Mt. Pleasant’s Gardner, Belle Vernon’s Spekis take WPIAL gold

Thursday, March 1, 2018 | 7:25 PM

A pair of Westmoreland County swimmers earned their first taste of WPIAL individual gold at Day 1 of the Class AA boys and girls swimming championships at Pitt's Trees Hall, with Mt. Pleasant's Heather Gardner and Belle Vernon's Robert Spekis taking top honors.

Spekis claimed first place in the 200-yard individual medley event with a time of 1 minute, 58.48 seconds. The junior entered the competition as the top seed in the event after finishing seventh in the same event in last year's championships.

“It's surreal, honestly. Coming into this and just being able to have the target on my back and to live up to that expectation, it's a big thing,” Spekis said.

“It helped that seniors graduated, but also I just had this on my mind the whole season. I wanted to be at the top of the podium all the way. Any time I had a hard practice or something, I would remind myself to keep pushing through for this.”

Spekis also helped lead the Belle Vernon boys 200 medley relay team to a third-place finish (1:38.55).

Gardner also entered her event, the 50 freestyle, as the top seed. The Mt. Pleasant sophomore also had no issue following through, as her time of 23.25 beat all other competitors by more then a full second.

“It felt amazing out there. Winning it by over a second, it's just kind of like, wow. You kind of just have to take in the moment,” she said.

“It was all about the turn. That's all I focused on. I just hit it and kicked as hard as I could all the way back.”

Freshmen Ian Shahan also made a big first impression for the Belle Vernon boys. In addition to taking part in the Leopards' third-place finish in the 200 medley relay, he nailed down second place in the 100 butterfly with a time of 51.65 seconds.

In the Class AA team standings, Shady Side Academy leads the way for the girls with a score of 156, and Indiana is second with 144.5. Blackhawk is third place with a 132.

For the boys, Northgate is in the lead with a 133, Elizabeth Forward is next with a 100.5 and Laurel Highlands is tied for third with Knoch at 95.

The top four finishers in each Class AA event automatically advance to the PIAA championships.

In the Class AAA championships, Franklin Regional's Abigail Ramey narrowly missed an automatic bid to states in the 200 IM as her time of 2:07.03 fell just 0.02 seconds behind the third-place finisher.

Still, the junior has a good shot at obtaining an at-large bid, and more importantly to her, she swam a leg in the Panthers' 200 freestyle relay, helping them to grab third place with a time of 1:37.09.

“Winning as a team, honestly that's really important to me. We spend more time with each other then we do with our families, almost,” Ramey said.

“Just to have my teammates with me and to accomplish it together, it's just really special. I was more worried about our relay then my individual events because I want us to go to states together.”

Gavin Mayo, a junior from Hempfield, also punched his ticket to states with a second-place finish in the boys 50 free (20.73).

Latrobe's Rylee Jackson will also be headed to the state championships as she took home third in the girls 50 free with her time of 23.69.

The Penn-Trafford boys 200 free relay team also took third place with a 1:26.75 in their event.

The Class AAA event saw WPIAL records fall as North Allegheny's Jack Wright set a mark (1:37.82) in the 200 free, and the North Allegheny 200 free relay team broke its own record from last year with a time of 1:22.93. Gateway's Olivia Livingston also broke her own record from last year with a 22.71 in the 50 free.

North Allegheny leads the Class AAA boys with a 248. Upper St. Clair is second with a 142, and Central Catholic has a 110 to put it in third.

The Tigers also lead in the girls standings with a mark of 179, with Mt. Lebanon (147) and Upper St. Clair (146) behind.

Kevin Lohman is a freelance writer.

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