Photos and Summary by Phil Grove
There were times during Thursday’s WPIAL (District 7) Championships when it just wasn’t a fair fight, with athletes running roughshod over their competition and then giving the record book a beating in the process.
Shaler Area’s Brianna Schwartz was the chief protagonist, dominating her competition in putting two PA#1s and a US top 5 together to get western Pennsylvania’s contingent officially on the road to Shippensburg.
The sophomore middle distance standout kicked off her day with another front-running performance in the Class AAA 1,600 meters. Despite hitting the midway point a little faster than planned, Schwartz was able to hold form for a PA#1 and US#4 4:47.07 victory.
“I started off a little bit too fast, so the last lap was pretty painful,” the winner said of reaching the 800 mark in 2:20. “I knew I wanted to get out fast, and I knew I wanted to break the record, which was 4:52. I tried to get a good lead in the first lap, and I just tried to keep it.”
Another underclassmen, freshman Kelsey Potts of Mt. Lebanon, was the runner-up in a PA#5 4:55.17, while senior Betsy Erlanger of Upper St. Clair climbed to seventh on the yearly list with a 4:56.35.
Several hours later, Schwartz stepped on the track for another record-breaking run. Continuing to build on her experience level in the 800 run, the Shaler Area runner worked her way through the pack in the opening lap en route to an even-paced, state-leading 2:10.38.
“I didn’t want to take the lead the first lap, so I just stayed there with Gina (Alm of Hampton),” Schwartz said of being alongside her sometimes training partner through a 65-second opening lap. “Like she said, I expected it to be a little bit faster than that, but it felt pretty good. I stayed right next to her until the 200 mark, and that’s when I took the lead. I just tried to keep her back and finish strong.”
Alm set a PR in grabbing the silver medal, moving up to PA#4 with a 2:13.65 as six bettered 2:16.
“I was hoping for my speed to help me a little more because I knew that was the advantage I would have over her since she is stronger,” Alm said. “It didn’t go quite the way I planned, but I still have to be happy with a PR and hopefully I can knock it down at states.”
Going the Distance... to Shippensburg.
Colin Martin knew it wasn’t going to be easy, but it undoubtedly was going to cap a memorable day for the Fox Chapel junior and his twin brother, Ethan.
For the second time in less than two weeks, the Martin brothers were locked in a battle with Kiski Area’s Brent Kennedy in the closing stages of a 3,200 at Baldwin. On May 3, Kennedy outsprinted the Martins, covering the final lap in 62 seconds to win the Baldwin Invitational event. It was anybody’s guess as to this outcome with a WPIAL gold medal at stake.
“I knew Ethan and Brent were definitely going to try and run a really, really fast time for the last lap,” Colin said. “So I knew that I was in store for a really, really painful eighth lap. I just tried to get myself ready for that, laps six and seven, just try and set myself up for a good final lap.”
Ethan Martin had the best and fastest finish, hitting the line in 9:17.20 followed by Kennedy (9:17.30) and brother Colin (9:19.91). The 1-3 finish for the Martins was just the tip of the WPIAL iceberg for the Fox Chapel runners as another Ethan-Colin finish was good for gold and silver in the 1,600.
“It’s the best feeling in the world,” Ethan said. “We’ve been hoping for a 1-2 in the WPIAL this year, and we got it in the mile. We knew Brent was going to be pretty tough, but a 1-3 finish in that race ...”
Juniors swept the top three spots in the 1,600 as Ethan Martin was credited with a 4:18.12, with Colin second in 4:18.63 and Hampton’s Nathan Sloan next at 4:19.42.
“To do a 4:18 today in the heat with him is amazing,” Ethan said of the brothers’ efforts. “We got into it thinking we’ll let people take the first lap, but immediately we’ve got to take the lead because this is going to be a strength race. And if it came down to a kick, it’s anybody’s race.”
One race that definitely did not come down to a final sprint was the AAA girls 3,200 as Shannon Malone of North Hills was alone to take a crack at some records and the state’s top 10. The end result was a PA#5 10:41.24 that put her almost 22 seconds ahead of the runner-up.
“It was a little tough,” the winner said of running alone basically from the start. “I had a couple people yelling splits to me and that helped. I’m excited for next week to have competition around me to help me through those middle laps.”
The top sprinting performance of the day belonged to Gateway’s 400 relay team of Julius Rivera, Jae’Len Means, Montae Nicholson and Cameron Gray. The Gators dominated the highly anticipated event with a PA#3 41.89, easily outdistancing Seneca Valley (42.60) and Mt. Lebanon (42.85).
“No, we were actually looking for a little bit lower,” Gateway coach Tom LaBuff said when asked if he was surprised by the quartet’s clocking. “The handoff was a little shaky on the end, but they did a good job.”
In the hurdles, Maddie Holmberg of Hempfield Area and Springdale’s Emily Lelis were double winners with state-ranking performances. In AAA, Holmberg ran 14.98 to win the 100 hurdles and then scorched the 300s in a PA#6 43.97.
