3 Key Storylines Ahead of the WPIAL (D7) Championship

Above: Lexi Fluharty is one of the Top Distance Talents in District 7 2A

By Phil Grove

- - -

It's down to 1 day in the WPIAL.

Wednesday's finale at Slippery Rock University will determine how many of 2024's best track and field performers from PIAA District 7 are guaranteed at least one more meet in May in Pennsylvania. Several of the top performers from a very competitively balanced season also are among the best in the nation this year, but their road to Shippensburg will not be an easy one.

1. Griffith is Still Making Headlines

Stepping into the spotlight once again, as he has done since early last fall, will be Butler senior Drew Griffith. Doggedly pursuing a spot on the elite list of prep sub-4 milers, Griffith is one of only two WPIAL boys to be listed as state leaders in PIAA or often-contested events this year.

For Griffith, the past four weeks have been a light show worthy of comparison to the aurora borealis. On the heels of Foot Locker and New Balance national titles in XC and 2 miles indoors, Griffith launched into his outdoor season at the Arcadia (Calif.) Invitational in the legendary 3,200-meter races, running a state record in the process. A 4:00.77 mile on his home track was quickly followed by another solo effort to win the Penn Relays HS mile and then a 1:52.05 two-lap run in the WPIAL team semis.

All of those performances are worthy of the 2024 state leaders list at 800 through the 3,200, adding in the 3,000 for good measure. Seeded No. 1 in both the 1,600 and 3,200 runs, Griffith will be tested once again by the likes of nationally ranked rival and future Irish teammate Ryan Pajak of Ringgold (1,600/3,200) and defending PIAA champion Dale Hall of Hampton in the 1,600. 

The other boys event leader also is a Notre Dame signee - Hempfield Area standout Peyton Murray. A top 50 performer nationally in the discus, Murray reached 186 feet, 3 inches in his specialty at the Shippensburg HS invite last month. He will need to be on top of his game as fellow senior Matthew Sarnowski of neighboring Penn Trafford is less than a foot beyond on the PA MileSplit rankings. 

Sarnowski, who is headed to Penn State on a track scholarship, launched a PR 185-7 in a dual meet at home against Hempfield Area and Murray, who was second at 170-6. Sarnowski also has topped 170 feet in four other meets this season, while Murray has had at least one 170-footer in each of his outdoor meets in 2024 and topped 180 on four occasions.

At last year's state meet, Murray claimed first with a then PR and Sarnowski was third after they had finished in the top two spots at SRU.

On the girls side, two performers also top the state charts - Mt. Lebanon senior Logan St. John Kletter at 9:34.19 in the 3,000 from the Penn Relays and Derry Area javelin standout Sophia Mazzoni. The junior has topped 150-0 in three meets this year, with her 159-0 dart earlier this year being PA#1.

2. Doubling Up and More...

Colton Dean of Canon-McMillan has no time or extra events for relays. The junior is entered and in the mix for big points in each of his four allotted competitions in the WPIAL Class AAA championships.

His season bests are 10.78 (WPIAL#2, PA#22) in the 100, 21.74 (WPIAL#1, PA#16) in the 200, a district-leading and PA#8 38.85 in the 300 hurdles and WPIAL#3 22-4 in the long jump. 

Teammate Rose Kuchera is primed to walk away with almost as many medals as she is No. 1 in the district in the 100 hurdles at 14.80 and long (19-3) and triple (38-8) jumps, with state rankings of PA# 9, 6 and 6, respectively.

3. Returning Champions Aplenty

A parade of individual champions from last year's WPIAL meet at SRU are included in the entries heading to tomorrow's no-scratch finale. They include:

In Class AA girls, junior Tori Atkins of Laurel is back to defend her 200 and 400 titles as one of the top long sprinters in the state, while Hayzes Robinson of Avonworth/Northgate returns in the 100 dash. Hope Haring of Eden Christian is one of the 16 finalists in the 800 run, sophomore Mia Gartley of Quaker Valley is a returnee in the high jump, Beaver Area pole vaulter Elizabeth Michael is back and has the top mark on the year at 12-3 and Lara Defazio of Eden Christian is looking to add another gold in the long jump. In the throws, Mikayla Anderson of Beaver Falls has the top mark by more than 3 feet, and Derry Area's Mazzoni is US#7 with her state-best heave that is almost 30 feet ahead of the rest of the WPIAL field.

In the boys 100 and 200 dashes, senior Dane Asbury of Washington is back for another run at gold, while Freeport Area's Michael Braun looks to defend in the 3,200, John Jablunovsky of Ligonier Valley returns in the high jump and has a share of the year's top leap at 6-5 and Lorenzo Fancher of East Allegheny is the defending champ in the triple jump.

In AAA, the aforementioned Kuchera, who is headed to Duquesne in the fall, won the 100 hurdles and long and triple jumps last year, while North Carolina recruit Logan St. John Kletter of Mt. Lebanon leads the qualifiers in the 1,600 as the lone sub-5:00 runner and is part of an even-higher level field of a half dozen under 11:00 in the 3,200. A year ago, St. John Kletter led a 1-5 sweep by the WPIAL at the PIAA finale over eight laps.

Isabella Costa of North Allegheny is back at 400 meters and one of three Tigers in the hot heat, while Kiski Area's Eliza Miller has the No. 1 seed as she defends in the 800.

In Class AAA boys, triple winner Alex Brown of North Catholic returns in the 100, 200 and shot put in the wheelchair division. New Castle's Kaevon Gardner is back in the 100, while Griffith is the defending champion in the distance events and Gamaliel Mogire of North Hills returns in the 300 hurdles.

Canon-McMillan's Dean is the defending titlist in the 200, while Mars Area's Evan Kurpakus is back in the high jump, Charlie Weber of Indiana Area returns in the pole vault, Xxavier Thomas of Central Catholic in the triple jump and Murray in the discus.