PREVIEW: The District 7 Championship

WPIAL Championship Preview - By Oliver Hinson

- - -

Boys Preview | Girls Preview

Every May, some of the best talent in western Pennsylvania finds its way to Slippery Rock University for one of the best meets of the season: the PIAA District 7 (WPIAL) Championships. In this year's edition, none of that has changed - that is, except for the athletes. We've got a preview on the best events you'll see at these championships.

Boys Sprints

AAA Boys 100m Preview

Who is the WPIAL's fastest man? He's only a sophomore, but New Castle's Kaevon Gardner may be the answer. His season thus far has been remarkable - he remains undefeated through these championships, and he owns victories from the Butler Invitational and the TSTCA Outdoor Championship, the latter of which saw him run a blazing 10.72, making him the 4th fastest sophomore in Pennsylvania. His seed time lies almost two tenths of a second in front of the next fastest competitor, Mount Lebanon's Tim Calvetti. Calvetti has also enjoyed a productive season, earning a 1st place finish at the Mount Lebanon Invitational and taking 11th place at the Shippensburg 96th Roddick HS Invite with a time of 10.90 seconds.

Close behind are William Smith (Woodland Hills), Austyn Winkleblech (Canon-McMillan), Caleb Prola (Hempfield Area), and Chase Dalbon (Chartiers Valley). All of them are seeded near the 11-second mark, and they could dip under in a fast race on Wednesday. Smith won the Pine-Richland Invitational, Winkleblech won the Washington-Greene County Championship, and Dalbon and Prola took home 2nd and 3rd at the Baldwin Invitational, respectively.

AA Boys 100m Preview

Expect to see a pair of Washington teammates out front. Ruben Gordon and Dane Asbury come in with the two fastest seed times, 10.60h and 10.90, respectively. Gordon boasts a 2nd place finish from the TSTCA Outdoor Championship on April 15, while Asbury was 2nd at the Washington-Greene County Championship on April 29. 

Still, the short race could shake out a number of different ways. Tim Kershaw (Monessen) and David McClean (Shenango) both have seed times under 11.00 and impressive wins in their respective resumes. Kershaw took home gold at the Scott Frederick Mid Mon Classic on April 24. McClean, however, arguably has the upper hand; he dominated the competition at the SRU Invite on April 22, and if he can duplicate that stellar performance - on the same track, mind you - he could find his way to the gold.

AA Boys 200m Preview

Gold in the 200 meter dash could belong to a senior who's relatively new on the scene: Apollo-Ridge High School's Jacob Mull. Mull's 200 PR from the previous season was 24.20 seconds, but he now comes in with a blistering seed time of 22.08, giving him a slight edge over Dane Asbury (Washington), who will be doubling back from the 100. Asbury was 6th in the 200m at last year's WPIAL Championships, and he has some impressive performances this year, including two silver medals from the TSTCA Outdoor Championship and Washington-Greene County Championship.

Michael Blackshear (Beaver Falls) and Austin Stewart (Serra Catholic) aren't far behind, either, coming in with seed times of 22.50h and 22.57, respectively. With several athletes sitting at or under 23 seconds, we could see a fast race on Wednesday, with a fierce chase for podium spots - seeds 6-12 are separated by a tenth of a second, so there's no telling who might grab the last medal.

AA Boys 400m Preview

In the 400, we will see a much different race than last year's edition. Former Riverside standout and 2022 champion Alden Wetzel moved to Tennessee for his senior year, and last year's silver and bronze medalists have graduated, leaving a vacancy in the top spots. In fact, the top seed time this year belongs to Austin Stewart (Serra Catholic), who finished in last place in this event at last year's WPIAL Championships with a time of 1:01.7. Stewart took home 2nd place in the 400 at the TSTCA Outdoor Championship in April, adding to an overall impressive resume, and with a good day, he could execute a classic "worst to first" transformation. 

He certainly doesn't lie too far in front of the field, though. Just behind him lies Demeitris Taylor (Beaver Falls), who took home fifth last year in the very same race. Also in contention could be Jake Havrilesko (Greensburg Central Catholic), JaAir McCracken (Aliquippa), and Da'Karri Williams (Beaver Falls), all of whom are seeded less than half a second behind the leaders.

AA Boys 4x100m Preview

Look for Aliquippa and Washington to lead this race; the teams come into this race with seed times of 43.21 and 43.26, respectively. Last year, Beaver Falls dominated this event with a time of 43.07, beating out second-place Washington by over half a second. This year, they are fourth in the seeding, just behind Carlynton. While last year's race only produced three sub 44-second marks, we could see a much faster edition this year, as six teams come in with times under 44.

