Mt. Pleasant’s Gardner captures 2nd gold at WPIAL swimming championships

Friday, March 2, 2018 | 6:33 PM

Mt. Pleasant swimmer Heather Gardner turned last season's silver medal in the 50-yard freestyle into a gold medal this year with her performance Thursday during the first day of competition at the WPIAL Class AA swimming championships at Pitt's Trees Pool.

For her follow-up act on Day 2 Friday, she performed an encore in the 100 breaststroke.

The sophomore hit the water, surfaced and immediately began to build her lead until she touched the wall with a time of 1 minute, 4.24 seconds, almost a full two-and-a-half seconds before the second-place finisher.

One year after coming home with two silvers, Gardner is bringing back gold.

“I knew I was going to go up against some tough senior girls last year,” she said. “They were really fast, and I knew it'd be a hard race for me to win. I just tried to go as fast as I could, and I ended up hitting my best times and making it to states, so it was an honor.

“But I knew this year I'd have a better chance after another year of hard work.”

That wasn't Gardner's only feat of the day as she anchored the Mt. Pleasant 400 freestyle relay team that took fourth with a time of 3:44.13. The top-four finish will send Cally Hixson, Emily Bednar, Gardner and her sister, Lynn Gardner, to the PIAA championships.

“It's really an honor. They haven't been to states before, and my sister is on the relay team, and she's a senior. So it's special to be able to go with her. We're really excited about being able to go,” Heather Gardner said. “It's actually our school's first ever relay team to make it to states.”

In the Class AA boys meet, the Belle Vernon swimmers made a splash with a third-place finish in the team standings.

The Leopards were propelled by freshman Ian Shahan, who won the 100 back (52.20), and junior Robert Spekis, who was the only record-breaker in the Class AA championships with his time of 57.80 in the 100 breast.

“Honestly, it wasn't the first thing on my mind. The first thing on my mind was to get the win and get on top of that podium,” Spekis said of his record-breaking performance.

“But it was always in the back of my mind. I saw the number and thought I could get to it. I swam my heart out, and I was able to do it.”

In the final event of the day, the 400 freestyle relay, Shahan and Spekis each swam a leg and helped Belle Vernon push its way to a second-place finish, clocking in at 3:18.90.

Northgate won the Class AA boys team title with a score of 228, and Shady Side Academy won the girls championship with 287 points.

In the Class AAA championships, Latrobe's Rylee Jackson took third place in the 100 freestyle with a time of 51.59. Jackson will head to states to participate in two individual events after her third-place finish in Thursday's 50 free.

In the team standings, the Franklin Regional girls placed sixth out of 31 teams with a score of 119, and Hempfield finished seventh (101), followed by Penn-Trafford (100).

On the boys side, Penn-Trafford scored 139 to take fifth (139), and Hempfield finished eighth (103).

North Allegheny won the girls and boys titles in Class AAA. It was the boys' seventh consecutive WPIAL championship, and the girls won their 10th in a row.

Kevin Lohman is a freelance writer.

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