A new face, several familiar ones and a down-to-the-wire 4x4 helped wrap up the WPIAL championships. And yes, there was sunshine and a little more rain, too.
All told, six meet records fell as conditions more agreeable to record breaking welcomed competitors back to Baldwin High School.
Beaver Falls Sophomore Dominates Middle-Distance Events
Those who stayed around for the 1,600-meter runs Thursday afternoon were treated to some outstanding performances and races, including a resounding victory by Domenic Peretta in 4:19.14.
On Saturday, the sophomore from Beaver Falls dominated another Class AA field, nearly duplicating his margin of victory at half the distance. Peretta walked off with the 800 gold medal, along with a meet record and the No. 3 time in Pennsylvania, after running 1:52.72.
“I just ran hard,” Peretta said in an understatement. “The first lap somebody pushed me, and then I just kept coming. My legs felt great.”
Peretta covered the first 400 in just over 55 seconds and powered through the turn with a solid lead. His winning time was almost 3 seconds ahead of the old WPIAL record and more than 6 seconds ahead of his nearest competitor, Vincentian Academy junior Andrew Koryak (1:58.89).
“I was happy,” Peretta said of his new PR by more than 3 seconds. “I just want to be under 1:50 sooner or later.”
A year ago, Peretta ran 2:00.57 for fourth in the 800 at the WPIAL meet and then placed 11th in his heat at Shippensburg. Saturday’s performance firmly places Peretta as the fastest sophomore in the nation in the 800, along with cracking the US top 40 for all classes.
However, the Beaver Falls standout was not finished as he came back two events later in the 3,200, where he was the fastest qualifier in the field of 16. Peretta worked his way to the front and set the pace before Landin Delaney of Winchester Thurston took control. Delaney’s winning time was 9:35.41, while Peretta was second in 9:39.29 as the top six reached the state standard.
300s Shine in Kicking Off Track Action
Maybe it was being in the leadoff spot, or maybe it was the weather. Whatever the reason, the WPIAL 300 hurdle races kicked off Saturday’s track activity in dramatic fashion as three of the four finals came down to the final hurdle and each race had a time crack the year’s top 10.
In Class AA, two-time defending state champion Emily Lelis was bidding for her fourth consecutive WPIAL event title to go with the complete set that she completed Thursday in the 100 hurdles. Mohawk junior Maria Fleck and the lingering effects of being sick eventually got in the way of another gold for Lelis in the 300s.
“I knew she was going to be good,” Lelis said of Fleck, who was the fastest qualifier after nipping Lelis in the Class AA North Section meet. “I felt really good the first 200, and I just died the last 100. I couldn’t hold her off.”
Fleck’s winning time of 44.05 is PA#7, while Lelis ran a PA#10 44.33.
The excitement continued in the final heat of the Class AAA girls’ 300s as two members of PA’s top 10 -- Hempfield Area’s Maddie Holmberg and Pine-Richland’s Kat Quigley -- were side by side in the middle of the track and stride for stride for almost the entire distance.
“I’m really grateful that she was there,” Holmberg said of her competitor. “It was really fun coming down this last 100 meters.
“We were neck and neck. I think she had me for a little bit. I just had a last little kick of adrenaline. I think that’s all I needed, that last little bit.”
Holmberg did reach the line first in a PA#3 43.35, while Quigley was initially credited with a 43.75 in second. After the results were announced and medals awarded, officials ruled that one of Quigley’s lane 4 hurdles interfered with Mt. Lebanon’s Natalie Corrado in lane 3, disqualifying the Pine-Richland junior and granting Corrado a solo run before the start of the boys’ 3,200 runs. A senior, Corrado took advantage of the second chance, running 45.57 to finish third and qualify for Shippensburg.
In the meantime, Holmberg was on her way to the long jump pit for another chance at gold.
“I was really hyped up when I came over from the 300 hurdles, which kind of threw my steps off,” the junior said of the adjustment from the track to the field event. “As I started to calm back down a little bit, I had to readjust my steps again. So I never really got a solid run with my steps and hitting the board right. Hopefully I will be able to practice that and be more consistent for next week.”
Despite the technical problems, the gold medal was clearly Holmberg’s as she won by almost a foot in moving up from last year’s fourth-place finish. Her best leap of 19 feet, 3 inches broke the meet record by a quarter of an inch and put her back on top of the state rankings in the event. Freshman Jessica Stever of Indiana Area spanned a PA#7 18-4.25 for second.