AAA Boys 4x400m Preview

Even without Guinness Brown, Butler still leads the pack. Led by Landon Lacey, who recently joined the sub-50 club, they boast the top seed time of 3:24.42. Right behind them, though, is Indiana Area, an impressive squad led by brothers Jonathan and William Berzonsky. Both are primarily 800 runners, but their natural speed carries over to the 400 quite well, and with them in the mix, Indiana is a dangerous team - they boast a seed time of 3:24.83, just over half a second behind Butler. Last year, they finished 4th at these WPIAL Championships, but after returning their major pieces, they seem poised to improve upon that performance and possibly unseat Butler. Also in the mix are familiar faces Mars Area and Canon-McMillan, both of whom finished in the top 3 in this relay last year. North Hills, led by sophomore Kayden Lightner, could also be a team to look out for - they currently hold the third seed.

AA Boys 4x400m Preview

If you're looking for a reference for what this year's 4x400 meter relay might look like, it would not be wise to use last year's results. We are likely to see a total shakeup from 2022; only one of last year's top five teams, South Park High School, can claim one of this year's top five seed times, the other four of which belong to Beaver Falls, Winchester Thurston, Greensburg Central Catholic, and Carlynton. Beaver Falls lies comfortably in front of the rest of the pack with a seed time of 3:27.56, over a second ahead of Winchester Thurston's 3:28.96. However, the race for podium spots could be tight, as South Park, GCC, and Carlynton all lie within a second of each other.

Boys Distance

AAA Boys 800m Preview 

Can Jacob Puhalla pull off the three-peat? For anyone else, it would seem like an absurd notion, but Puhalla's dominance in the 800 has gone relatively unchallenged in the past few seasons. In 2022, he cruised to a win over a large group of seniors, including Butler standout CJ Singleton. This year, his competition will look different, but he will almost certainly still be leading the pack. Admittedly, he did suffer an injury in the early winter that affected his training as well as his indoor season, but he seems to be back in shape, coming in with a season's best of 1:53.

The second seed belongs to JP Byrnes (Pittsburgh Central Catholic), who comes in with a PR of 1:54.53 from the Baldwin Invitational, where he took 2nd place. Behind Byrnes, a flurry of talented runners make up the "contenders" pack, including Ben McLean (Pine-Richland), Roman Galioto (South Fayette), and several others. Several are clustered in the 1:56-57 range, making the race for medals a close one. Of course, if someone were to have the race of a lifetime and beat Puhalla, they could say that they beat a two-time reigning WPIAL champion.

AA Boys 800m Preview

With two-time WPIAL champion and three-time PIAA champion Carson McCoy out of the way, Riverside's Amberson Bauer seems like the logical choice to take the 800 meter throne, something he came just short of doing last year. Bauer is undoubtedly the top dog in this race, boasting a 1:53 performance from the Butler Invitational, which earned him 2nd place in the race and a seed time nearly three seconds faster than anyone else in this event.

Admittedly, McCoy's old teammates, Aidan Herman and Zach Kruse, have enjoyed productive seasons, and either could take home gold with a gutsy performance. Herman has shown improvement from last season, shaving off four seconds from his PR, which now lies at 1:56.94. Kruse, meanwhile, just recently broke the 2-minute mark in emphatic fashion, clocking a 1:57.58 at the Northern Area Last Chance Meet on May 11. Other contenders include Maxwell Hamilton (OLSH), Clark LaLomia (Quaker Valley), Ethan Haring (Eden Christian Academy), and Eli DeSimone (Winchester Thurston).

AAA Boys 1600m Preview

In what could be the premier event of the meet, Drew Griffith and Ryan Pajak will go head to head in a stacked race. Griffith suffered an injury in late April, and he almost certainly has not raced to his full potential this outdoor season, so don't take his 4:18 seed time at face value. Griffith ran 4:07 indoors for the full mile, while Pajak ran 4:15 at the Penn Relays, so the Notre Dame commit seems to have the upper hand. However, the two have not gone head to head outdoors in 2023, and anything could happen on Wednesday - after all, it's worth mentioning that while Griffith will likely have the anchor leg in the 4x800 for Butler, Ringgold does not have a 4x800 team entered, so Pajak will be fresh.

