Story and Photos by Phil Grove
Call it shock and awe.
Western Pennsylvania’s track and field royalty put on a powerful display – on the land and in the air, during the day and at night – at Friday’s 39th Baldwin Invitational. Paced by Billy Stanley’s monster PR, Angel Piccirillo’s middle-distance double and Larissa Debich’s barrier-breaking vault, state-leading marks and meet and stadium records were the order of the day.
Stanley Opens, Ends with Record Throws
As he has all year, Stanley set the tone early, opening the javelin competition with a new PR of 223 feet, 7 inches that didn’t last the day. He followed with throws of 212-2 and 214-4 to open the door for his best display yet of technique and power.
“He’s lifting more, that’s the thing,” South Park head coach Jeff Hufnagel said of the difference between the 2011 Billy Stanley and the 2012 version. “He does a shoulder workout the day before every meet. He did it one time earlier in the year, and he threw his best.”
With three more throws in the offing, Stanley did what his coaches say he does very well – critique his performances.
“I felt everything was right except for one thing – I was picking my right leg up,” the Ohio State recruit said of the lone technical flaw from his opening throws. “The last throw I was working on dragging it through. I dragged it through, laid back and it went.”
With the outcome never in doubt – Stanley won the event by almost 56 feet – the senior focused on hurling the 800-gram implement to distances that excited competitors and spectators before quieting them so they could hear the measurements announced.
He opened the final at 220-6 before throwing 219-9. He saved the best for last as his final sprint down the grass runway resulted in a US#2 effort of 234-9 and a six-throw average of 220-10.
“Wow, I didn’t think I would go back up to 220 after my first three throws,” said Stanley, who broke the invitational record by almost 25 feet in moving to within 6 inches of the state record by Justin Shirk of Central Dauphin. “Then 219 and then I told my coaches I was still picking my right leg up. I went off by myself, away from everyone because I don’t like talking to anyone while I’m competing. And then I thought in my head what it should feel like and I was practicing dragging my foot through.”
Next up for Stanley – setting new goals.
“I yelled over to him after, ‘You worked hard today,’” Hufnagel said of his javelin wizard. “He was sweatin’, huffin’ and puffin’. He wanted it today, not that he didn’t before.
“The other day at our team meeting, I said, ‘What’s your next goal?’ He said 230. Now on Monday, I’m going to ask him, ‘What’s your next goal?’”
Redemption Comes With Record-Setting Runs
Piccirillo made the trip to suburban Pittsburgh with one thing in mind – erase the memory of a Penn Relays race that did not turn out as she planned. Six-plus laps around the Baldwin track proved therapeutic for the Villanova-bound runner as Piccirillo bagged a pair of meet and personal records in a US#2 4:44.08 mile and US#9 2:09.82 800-meter run.
“I came here wanting to do this,” she said after her victory in the featured mile. “I had Penn Relays (last week), it didn’t really go well, I’m not really happy with how I did. I had this opportunity that I can kind of get back on my feet from that. I definitely had that motivation of remembering how I did last week.”
Piccirillo, with a game Margo Malone of North Hills in tow, scorched the first lap of the mile in 66 seconds, well ahead of the scripted pace and outside the comfort zone of both competitors. A 74-second lap left the Homer Center star on pace and with a growing lead.
“We wanted to hit 2:20, but we would rather have seen 70-70, 66 and 74 was not quite the plan,” coach Michael Gentile said. “I’m sure she backed off a little bit to try to adjust for that. I was happy she did not fall apart, panic.
“Lap 3 she likes to try to save. I tell her you race lap 3, the crowd will get you through lap 4. She went 72 last lap with a 66 opener. We’re going to take that.”
Piccirillo continued to widen her lead over the final two laps, with Malone losing contact and her stadium and event records as fatigue set in for those out front.
“I knew she could push me through, so my plan was to stick with her and see what I can do,” said Malone, who was second in 4:58.08. “I wasn’t expecting to go out that fast. Whoa. This is crazy, but I thought I would give it a try.
“I definitely have never experienced that feeling during the last lap in the mile. It wasn’t the best feeling, but it will make you stronger in the long run.”
Later at half the distance, Piccirillo again set a fast tempo, this time an on-pace 64-second lap with Peyton Hampson of Waynesburg Central fighting to stay close. With a seemingly effortless stride, Piccirillo reached the line well up on Hampson’s 2:14.14 and soon enough to erase a 2-year-old PR.