“I’ve been trying to break into the 43s,” said the sophomore, who also contributed a leg on Hempfield’s 400 relay that ran a PA#5 47.76. “To get that at WPIALs and then going to states is the best.”
In AA, defending state champion Lelis moved a T-PA#10 14.84 in winning the 100 hurdles before breaking her meet record in the 300s with a 44.57 clocking that was more than 1.2 seconds ahead of the field. In the AAA 110s, Gateway’s Nicholson is now PA#6 after a 14.39 to a PA#10 14.50 from Elizabeth Forward’s Matthew Bernadowski, while Alyssa Wise of Washington moved to PA#10 with a 12.18 to win the AA girls 100 after running 12.20 in the prelims, and Mt. Lebanon clocked a PA#6 48.17 in the 400 relay and Latrobe went PA#6 3:54.61 in the 1,600 relay.
North Allegheny put its corps of distance runners to good use, posting a PA#9 7:54.29 in the AAA 3,200 relay to Kiski Area’s 7:56.65. Fox Chapel won the 1,600 relay in a PA#10 3:20.59.
North Allegheny’s Kyle Shivetts ran a PA#6 21.80 to win the AAA 200, while Central Catholic’s Torey Doaty equaled his season best of 48.72 to win the AAA 400 over Robin Hall of Penn Hills (PA#8 48.78) and Upper St. Clair’s John Rutkowski (PA#10 48.81).
Kailyn Clancy of California was a big winner in the AA shot put with a PA#6 43-0, while Josh Wise of Washington won the AA high jump at T-PA#9 6-6. India McCoy of Ambridge moved into a tie for fourth in the state with a 5-7 win in the AAA high jump, and sophomore Kelsey Plecenik of Norwin bested a quality AAA girls pole vault at T-PA#4 12-1 with Greensburg Salem’s Cassidy Shepherd second and now PA#7 at 11-9. In the javelin, Luke Smorey of host Baldwin rifled the 800-gram implement a PA#5 200-3 and sophomore Morgan Defloria of Hempfield threw a T-PA#6 139-8 to win in AAA.
State’s Top Long Jumpers Hit Mark in Last Round
There’s no mistaking it, Hopewell's Shatori Walker-Kimbrough really doesn’t like to foul. And the long jump infraction was all that was keeping the Hopewell standout from putting an exclamation point on a gold-medal performance in the Class AAA long jump.
“I hated it,” Walker-Kimbrough said. “I told my coach when I foul I feel like I’m dead.”
The competition was all but over when the senior stood at the end of the runway for her and the field’s final attempt. Her third-round leap of 18 feet, 11.25 inches was worthy of first place and a meet record, but she wanted more.
“I was a little nervous,” she said of her feelings. “I hate fouling. My coach ran back and said you have nothing to lose. He said I already won, but I was going to take my last jump either way. Just let it all out.”
The advice worked perfectly, as did Walker-Kimbrough’s approach. After losing marks on her first two efforts in the final to having her foot over the foul line, Walker-Kimbrough was legal in round 6, hitting the sand at 19-2.75 for her and the state’s second-best this year.
“Twenty (feet) wouldn’t be bad,” she said when asked of her goal for Shippensburg. “(The official) screaming out 20 or seeing a 20 on the board wouldn’t be a bad thing.”
Behind Walker-Kimbrough was a strong field as Gloria Schifino of Penn Hills moved to T-PA#5 in round 5 with a runner-up leap of 18-6, while Hempfield teammates Bridget Guy and Maddie Holmberg were next at PA#8 18-5.5 and 18-5, respectively, and Mars Area’s Lydia Dennis was fifth at 18-2.75.
Unlike his counterpart in the girls event, Isaiah Brooks of Woodland Hills faced a more daunting task entering the sixth round – hit a big jump in his finale or risk not claiming a WPIAL gold medal in the deepest competition in the state this year.
The sophomore came through with a monster effort, adding a half-inch to his PR and grabbing a share of the state lead at 23-8. The winning effort came after Brooks also fouled on his first two tries in the final.
“I was so tired after I ran the 200 and then I went there,” Brooks, who also was sixth in the 200 and 400 dashes, said. “I just got (back) into my comfort zone.”
Gateway’s Montae Nicholson put together a brilliant series of jumps, holding the lead from the opening round until late in the sixth. Reaching at least 22-2 on all six jumps and averaging 22-8, Nicholson grabbed the top spot at 22-9.5 and moved it to 22-11.25 in the second.
He added to the pressure for Brooks and rest of the field by going 23-1.5 in round 4 before being pushed back to third as Brian Papich of Fox Chapel Area skipped over the 22s and went 23-3 to take the lead for only one jump as Brooks followed with his new PR.
In the AA girls long jump, Essence Barron of New Brighton won with a leap of 18-2.5.
In the girls triple AAA jump, Walker-Kimbrough moved to T-PA#6 with a 37-11.75, finishing ahead of the 37-9.5 by Dennis.