Also, let's not pretend that this is a two-man race. The McKinney Mile at the Baldwin Invitational gave us a good preview of what this race could look like, and it showed just how talent-packed the WPIAL distance crew is. Champion Jacob Puhalla holds the 2nd seed with a converted 4:13.94 mark, followed closely by Brett Kroboth (Peters Township) at 4:14.80, Ethan Papa (Blackhawk) at 4:15.87, and Patrick Burgos (Elizabeth Forward) at 4:18.23. No one is far off from Griffith and Pajak, so it wouldn't be far-fetched at all to imagine someone else leading the pack. The 1600 is always a tactical race, and nothing will be certain until someone makes a deciding move.

AA Boys 1600m Preview

Sean Aiken, who has more or less imposed his will upon AA competition this season, will attempt to do the same thing as Amberson Bauer in the 800: win an event that was won by McCoy in 2022. Aiken, a Liberty University commit, ran a 4:18.94 in this year's McKinney Mile at the Baldwin Invitational, earning him 5th place overall and first among AA athletes. His seed time, a converted 4:17.44, lies six seconds ahead of that of Bauer, who holds the second seed. Interestingly, Bauer ran a 4:23 on April 1 at the Altoona Area Igloo Invitational, but he hasn't come close to that mark since. Of course, his competition in subsequent performances, most of them dual meets, may not have been as stiff, but it still remains a question whether he can produce another race that fast.

Besides Aiken and Bauer, Jaxon Schoedel (Mohawk) and Dominic Flitcraft (Hopewell) are other key players to watch out for. Flitcraft took home 2nd place at the South Fayette Invitational and 4th place at the Pine Richland Invitational, both races which were stacked with talent. Schoedel has a slightly quieter resume, but he did finish 5th at the Butler Invitational in an impressive 4:26.00. In all likelihood, Aiken seems poised to take home the victory, but Bauer, Schoedel, Flitcraft and several others could be ready to pounce in what is certain to be an exciting race.

AAA Boys 3200m Preview

As if we couldn't get enough of Ryan Pajak versus Drew Griffith, this race will be a rematch of both this year's 1600 and last year's 3200, as well as many other races in between. Pajak comes in with the top seed time, 8:58.89, while Griffith's best this season is a 9:27.17 - but, as we mentioned in the 1600 preview, Griffith suffered an injury this season, and he has not truly raced the event this season. Last year, he ran 9:04 at the PIAA Championships, two seconds behind Pajak, and this indoor season, he achieved a staggering 8:48.01 for the full two miles at New Balance Indoor Nationals, one of the best marks for a junior in the event ever. He could certainly be considered the favorite - but it will be a close race nonetheless.

If not Pajak or Griffith, Hampton's Dale Hall could also be a contender. He ran an impressive 9:08 at the Butler Invitational, finishing just behind Pajak. Jack Bertram (North Allegheny) is also someone to look out for; the sophomore has been on a tear this year, cruising to a 3rd place finish at Butler in 9:14 and a win at the Lady Spartan/Wildcat Invitational. Also in the mix is Brett Kroboth (Peters Township), who was 4th at Butler.

Look for an exciting race between Pajak and Griffith, as well as some fast performances by the rest of the field.

AA Boys 3200m Preview

The 3200 is certainly up for grabs. Flitcraft, Michael Braun (Freeport Area), Schoedel, and Aiken are the clear frontrunners, but none seem to have a clear-cut advantage. Each of them have put up some impressive times and placements in big meets, but this will be the first time all season that they toe the line together. Braun, perhaps, may have the advantage of being fresh - after all, he is the only one out of the four that is not also competing in the 1600. Flitcraft, too, seems to have an edge, as he has the fastest seed time. However, Aiken is the defending champion, and he will certainly be determined to win gold again. Without a doubt, this race is a toss-up, and until the pack of four separates itself during the race, there's no telling who might win.

AAA Boys 4x800m Preview

A North Allegheny team as the frontrunner in a distance event? Well, it certainly isn't surprising. The Tigers are stacked with talent this year, and their squad, led by Jack Bertram, boasts a 7:56.30 seed time, placing them narrowly ahead of another dominant team, South Fayette. The Lions' "distance factory" has been very productive this year, churning out one impressive performance after another. In the indoor season, they cruised to a win at the TSTCA Indoor Championship Meet, and they also boast wins from the Mount Lebanon Invitational and the Baldwin Invitational.

Of course, if it comes down to the last handoff and Drew Griffith is close to the leaders, this could be Butler's race to win. They have a seed time of 8:00.89, not too far off of NA and South Fayette. Also in the mix are Mount Lebanon, Seneca Valley, and Moon Area, all of whom have seed times under 8:10. Western Pennsylvania is a hotbed for the 4x800, and Wednesday's race will show just that.

