WPIALs, Felice said, after hitting 24.18 in placing second to Ellwood City graduate Taylor Petrak (23.43) in 2017.

She owned second in the 100 breast last year with a 1:06.74, but she and the rest of the field were looking up at all-time WPIAL record holder Bailey Bonnett from Highlands, who stood tall with a time of 1:01.61.

Gardner went on to place 11th at states in the 50 free and tie for 12th in the 100 breast.

“Heather does not back down from a challenge,” Felice said.

She won this year's WCCA 50 free in 23.38, more than a second faster than runner-up Rylee Jackson, a senior from Latrobe.

Gardner's winning 100 breast time at the WCCA meet, 1:05.57, was nearly three seconds ahead of Franklin Regional senior Abigail Ramey. Her WPIAL seed time in the 100 breast is almost five seconds clear of the rest of the field, something, Felice said, surprised her and Gardner.

“Heather is looking to drop time in both events, and she understands that her opponents will be hoping to do the same, so she can't underestimate anyone,” Felice said. “I expect her to rise to the occasion at WPIALs.”

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter @Mlove_Trib.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@tribweb.com or via Twitter .

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