Laurel Highlands held Senior Night before the Section 4-AA finale Thursday night, and Mount Pleasant senior Heather Gardner celebrated by setting the pool record in the 100 breaststroke.
The Lady Vikings were solid in the final meet of the regular season, returning home with a 105-74 victory.
The meet was the last opportunity for swimmers and divers to secure a time, or to improve a mark, for the WPIAL Class AA Swimming Championships. Deadline for entry is Monday at noon.
Gardner’s name can be found on most all of the individual events on the WPIAL performance list, but the senior said she’ll pursue the two events where she’s the two-time defending gold medalist: the 100 breaststroke and 50 freestyle.
Gardner pulled away from Laurel Highlands freshman Ella Ciez in the final 50 yards to win the 100 breaststroke in a pool record 1:07.46. Ciez finished second with a qualifying time of 1:12.63. Gardner dashed her way to first place in the 50 freestyle in 24.84 seconds with Mapletown’s Ella Menear finishing .39 seconds later.
Gardner is resigned to swimming the sprint freestyle and breaststroke, but is not resting on her laurels.
“I’m stuck with the same two events each year,” said Gardner. “It does (get harder to defend her titles). I’m not just going to expect to win. Of course, I want to win again. I swim my event as fast as I can.”
Gardner not only has her sights set on the top step of the podium, but doing so in WPIAL record time. Her winning time in the 50 freestyle was .14 seconds off the mark set by Geibel Catholic’s Emily Zimcosky in 2015 and her time in the 100 breaststroke was .31 seconds short of the mark set by Highlands’ Bailey Bonnett in 2017.
“I’m definitely aiming for both of them. They know that,” said Gardner.
How can she make up the slight differences in time?
“Believe in yourself. Working on technique. The small things that matter,” explained Gardner.
The Liberty University recruit also wants to stand atop the podium at the state meet, something she has yet to do in her stellar career.
Gardner nearly chased down the Fillies’ Jenna Roscoe in the opening 200 medley relay. Laurel Highlands touched the wall first in 1:54.05 with the Lady Vikings second in 1:54.29. Both teams, along with Mount Pleasant’s second relay, met the qualifying standard.
SaraJo Gardner (200 freestyle, 2:05.34, WPIAL), Paige Richter (diving, 178.95, WPIAL), Cally Hixson (500 freestyle, 6:03.19), the 200 freestyle relay of McKenna Mizikar, Morgan Baughman, Hixson and Reegan Brown (1:49.06, WPIAL), and the 400 freestyle relay of Trinity Graft, Hixson, Sarajo Gardner and Heather Gardner (3:57.24, WPIAL) also had first-place finishes for Mount Pleasant.
Brown’s name also dots the performance list and though she had a second and third place, she hit the qualifying standard again. The freshman was third in the 200 IM in 2:22.73 and second in the 200 IM in 1:03.88.
“They were good times, but not my best,” said Brown.
Brown has taken a gander at the WPIAL performance lists for an idea what events she’ll likely swim.
“I’ve looked at the list. I’ve looked over it,” said Brown. “The 100 backstroke and 100 butterfly are my best ones, but they’re not set in stone yet. I normally do the butterfly.”
No matter the event, Brown has an idea how she wants her first WPIAL meet to go.
“I’m hoping I do good and place at the WPIALs, and make it to states,” said Brown. “I’m hoping to get a 59 (seconds) in the 100 backstroke and get under a minute in my fly, too.”
The meet, by chance, had the fastest two times in the backstroke so far this season. The Fillies’ Elizabeth Thomas has the fastest time to date and she sped to another first-place finish in a qualifying time of 1:00.48. Menear sits with the second-fastest time, although she only swam the 50 freestyle in the meet.
SaraJo Gardner (100 freestyle), Graft (100 freestyle)
Roscoe was one of the seniors honored before the meet and fell short of one goal she hoped to attain as her career comes to a close, breaking her sister Rachel’s school record in the 50 freestyle. Faced with some heady competition in Heather Gardner and Menear, Roscoe placed third in a qualifying time of 26.27 seconds.
“No, I did not (break the record), maybe at the WPIALs. The school record is 24.88 seconds and my PR is 24.91,” explained Roscoe. “That girl (Gardner) is very good. It was a good race.
“I just wanted to have a solid meet as my last meet. I didn’t want to have any regrets.”
Roscoe finished fourth in the 100 freestyle with a qualifying time of 58.90 seconds and anchored the Fillies’ 400 freestyle relay to second place in a WPIAL time of 4:01.38.
Roscoe has been swimming for most of her life, but competing in the pool will come to a close in the next month or so.
“It’s crazy. It all went really fast, but I had a lot of fun,” added Roscoe.
Mrosko (200 IM, 2:11.71, WPIAL; 100 butterfly, 1:00.38, WPIAL) and Ciez (100 freestyle, 55.46, WPIAL) secured first-place finishes for the Fillies.
Thomas (200 IM), Skyler Wilson (100 butterfly), and Ciez (100 breaststroke) also met the WPIAL time standard.
Albert Gallatin’s Jael Dankle swam at Laurel Highlands home meets, so the senior was also honored before the meet. She fell just short in her qualifying bids in the 200 and 500 freestyles. Her time of 2:05.04 was about two seconds shy in the 200 freestyle and the first-place finish in the 500 freestyle in 5:28.85 was just over a second off.
So, Dankle will only have the 500 freestyle for her shot at a third-straight Class AAA medal.
“High school swimming is not my focus this year. My club meets are crossing over with the high school meets,” said Dankle. “I want to get my time down in the 500 freestyle. At the end of the season, I want to be under 5:10. My best time is 5:06.
Menear was only in one race, but added a fourth WPIAL option with her time in the 50 freestyle.
“The 50 freestyle is one of my best events, too, with the 200 IM. I’m leaning towards the 200 IM,” said Menear, who has the second-fastest time posted to date in both the 200 IM and 100 backstroke. “I’m trying to get a sectional cut for the 200 IM in March.
“My goals have stayed the same (throughout the season). I want to improve my times.”