AA Boys 4x800m Preview

Winchester Thurston is the defending champion in this event, and they return with the top seed time of 8:17.76. Quaker Valley, though, is not far behind, seeded at 8:20.14. They did not field a 4x800 team at last year's WPIAL Championships, but with star 800 runner Clark LaLomia in the mix this year, they could certainly make a move for the gold. After these two teams, the field takes a slight drop, as Riverview, led by Amberson Bauer, is seeded at 8:27.94, followed closely by Ellwood City at 8:28.49 and Knoch at 8:28.78. 

Boys Hurdles

AA Boys 110m Hurdles Preview

Let's just say it now: it would be a monumental upset if anyone were to challenge Antonio Votour (OLSH) for the 110 meter hurdles. This year, Votour took home gold medals from the Butler Invitational, the SRU High School Invite, and the South Fayette Invitational, and he is also the defending champion from last year's WPIAL Championships. With a blazing PR of 14.41, he lies nearly a second ahead of the rest of the other frontrunners, including Isaac Wetzel (Freeport Area), Noah Leathers (Quaker Valley), Sondre Lunde (Burgettstown), and James Brewer (Greensburg Central Catholic). The race for second place could certainly be tight, but it seems Votour will have an easy path to another WPIAL title and possibly a meet record, which currently stands at 15.00 seconds.

Don't feel too bad for the rest of them, though; Wetzel, Lunde and Brewer will likely find their glory in a Votour-less 300 meter hurdles race, one in which they are the top three seeds. Wetzel holds the top seed with a time of 39.39, which earned him 2nd place at the Pine-Richland Invitational. Lunde is close behind with a seed time of 39.61, which gave him second place at the Washington-Greene County Championship. Brewer, meanwhile, took home 1st at the Westmoreland County Coaches Association Meet with a time of 40.44. Further back in the seeding are Kurt Lambright (Laurel) at 41.54 and Adam Halinka (Southmoreland) at 41.64.

AAA Boys 300m Hurdles Preview

Unlike the 110 hurdles, in which Penn Hills' Achan Green is almost certainly poised to win, the intermediate hurdles will be a tight race, led by Colton Dean (Canon-McMillan) and Gamaliel Mogire (North Hills), both of whom are seeded under 40 seconds. Dean narrowly has the top seed, and he is undefeated in the intermediate hurdles this season, claiming victories in the Morgantown Invitational and the Washington-Greene County Championship. Mogire also has a few victories to his name, most notably a 1st place finish at the Pine-Richland Invitational, and he also earned a 2nd place finish at the Butler Invitational. Notably, both Dean and Mogire are sophomores, so this could be a rivalry that plays itself out time and time again.

However, there are several other horses in this race. Green's best event may be the high hurdles, but he can fly in the 300 as well - he holds the fourth seed, just behind his teammate Paris Bey. Luke Henne (Pittsburgh Central Catholic) could also do some damage as an experienced hurdler, as could Brad Gelly (Pine-Richland), Luke Bovalina (West Allegheny), and Jeremiah Francis (Norwin).

Boys Jumps

AAA Boys High Jump Preview

It's hard to describe how close this event is going to be. Hunter Kooser (Laurel Highlands), Isaiah Kline (Norwin), Braylon Littlejohn (Butler), and Orein Cager-McBride (Butler) are all deadlocked for the first seed, and they all seem to be peaking at the right time. Littlejohn and Cager-Mcbride went jump-for-jump at the WPIAL AAA Team Championships last week, each hitting 6-5 and tying for 1st place. Kline, meanwhile, had a slow start to his season, but as April carried on, he started jumping higher and higher, culminating in a 6-5 jump at the Westmoreland County Coaches Association Championship. 

Behind the frontrunners, Emery Moye (Pine-Richland) sits at 6-3.5, while Quentcy Stringer (McKeesport Area), Daemar Kelly (Penn Hills), and Owen Curran (North Allegheny) are all seeded at 6-3. With only two inches separating the top 8 seeds, there's no telling who might take home gold.

