Olivia Kovach is 1st Mt. Pleasant gymnast to make WPIALs in a decade

Sunday, February 5, 2023 | 5:16 PM

The last time Mt. Pleasant was represented in gymnastics, Olivia Kovach was an infant. Brittany Ruggeri was a WPIAL medal winner for Mt. Pleasant in 2011 and ’12.

Now 14 years old, Kovach now is a highly competitive freshman gymnast. And what a remarkable representative she has been.

Kovach is an independent, all-around gymnast for the school district and a USA Gymnastics Level 9 competitor for Ultimate Gymnastics in Delmont.

“I want to be a first-time qualifier for the WPIAL championships as a freshman. My goal is to bring home a banner this year,” she said last week before qualifying for WPIALs in the advanced division. “I’m competing as an independent for the district. I’m excited to compete for the school.

“My goal after the WPIAL championships are over is to qualify for Eastern Nationals in May for Level 9. I’m hopeful to compete as a Level 10 in my junior year.”

Kovach qualified and attended the USAG Level 8 regionals last year, placing sixth all-around. She has been an annual participant at USAG state competitions.

Renee Ruggeri, owner of Ultimate Gymnastics, is Kovach’s coach for both teams and has coached the freshman phenom for eight years.

“Olivia is strong and a very dedicated gymnast. She never gives up. She’s had to overcome some back pain this year, but it has not set her back at all,” Ruggeri said. “She’s a wonderful girl to work with, and determination is her strong point. She’s small, strong and determined, which makes for a great gymnast.”

Kovach stands 5-foot-1, and her favorite subject is math, particularly Algebra I. She is not old enough to own a driver’s license but lives on a farm and enjoys riding dirt bikes when she has a day off from practice.

The Kovach family houses a large variety of animals on their Mt. Pleasant farm, including goats, donkeys, alpacas, ducks, chickens, cats and a dog.

“I help take care of our animals when I am not competing,” said Kovach, who has two brothers. “Right now, I also travel every weekend for a gymnastics competition. I am in the district cyber program because I practice during the day as well as coach preschool gymnastics during the day.”

Ruggeri, who was a WPIAL and state champion in her hall-of-fame heyday as a Baldwin gymnast, said Kovach leaves a lasting impression despite her diminutive size.

“She will be at the highest level at WPIALs. She has the potential to do very well in the advanced division,” Ruggeri said. “At her very first meet as a high school gymnast, she scored higher in AA than anyone else. I expect her to place and do well at the championships. She is fun to watch.”

Kovach’s up-and-coming gymnastics career began at the youthful age of 3.

“I always loved to tumble and flip when I was little and bouncing in my trampoline,” she said. “I took a summer class at Ultimate for beginner gymnastics and the coaches tested me for the team after my second class. The rest is history.

“I began competing with USAG at Level 2 when I was 7 years old.”

According to Ruggeri, who also coaches of the Burrell gymnastics team, Kovach usually draws a crowd when competing.

“Olivia’s strongest event is probably floor,” Ruggeri said. “She is dynamic and has a fun routine. The other gymnasts and crowd love it. She also has a very impressive front tuck mount on beam.”

Kovach is a quick learner both in the gym and in the classroom.

“It’s a pleasure to coach her and watch her grow,” Ruggeri said. “She’s a 4.0 student. She practices four days a week and teaches classes for me three days. She is a great team leader and mentor for the little ones.”

Kovach already has qualified for the USAG Level 9 state meet to be held in April. She competes or trains all year long.

“Yes, our competitive season with USAG typically begins in December and runs through May if I qualify for Eastern Nationals,” Kovach said.

She said the beam and floor are her strongest events, while the bars or beam are her favorites.

“My highest beam score was a 9.5 as a Level 7 gymnast,” she said. “This year as a Level 9 gymnast, my highest score is a 9.425 on beam. For high school gymnastics, my highest scores were 9.4 on bars and 9.4 on floor.”

Kovach’s biggest influences have been her coaches at Ultimate, namely Ruggeri, Andy Cox, Courtney Batiz and Gina Batiz.

“They have always been encouraging and (they) push me to try bigger skills,” Kovach said. “I enjoy my time in the gym. It’s like an escape from the world around me when I’m there.”

The WPIAL championships will take place Saturday at Moon.


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