MOUNT PLEASANT -- Senior Al Miscovich and sophomore Heather Gardner are one-sport athletes at Mount Pleasant Area High School.
But, boy, are they fantastic at that one sport.
Miscovich is a wrestler who has one at least 30 matches in each of his four years with the Vikings, while Gardner in just two years has collected four WPIAL medals and qualified for the PIAA meet twice.
The two are their school’s winter representatives for the Centennial Chevrolet Scholar-Athlete Spotlight program.
Miscovich participated in a couple other sports in his younger days.
“I played football until ninth grade and baseball until seventh grade,” he said. “Once I got in high school all I did was wrestle.”
Gardner’s love is swimming.
“I only swim,” she said. “I’ve been swimming for nine years.
“My swim coach here, Sandy Felice, has been coaching me since I was eight years old and has definitely had a big impact. She taught me how to first swim and she’s still coaching me today.”
Both athletes started their high school athletic careers with a bang as freshmen.
“I placed second at WPIALs (in the 50 freestyle and 100 breaststroke) and I went to states and placed 11th and 12th,” Gardner said.
“My freshman year I had 30 wins,” Miscovich said. “I made it to the regional tournament.”
Miscovich has placed in the top in the top three in the WPIAL tournament four years in a row, earning three silver medals and one bronze. He came back in the regionals this year to wrestle what he classifies as his most memorable match.
“I beat Devon Chambers of Ellwood City, 6-3, to become the regional champion,” Miscovich said.
That propelled him to the state tournament in Hershey for the second time, although a couple close losses sent him home without a medal.
“My first match I was beating the kid 3-0 until the last 30 seconds and he ended up getting a gator roll and got me on by back and got three back points,” Miscovich recalled. “We went into overtime and in the last ultimate rideout, I went to stand up and he caught me in a headlock and got a couple back points and I lost 5-3.
“Then I lost the consolation match 4-3 to the same guy who beat me in the WPIAL finals.”
That heartbreak can’t diminish what Miscovich has done for Mount Pleasant wrestling in his career. He has accumulated 135 wins, is known for his work ethic and consistency, and has displayed great determination, such as during his sophomore year when he needed to defeat a wrestler who had beaten him five consecutive times to reach the PIAA championships, and he did just that.
Miscovich, the son of Gary and Becky Miscovich, will continue his wrestling career at the college level.
“I signed with the University of Pitt-Johnstown. I’m going to school there for computer science. They’re definitely a great team with a great coach,” said Miscovich, referring to Pat Pecora, who has been at UPJ for 41 years and guided the team to 21 NCAA regional championships.
“Every year they’re good. Two of their kids just won national titles this past weekend. I know a good bit of the kids from going to club and a lot of them are from around here. The campus is nice. I like up in the mountains. It’s 10 minutes from where I camp.”
As Miscovich noted, wrestling is a year-around sport for those who want to excel at it.
“Wrestling takes a lot of my time up,” he said. “This past summer I traveled to Michigan and Iowa with a couple clubs. The club I belong to, he has camps all summer at his place. I go there, too.
“I belong to All-American Wrestling Club in Hecla. I’ve been going there since second grade. Rob Waller runs it.”
Waller, a Pennsylvania wrestling and coaching legend, is a 1998 graduate of Mount Pleasant.
Miscovich does find some free time once in a while to do other things, like volunteer at an animal shelter for three years.
“I also like the outdoors,” he said. “I like camping, hunting, kayaking, swimming, things like that. I go up to Ohiopyle or Laurel Ridge State Park, They have some nice trails and stuff.”
While he likes swimming, it’s safe to say Miscovich would lose a race to Gardner. It was about four years ago when she realized that she might have a great future in the sport.
“Probably when I was about 12,” Gardner said. “That’s when I broke my first record. We have an aqua club (Mount Pleasant Aqua Club Team) and at our championship meet I broke one of the records.
“Then I started taking it seriously.”
Gardner, the daughter of Joe and Valorie Gardner, improved on her stellar freshman season. This year she won gold medals in the 50 freestyle and the 100 breaststroke at the WPIAL meet at Pitt’s Trees Pool.
“Last year I was going against some really tough girls who were seniors,” she said. “This year I had a little bit of an edge because I knew what to expect.”
Gardner recalled the experience of standing atop the medal stand.
“It’s an exciting feeling,” she said. “I feel so honored to have the gold medal and hold the sign that says 50 free or breast. It was pretty cool to be up there for my team and represent Mount Pleasant.”
Gardner followed that up with a trip to Bucknell University for the PIAA Class AAA swimming championships this past weekend, where she was seeded first in the 50 freestyle and fourth in the 100 breaststroke, although she admitted being so highly seeded comes with a lot of pressure.
“It’s good, but it also kind of makes me more nervous,” she said.
She almost matched her seeding exactly at the states. She missed a gold medal by .13 seconds, settling for a silver in the 50 freestyle and added a fourth-place medal in the breaststroke.
Gardner's most memorable race so far came during the regular season.
"It was probably this year when I broke the 50 free school record for the first time," Gardner said. "It was held for 28 years by Amy Cole. I thought that was really cool to do that."
Gardner, who knows some sign language and has been a member of the student council, had plans to swim past high school.
"I'm not sure where I want to go yet," she said. "But I definitely want to swim in college and, hopefully, get a scholarship."