AA Boys High Jump Preview

Beaver Falls' Demeitrus Taylor comes in as the top seed at 6-4, a height he cleared at the Beaver County Championships on April 15 to take home 1st place. John Jablunovsky (Ligonier Valley) and Ryan Merrick (Eden Christian Academy) are both seeded at 6-3. Last year, Merrick finished 3rd at this meet with a height of 5-11, while Taylor finished 5th at the same height. Expect this year's competition to be much better than last year's; while the 2022 meet only saw two jumpers clear 6 feet, 11 athletes come into this year's championships seeded at 6 feet or higher.

AAA Boys Long Jump Preview

Experience is the name of the game in this year's long jump. All of the top 4 seeds are seniors, and all 4 took part in last year's WPIAL Championships. Of them, Jonathan Price (Seneca Valley) had the best performance in 2022, taking home 4th place, while George Tabor (Fox Chapel Area) was 6th, and Butler teammates Ryan Porch and Luke Campbell took 9th and 13th, respectively. This year, the seeds reflect a true reversal; Campbell holds the top seed at 23-6.5, followed closely by Porch at 23-5.25. Price is also over 23 feet, sitting at 23-2, while Tabor is 4th at 22-10.25. 

Just behind the seniors, though, is a wave of youth. Seeds 5-8 are all seniors, including Colton Dean (Canon-McMillan), Kaevon Gardner (New Castle), Jayden Price (Seneca Valley), and Nicholas Humphries (North Allegheny). All are seeded over 22 feet, and with a good performance, any of them could make a move for gold.

AA Boys Long Jump Preview

Last year, we saw a battle between Washington teammates Ruben Gordon and Davoun Fuse, both of whom soared over 21 feet to take home gold and silver, respectively. In 2023, though, 21-foot marks are not going to fly. Hopewell's Matthew Essey jumped a ridiculous 22 feet, 9 inches at the West Mifflin Last Chance Meet on May 12, earning him the highest seed, while Carlynton's Ryan Lewis boasts a PR of 22-4.5, placing him close behind Essey. Gordon is back in action, but he will have to improve upon his season's best if he wants to defend his title. His seed lies at 21-11.5, which would have won this event last year, but it will likely not be enough this go around. Other contenders include Vinny Huff (West Mifflin) and Lee Qualk (California Area), who are seeded at 21-10.75 and 21-8.75, respectively.

AA Boys Pole Vault Preview

Waynesburg Central's Andrew Layton and Greensburg Salem's Cody Rubrecht seem like the clear frontrunners to win this event. Layton comes into the meet with an outdoor season's best of 14-6, although he cleared 15 feet multiple times during the indoor season. He won the Baldwin Invitational with a vault of 14-5, and his 15-6 indoor PR earned him a silver medal at the PTFCA Indoor State Championships. Rubrecht, meanwhile, is somewhat of a rising star in this event; at the beginning of the season, he had yet to clear 11 feet, but his performances gradually grew more impressive as April went on. He cleared 14 feet for the first time at the Pine Richland Invitational, which earned him 2nd place, and he now comes in with a seed of 14-1. If he can keep his momentum rolling, he could possibly beat Layton and take home the gold.

Boys Throws

AAA Boys Shot Put Preview

Hempfield Area's Peyton Murray is a beast, plain and simple. He is undefeated on the season in both the shot put and discus, and he should easily cruise to a win in the latter. In this event, though, he has some more stiff competition, including Nathan Reese (Connellsville), Tyler Ondrusek (Central Valley), and Anthony Petrulo (Norwin). Reese has some impressive performances on his resume, including a win at the Fayette County Coaches Association Championships and 2nd place finishes at the Lady Spartan/Wildcat Invitational and the Baldwin Invitational. Ondrusek took 1st at the Beaver County Championships and the South Fayette Invitational. Petrulo was 4th at both the Lady Spartan/Wildcat Invitational and the Westmoreland County Coaches Association Meet. While it seems unlikely that someone would interrupt Murray's winning streak, which includes wins at the Lady Spartan/Wildcat Invitational, the Butler Invitational, the Westmoreland County Coaches Association Meet, and the Baldwin Invitational, he doesn't lie too far ahead of the rest of the pack - truly, this is anyone's event.

AA Boys Shot Put Preview

The shot put seems like Andrew Demko's event to win. The Shenango senior comes in seeded at 52-4.5, making him the only athlete in this event with a seed over 50 feet. He also has some impressive wins on his resume, including 1st place finishes at the TSTCA Outdoor Championship and the Tri County Championships. Other contenders, however, could include his teammate Michael Othites, as well as Tanner Pierce (California Area) and Ricky Mazur (East Allegheny). Pierce took home gold at the Washington-Greene County Championship, while Othites was 3rd at the SRU High School Invite.