When Brianna Schwartz is in a race, there’s definitely one place to look for the Shaler Area distance standout – at the front.
Never afraid to set the pace, Schwartz used her front-running style to reach heights in 2014 that only a select few distance runners have attained in Pennsylvania history. For her efforts, Schwartz was named the Gatorade Pennsylvania Girls Track and Field Athlete of the Year.
“Yes, I was surprised,” Schwartz said of her indoor and early season outdoor times that were among the best in the nation. “It was awesome to see all the training come together with such great results.”
Schwartz, who will be a senior in the fall, wrapped up her outdoor season by successfully defending her PIAA Class AAA 1,600-meter run title, going wire to wire and holding off North Allegheny’s Madeleine Davison for the win in 4 minutes, 46.95 seconds.
“We were very pleased with this past year,” said Shaler Area volunteer coach Sam Bair, who has worked extensively with Schwartz. “She had a few glitches along that way with what might be considered subpar racing performances, but all of her goals were accomplished and we are looking forward to her final year of high school track and cross country.”
In the weeks and months leading up to Shippensburg, Schwartz was cranking out lifetime bests and threatening the fastest times ever run in Pennsylvania. She accomplished this at the same time she was spending a great deal of her races and energy on team goals as the talented Titans were in the running in the separate team playoffs in the WPIAL (District 7). In each of Shaler Area’s six dual meets, Schwartz ran and won the 800, 1,600 and 3,200 runs against competition that included a number of state placers in AAA.
Schwartz’s high-level debut outdoors came on April 11 at the Butler Invitational, where she faced a total of six eventual placers from the distance races at Shippensburg. She won the 1,600 by almost 15 seconds in 4:45.43 and claimed the 800 by more than 8 seconds in 2:10.15, with those winning efforts ranking as the nation’s fastest and fourth-best, respectively, at that point of the season.
On May 2 at the Baldwin Invitational, Schwartz took advantage of a rare opportunity to run the 3,200 with fresh legs. The result was historic.
She tore off into the night and quickly built a lead that would grow to the finish. To the delight of the crowd, Schwartz finished eight laps in a meet record and PR 10:10.03, narrowly missing the all-time state record of 10:09.2 set in 1978 by State College’s Martha White. Schwartz’s time was the nation’s 11th fastest in 2014.
Her fastest outdoor 1,600 came in defending her WPIAL event title, with a 4:45.19 effort finishing as US#18.
Shaler head coach Dave Interthal had high praise for Schwartz in track and field and all areas of life.
“Bri is obviously very talented and has a tremendous work ethic, but she handles pain better than any athlete I've ever been around,” he said. “When she hurts or gets uncomfortable, she pushes on when most people would back off. Also, as gifted and talented an athlete as she is, she's an even better human being. I can honestly say that I've never heard anyone say anything bad about her.”
Indoors, Schwartz overcame the elements that canceled meets and limited training, putting together a three-meet season that more than made up in high-performance efforts for what it lacked in duration. In a span of 15 days, Schwartz recorded a 4:42.10-2:10.77 double (1,600/800) in Ohio, another double of 4:48.15 and 2:11.57 (mile/800) at Edinboro University and then the all-time state indoor mile record that had the crowd at Penn State on its feet.
In one of the few races where Schwartz did not take the lead, she used a long drive to the line to claim first in the PTFCA Indoor State Championship and break the state indoor record. Although she finished the race on her hands and knees after falling with about 10 meters to go, Schwartz still was timed in 4:42.58, which was US#3 indoors in 2014 and eclipsed the old PA record that she had set only days before.
Schwartz, who just returned from a mission trip with her church youth group, thanked God for her success and the coaching knowledge that is at her disposal.
“It is hard not to question the path that God choose for me, but when God put a coach like Sam Bair in my life, the path for me was getting clear,” Schwartz said. “Mr. Bair helped me see the talent that I was given and is continuing to help me develop that talent. Sharing his knowledge and passion for running with me is priceless.”