Mt. Pleasant relay teams eager to hit pool for WPIAL meet

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Thursday, March 4, 2021 | 5:53 PM


It might be tough for a four-member relay team to socially distance while standing on top of an awards podium, but members of the Mt. Pleasant girls swim team would like the opportunity to try.

Judging by their seed times, the Vikings have a pretty good shot at reaching their goal.

Mt. Pleasant features relay teams seeded first (200 freestyle), second (200 medley) and third (400 freestyle) for Saturday’s WPIAL Class AA championship meet at Upper St. Clair High School.

Led by a group of young but experienced swimmers, the relays worked throughout a challenging season, broken up by a state government shutdown, to meet the automatic qualifying times set by the WPIAL.

Now, they get their chance to perform for WPIAL hardware.

“You have all that great competition,” sophomore Reegan Brown said. “We’ve been looking forward to this meet for a long time. There are nerves. The adrenaline gets pumping. That all plays into what can make you go faster.”

The meet’s first event is the 200 medley relay, where Brown (backstroke), sophomore SaraJo Gardner (breaststroke), sophomore McKenna Mizikar (butterfly) and junior Ashlyn Hornick (freestyle) get to display their strokes of specialty.

“Our medley relay is really good because we have four girls swimming their (best) event,” Gardner said. “We make a really good medley relay team.”

The same group of swimmers, who all competed at WPIALs last season, also likely will make up the 200 free relay unit. Sophomores Morgan Bachman, Trinity Graft and alternate Giana Fleck also could be in the mix with the 200 and 400 freestyle relays.

“We have some fast sprinters,” Mt. Pleasant coach Sandy Felice said.

Last year, Mt. Pleasant finished second in the 200 medley and 200 freestyle relays and third in the 400 freestyle relay. The Vikings graduated two key members of those relays, Cally Hixson and Heather Gardner, a six-time WPIAL gold medalist who won the 50 freestyle and 100 breaststroke last season before heading to swim at Liberty.

But they have picked right up where they left off, motivated to have success at the WPIAL meet and beyond. Because of covid-related protocols, only the WPIAL champion in each event earns automatic qualification to the PIAA meet March 19-20 at Cumberland Valley High School. Others can earn at-large bids based on time, but spots are very limited.

“I’m hoping to get all three (relays) to states,” Felice said. “We did last year but didn’t get to swim (because of the covid shutdown).”

Individually, SaraJo Gardner was fifth in the 100 backstroke and eighth in the 50 free last winter at WPIALs. She is seeded third in the backstroke and fifth in the 50.

“She’s looking really good. Her strokes are good, turns. Everything is looking good,” Felice said. “I think that backstroke, that’s a tight group with the top three. I’d like to see her get a better time and place higher than she’s seeded. She can do it.

“In the 50, she’s got that sprint ability like her sister did. We’ll see what happens.”

Brown is seeded third in the 100 fly and fifth in the 100 backstroke. Mt. Pleasant also will be represented by six members of the boys swim team, including all three relays.

“It’s been pretty crazy. There’s been a lot of ups and downs, but we worked through them,” Brown said. “This season has turned out to be one of the best. All of us have really overcome all the challenges we’ve been faced with. The end of the season will be great.”

In addition to the Mt. Pleasant contingent, several other Westmoreland County standouts earned top-four seeds. The group includes: Belle Vernon’s Ian Shahan (first in 50 free, first in 100 fly), Sam West (second in 100 free) and the 200 free relay (second) and 400 free relay (third); Southmoreland’s Henry Miller (first in 100 breast, fourth in 100 fly); and Greensburg Salem’s Madison Cassidy (fourth in 100 breaststroke) in Class AA.

In Class AAA, Penn-Trafford’s Austin Prokopec (fourth in 100 fly), Ben Yant (fourth in 50 free) and Patton Graziano (fourth in 100 back); and Franklin Regional’s Aiden Bunker (fourth in 200 IM and 100 breast) are seeded in the top four.

Unlike past years when the championships were held over two days at Pitt’s Trees Pool, all 11 events for the Class AA girls meet will be in one session, starting at 9:45 a.m. Saturday. After an awards ceremony in the gym and a warm-up period, the Class AA boys meet will begin at 4:15 p.m. The Class AAA girls and boys meets will follow the same format Sunday.

There are only 16 entries for each individual event, and with the exception of a few cases, only 12 in each relay.

No spectators will be permitted, but each meet will be broadcast on the TribLive High School Sports Network.

Bill Hartlep is the sports editor of the Tribune-Review. You can contact Bill at bhartlep@triblive.com or via Twitter @BHartlep_Trib.

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