Mt. Pleasant boys, girls swimming hope to have success in new year |
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Mount Pleasant's Sam Painter swims the first leg of the boys 200-yard medley relay during the WPIAL Class AA swimming championships on Thursday, March 2, 2017, at the University of Pittsburgh's Trees Pool in Oakland.

The Mt. Pleasant boys swim team breezed through December with a 3-0 record.

The Vikings are hoping to continue that success — and more — into the New Year.

“The boys team has 14 members, which isn’t large but enough to fill all the events,” coach Sandy Felice said. “And we have six returning individual WPIAL qualifiers from last year. The boys team also has a lot of depth with the younger swimmers on the team.”

Two junior members of the team already have qualified for the WPIAL Class AA individual championships in two events. Brad Paraska qualified in the 50- and 100-yard freestyle, and Zak Koch qualified in the 100 butterfly and 200 individual medley.

Other individual qualifiers back from last season include seniors Andrew Giles, Sam Painter and Steven Painter, and junior Dalton Swartz.

One new member of the boys team is junior Eddi Simonjan, an exchange student from Germany.

“He decided to join our Mt. Pleasant Aqua Club back in September to get an early start on learning all about the sport, which is new to him, and to get in shape for varsity season,” Felice said. “We are very happy he joined us. He is a natural athlete and has already mastered most of the strokes and is going to be a great asset to the boys team.”

The Mt. Pleasant girls team, which is 1-2, lost seven seniors to graduation and have only nine girls.

“The girls team is small,” Felice said, “but three of our four state-qualifying relay swimmers are back. We have four returning individual WPIAL qualifiers and, of course, Heather Gardner, who is one of those and went on to place second (50 freestyle) and fourth (100 breaststroke) at PIAAs last year.”

Gardner already has qualified for this year’s WPIAL finals in the 200, 50 and 100 freestyleand 100 breaststroke.

“We are all training very hard, and, hopefully, we will have a lot of individual qualifiers for WPIALs,” Gardner said. “As of now, we are still trying to qualify for WPIALs in a relay.

“It is hard to win dual meets when there are only nine girls on the team. We don’t have enough to fill each spot to gain more points.”

The girls’ other two returning state relayers are senior Emily Bednar and junior Cally Hixson. One other returning WPIAL qualifier is junior Logan McCormick.

“Our goals as a small team are for self-improvement in times and technique,” said Felice, who has taken a two-step approach to the 2018-19 season.

“For some that took a long break since last season, we are working on getting in shape for competition,” she said. “For new swimmers, they are concentrating on learning stroke technique and all components of races: starts, turns and fast finishes.

“For our veteran swimmers who swim year-round with our aqua club, we are working on getting even faster, lifting weights and getting stronger, qualifying for WPIALs and sharpening all those little details that will give them an opportunity to shave off tenths and hundredths of seconds, which can be the difference between first and sixth place.”

Mt. Pleasant is a member of Section 4-AA with Burrell, Derry, Freeport, Greensburg Salem, Indiana, Laurel Highlands and Valley. The Vikings open section action Thursday at Valley, followed by a home meet Jan. 10 against Greensburg Salem.

“We are looking forward to a great season,” Felice said, “and I think we are off to a good start.”

Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.

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