“If that had been 2:10 something, I would have stopped running forever,” Piccirillo joked. “I haven’t run a really good 800. My 2:11 PR was from my sophomore year. To come out here and get another PR and really get under 2:10, I’m really, really pumped about that.”
In putting his runner’s double under the microscope, Gentile said the performances passed any test.
“This pretty much tops it all,” he said. “That’s the best we’ve ever seen out of her.
“I believed and knew that she could run 2:10 and the low 4:40s. I know it’s there, it just hasn’t happened. After a monumental disappointment really … that’s one mentally tough kid.”
Top Vault Delivered as Predicted
Topping 13 feet in the girls pole vault is no easy task, but Hempfield Area’s Debich also hoisted the extra burden Friday of delivering on a bold prediction that she made earlier this season.
“I told my dad when I jumped 12-7 at Norwin that Baldwin was going to be the meet that I do 13-0,” the Auburn signee said of her US#3 13-0.25 clearance. “It’s not going to come before that. It’s going to be at Baldwin. I jumped it here, so it was good.”
Last into the competition at 12-0 – a height that only runner-up Marissa Kalsey of Waynesburg Central was also able to clear – Debich needed just one attempt each to clear her opener and 12-6. A second-attempt success at 12-7 preceded her slipping over the bar on the first try in 13-foot territory.
“I’ve come in at 12-0 before at a few dual meets whenever the weather was nice,” she said of her higher starting height. “Today I knew I was going to do it. It was just fun.
“I jumped 13 feet over the summer so I’m not just going to jump 13. I’m going to jump 13 and a quarter (inch) this time.”
The new stadium and meet records came despite the competition taking place on a temporary runway constructed on the football field.
“The first time I vaulted on one I PRed 9 inches,” Debich said of the raised runway. “I don’t think there’s a difference, but some people do.”
Seneca Valley Standout, Hickory Quartet Shine
Oliver Philogene of Seneca Valley showed strength, durability and pure speed in a trio of strong efforts. In addition to blazing an untested PA#2 48.30 to win the 400, the senior lifted the Raiders into sixth in the 4x800 relay with a 1:56 anchor and closed the meet with a blistering 47-plus carry that had him go from fourth to first across the line in a PA#4 3:21.25 to Greater Latrobe’s PA#7 3:21.41.
“My coach always said use it or lose it,” he said of his philosophy toward the 400, his favorite. “I get out pretty fast. Once I hit the 100, I see where I am, I don’t slow down but I stride it out. My third 100, I just keep my form, and once I hit the 100-110 mark, I just use all the rest that I’ve got.”
Seneca Valley assistant coach Gar Bercury said the best is likely yet to come for Philogene.
“That’s pretty good,” Bercury said of the 400 clocking. “He’s gonna do better. We said let’s go under 48.5 and then go from there. We have been setting pretty high goals.”
Certainly it would be difficult to ask for more from four of Hickory’s downsized contingent because of a conflict with the school’s prom as the Hornets’ field event standouts accounted for five victories and eight top 3 finishes.
Lauren Lubarski was the busiest, with a PA#1 5-8 in the high jump coming alongside runner-up finishes in the javelin (131-2) and discus (136-6). Her winning effort tied the meet record, was a PR and erased a 37-year-old school record.
“I sat down, closed my eyes and said a prayer,” she said of her preparation for the third-attempt clearance for the win. “I relaxed, got in the zone and jumped 5-8.”
Teammate Matt Bell picked up two of the other victories, hitting a PA#2 61-4 in the shot put and 172-10 in the discus and getting back on track for meeting his season goals.
“Last year, I only threw 125 here, so the 172 was definitely a goal I needed to get,” he said. “But the 61, it’s been a while. I threw 60 feet indoor, and I was never even close to 60 so far outdoor. My farthest was 59 and that was only once. It definitely feels good to know that I’m getting better than I was indoor.”
Jennifer Neider won the shot with a PA#2 47-4, and Taylor Woods dominated the discus with a state-best 146-4 and was second in the shot.
Other highlights included a meet-opening PA#4 7:55.97 for Kiski Area in the boys 4x800 relay. The Cavaliers got the best of Slippery Rock Area (PA#6 7:56.96) and Quaker Valley (PA#7 7:57.46) in a race that saw three teams enter the final 100 with a shot at victory.
“We feel good about the progress,” coach Tom Berzonsky said. “There’s room for improvement, so we’re looking forward to getting in the big races.”