Foxes Grab Gold in Final AAA Boys’ Races
Colin Martin didn’t want to wait until the kick, and Elias Graca knew it would come down to the final meters. In both cases, the final result was a victory for the Fox Chapel Area boys’ team.
Arguably the best boys’ distance runner in western Pennsylvania over the past eight months or so, Martin and the rest of the 3,200 run field had almost perfect conditions for a run at Shippensburg. The Michigan recruit took control early, taking the lead from North Allegheny’s Matt Mcgoey and covering the first 1,600 in 4:31.
“With a pack as dense as we had today, I knew that taking it out hard was something that was going to be imperative to winning the race,” Martin said. “All of these guys are really fantastic kickers, something I know that I am not very capable of when it comes down to the last 200, so creating some kind of separation early on in the race to try to buffer those kickers is something that I knew I needed.”
No one was able to stay with Martin following the strong opening pace. His winning time was a PA#6 9:10.74, while McGoey was next in a PA#10 9:16.00.
“The east guys have definitely proven their worth,” Martin said of the task facing the six state qualifiers from the WPIAL final. “Now the mindset has to switch from trying to go for a nice time here and trying to compete as well as I can to just hold on as long as I can with them. “
And holding on was exactly what teammate Graca did, just long enough to secure a second consecutive victory for the Foxes in the climactic 4x400 relay.
The quartet of Brian Papich, Andrew Golio, Brandon Mitchell and Graca worked their way through the field, slowly closing on frontrunner Mt. Lebanon. On the strength of Graca’s push for the finish, Fox Chapel’s PA#10 3:21.92 bested the Blue Devils and their 3:21.93.
“In the (400), you know you are going to lock up,” said Graca, who was the runner-up earlier in the day in the 800 and was the third anchor to get a baton. “It’s just how much you are going to let it affect you.
“When you are that close and you are trying to repeat a championship like that and you have kids who have been working so hard, it’s so hard to let them down. You have to do anything at all, anything you can do to finish strong. You just have to do it. There’s no choice. You just have to.”
In both cases, the aforementioned track standouts got a good boost from the tight competition, registering the top marks in the first half of a storm-plagued event Thursday at Baldwin.
Bernadowski was matched with Gateway’s Montae Nicholson and South Fayette’s Mitch Valko in one of the marquee fields of the afternoon, the Class AAA boys’ 110-meter high hurdles.
Nicholson and Bernadowski were about even as both prepared to clear the eighth of 10 hurdles. The Elizabeth Forward star was the best in the final meters as he took over the yearly state lead with a meet record time of 14.00 seconds.
“It was all about finishing,” Bernadowski said of how he was able to top his rivals. “I always start off strong but at the end I sort of die. It was all about finishing, especially with (Montae) because of how strong he is.”
Nicholson improved his PA#3 time to 14.08, while Valko climbed up to a PA#4 14.20.
“I was very surprised,” the winner said of his time. “I did not expect us all to run any good times. We all actually ran pretty good times. I was proud of us as a district that we’re in and me myself.”
With at least one meet left on his schedule, Bernadowski said his goal remains the same.
“It’s always been to get in the 13s, which I am just getting closer and closer to every day so I’m proud of that,” the winner said.
In possibly the only event run with nary a drop of rain, Shaler Area’s Schwartz assumed her spot at the front of the girls Class AAA 1,600 field when the fast heat broke for the rail after the opening 100. This time, she was not alone as North Allegheny sophomore Madeleine Davison tucked in close as the front runners pulled clear of the field through an opening 70.5-second lap.
A junior, Schwartz reached halfway in 2:23 as Davison was still perched on the Shaler Area standout’s right shoulder. After another lap in 72 seconds, the defending state metric mile champion began to inch away from Davison.
The winning time of 4:45.19 kept Schwartz’s name in the record books as she erased her 4:47.07 from 2013 and atop the state and national rankings for 1,600 meters. Davison finished strong, moving to US#9 with a 4:47.32.
Kelsey Potts of Mt. Lebanon was third in 4:56.70, while Gina Alm of Hampton turned in a PA#9 4:57.42 to break her school’s record formerly held by William & Mary All-American Elaina Balouris.
Based on the weather conditions at the time, the Class AAA boys 1,600 yielded arguably the finest performance. Jeff Van Kooten of Central Catholic battled Hampton’s Nathan Sloan each other and torrential rains over the final 500-plus meters.
In the end, Van Kooten’s stretch run won out in a 4:17.39, while Sloan crossed the line in 4:19.09.
The last five track events -- starting with the 300 hurdles -- and some field events will be run starting at 10 a.m. Saturday.
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