For the past several years, distance runner Brianna Schwartz has been one of the girls to beat nationally, using a front-running style to capture two PIAA track titles and a cross country championship and break the all-time Pennsylvania record indoors in the mile.
However, the Shaler Area senior will not have the opportunity to seek a third consecutive Class AAA state title in the 1,600 meters later this month as a lower leg injury will keep her out of the WPIAL individual qualifiers on Thursday.
“Coach (Sam) Bair and I both agreed that, with the health issues, if Bri wasn't running full time this outdoor season, she would not compete," Justin Eskra, head girls coach at Shaler Area, said of the decision not to include Schwartz in their WPIAL entries that deadlined Sunday evening. “As of now, she has only been running every other day, splitting the other days on a bike or in the pool.
“Having set 3 WPIAL records in track and winning the PIAA 1600-meter title the past two years, she would be running to simply best her own times. As a coach, I can't ask Bri or any athlete to try and compete if they are not 100 percent healthy and ready to go."
A stress reaction in Schwartz's lower left leg brought an end to her 2015 indoor season after just one meet and came on the heels of a diagnosis of Celiac disease that was the cause of low iron levels that had slowed the Colorado recruit during the 2014 outdoor season.
In her only meet of 2015, Schwartz proved her early-season fitness with a nationally ranked trio of victories Feb. 8 at Youngstown State. On the 300 oval, the senior ran a 4:55.86 in the 1,600 that ended the season as PA#1 and US#10, a PA#7 2:14.30 in the 800 and a PA#1 10:47.90 in the 3,200 while in training shoes.
Days before her next scheduled outing at the Tri-State Coaches championship meet on Feb. 21, Schwartz told coaches of the leg pain that was later determined to be a stress reaction.
“It is disappointing not to see Bri run this outdoor season," Eskra said. “Every meet I have had someone ask about whether they would be able to watch her run this season.
“I remember early in my coaching career watching Chanelle Price at the state meet try to break a 2:00 800 meters. Bri is the same caliber of athlete that captivates a crowd by setting a punishing pace in the 1,600 and 3,200."
Schwartz dominated distance competitions in western Pennsylvania, winning a total of three WPIAL cross country titles by wide margins in addition to District 7 track titles in the 800 and 1,600 runs. She ran 4:42.58 to break her own state indoor mile record in dramatic fashion and narrowly missed the state record in the 3,200 at last year's Baldwin Invitational, running a 10:10.03 to come up less than a second shy of an almost 40-year-old record.
On the national scene, Schwartz qualified for the Foot Locker Nationals in San Diego following her junior and senior cross country seasons, earning All-American honors in 2013 and winning the Northeast regional in 2014. She also competed in the Adidas Dream Mile and the Brooks PR Invitational in the summer of 2014.
“She has a solid four years to run at Colorado which is ranked No. 3 in this year's recruiting class," Eskra said of Schwartz's college choice. “I know Bri has will excel there, and our decision was to make sure she enters college healthy."