Mt. Pleasant swimmer Heather Gardner eyes state title |
High School Swimming

Mt. Pleasant swimmer Heather Gardner eyes state title

Mt. Pleasant’s Heather Gardner swims against Connellsville Thursday, Dec. 20, 2018, in the high school’s pool.

She already has established herself as one of the best swimmers in school history.

And she’s only halfway through her junior season.

Mt. Pleasant standout Heather Gardner owns school records in the 200-yard individual medley, 50 freestyle, 100 breaststroke and as part of the 400 freestyle relay.

“Heather has been working very hard in the pool and weight room,” coach Sandy Felice said. “She has only taken two or three weeks off since last season. She has set some very high goals, of which I think she is very capable of attaining.”

Gardner, 17, is a three-time WPIAL and two-time PIAA qualifier. She is the defending WPIAL Class AA champion in the 50 freestyle and 100 breaststroke events after placing second in both events as a freshman.

Last year, Gardner was the runner-up in the 50 freestyle at the PIAA meet, where she also finished fourth in the 100 breaststroke. She placed 11th in the 50 freestyle and 12th in the 100 breaststroke as a freshman.

This year, she already has qualified for WPIALs in the 200, 50 and 100 freestyle, as well as the 100 breaststroke.

“I believe my No. 1 goal this year is to win the 50 free at states,” Gardner said. “Being a runner-up last year really gives me a lot of motivation to train harder so I can come out on top.”

As a sophomore, Gardner was named 2017-18 All-America by the National Interscholastic Swim Coaches Association.

Her time of 23.25 seconds in the 50 freestyle — which came in the WPIAL finals — ranked 76th.

She is approaching the WPIAL record of 23.10, set by Geibel Catholic’s Emily Zimcosky in 2015.

“Heather’s close to it,” Felice said. “She has had many 23s since then, so she has been consistently in the 23.5-24.5 range without tapering fully. Breaking that record is definitely one of her goals.

“Heather has set some very specific time goals in events that she wants to break the school record in and events that she wants to win states in. They are all very doable for her.”

Gardner recently qualified and competed in three events — the 50 free, 100 free and 100 breaststroke — for Junior Winter Nationals in Greensboro, N.C.

A third-year member of the varsity team, she began her career in the pool when she was 8 while competing for the Mt. Pleasant Aqua Club. She also swam as a seventh- and eighth-grader on the Mt. Pleasant junior high team and still is an active aqua club member.

“I do not participate in any sports other than swimming,” Gardner said, “and I do weight training on the side to help me with my swimming.”

Gardner owns a 3.8 GPA and hopes to continue her swim career in college.

“As of right now I do know that I want to swim in college,” she said, “but I do not know where. There still is a lot of time to decide.

“I am very excited for this season. Our team only has nine girls, so it’s going to be a lot harder than last year. All of our girls are training really hard.”

Gardner helped shatter the school record in the 400 freestyle relay last season, anchoring Mt. Pleasant’s state-qualifying team of Emily Bednar, Cally Hixson and older sister LynnJoelle Gardner.

It was the first relay team in school history to advance to the state meet.

To Felice’s knowledge, Mt. Pleasant never has had a PIAA swimming champion.

Ray Fisher is a freelance writer.

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