Photos by Timothy O'Dowd, Patty Morgan, Charles Stone, MIchael Brock, Misty O'Connor and Don Rich
Sealed and delivered:
Carver Engineering & Science senior Cierra White played the part on Saturday. She was the protagonist in her second major motion victory.
“This year I wasn’t that nervous,” she said of winning the Class AA 100- and 200-meter dashes on Saturday at the PIAA Championships. “I raced my main competition at districts. So I wasn’t that scared. I was just prepared to go out there and win.”
That she did.
She won the 100 in 12.05 seconds and the 200 in 24.92 seconds.
White, now a two-time state champion in the 100 and 200, had been quite the leader in the preliminary rounds of her 100 and 200. So much, in fact, that she often would have 5 and sometimes 10 meter leads by the finishing line.
In her defense, she’s just that fast. Texas Tech bound in the fall, the spry White earned her races in as little as 10 meters, channeling through the blocks with explosion. In her first 100 preliminary, even, she ran a 11.80, just .01 seconds slower than her PA#1 time.
Even then, she said, she was holding back just a pinch.
“Actually, yes. I felt that I could have gone faster in the prelims,” White said. “I just wanted to get out, though. I didn’t want to go extra hard because I knew I had extra races to do. I shut it down late, but I felt I could go faster.”
Because there was a strong headwind late on Saturday, though, White didn’t break her own PA#1 times in either race. She had to settle, unlike other meets.
But her prevailing dedication to fight through a mediocre race was what set her apart.
“I was upset about the wind, but I felt good going into the day,” White said. “I was looking forward to reaching the goals and breaking the records.”
That should come another day. Perhaps as soon as nationals in June. Or maybe this fall, when she descends on the Lubbock, Tex., campus.
“I think you’ll see me getting a lot faster,” White said.
It’s in the family:
Clairton junior Trenton Coles stood atop the podium, only moments away from being awarded his 200-meter dash gold medal after winning the race in 22.33 seconds.
It was his second Class AA state championship of the day, so Coles stood tall, proud that he had finally accomplished his dreams. He felt the crowd. He knew what this meant to him. But more importantly, this was an important reminder that he wasn’t alone on this journey.
Coles received his medal from his grandfather, Norman Jones, a graduate of Clairton who also won state track and field gold in 1971, exactly 40 years ago.
Jones draped the medal over Coles head, smiled, and thought about how far his grandson had come.
“I can’t find words for it,” Jones said. “I really can’t. I’m just so proud of him. Can’t find words.”
Jones had taken Coles in about two years ago, Coles said, when his mother passed. Since then Jones has acted as one of his guardians and mentors. He’s taught him finer points on the track. In football. In life.
Coles, also a standout football player, plans to attend college, where he hopes to play football and run track. It might not have been possible without Jones.
“He’s a very positive influence in my life,” said Coles, who also won the 100-meter dash with a time of 11.15. “He’s been working with me on my starts (lately). I work so hard on my starts.”
Jones won state gold in the 100-yard dash in 1971 in 9.8 seconds, he said. That was back before everything was changed to metrics. But he says his genes have carried over to Coles.
“It’s in the genes,” he said.
Better yet, Jones thinks Coles won Clairton’s first state championship since he last did it 40 years ago.
“They haven’t had one since,” Jones said.
Coles said his body hurt like it’s never hurt before at the end of his 200. But he said he had to find a way to finish.
“You have to dig deep and keep going,” Coles said. “I never hurt so much after the 200 in my life.”
Abington junior Leah Nugent said it over and again. She raced no one but herself. She didn’t compete with anyone but herself.
There was no rivalry. There was no two-way battle.
After her PA#1 all-time record in the 300-meter hurdles, that may just have to ring true.
Last year’s champion, Coughlin’s Shelley Black, was right beside Nugent in the finals. But it was hardly a race.
The Virginia Tech bound hurdler set a PIAA record with a time of 41.10, which bested the 2006 record she tied in 2009, which was held previously by Ryann Krais.
Black -- she still won the 100-meter hurdles for the second straight year -- finished a second later in 42.51.
“Anyone can run any races,“ Nugent said. “And anything can go wrong, especially in the hurdles. I think the trouble I had in other years was trying to run other people’s races and trying to beat everyone else to the hurdle.
“I tried to sprint the whole thing when all I needed to do was to focus on myself.”
Those words of advice have struck Nugent hard this year. They’ve been coming from her coaches for years, she said, but because she was such a competitor, she often would overlook them.
She had to prove herself. She had to be the best.
But in doing so, she would sometimes put misplaced intentions in a rivalry when she should have been caring about her progression and preparation.
“I’m such a competitive person,” she said. “I was always just trying to beat everyone to the next hurdle.”
This time, however, she was in charge of her race. From the start, she set her sights on the record. And she was aiming for a time under 40 seconds.
“It was definitely my intention,“ Nugent said of going after the state record. “I was hoping to run under 40, but it will come.”
Overcoming the odds:
Upper Moreland junior Drew Magaha thought about the worst possible moment in his track career at the beginning of the 1,600-meter run.
He thought about his most difficult and disappointing race a season ago, exactly a year ago to the day, when he ran the four-lap oval with a blister on his foot and finished in a disappointing 5:02.
That gave him the motivation to pursue the best race of his career.
“That made me want to succeed,” he said.
Did Magaha ever.
The junior ran a PIAA Class AAA record 4:07.62 and recorded a 58 second split on his last lap.
“Next year it’s just records,” Magaha said. “Every record I can possibly find and accomplish. I’ve really done everything that someone wants to do in their career and I just want to put my name on the scoreboard and see how far I can get.”
Magaha said he had intended to go faster. He thought about the possibility of running 60 second splits, he said, but soon realized that was a little more difficult than it sounded.
“It sounded good on paper,“ Magaha said. “That’s what I intended to do. But until you’re in the race situation, you don’t really know. You never really accomplish it.
“I just wanted to run my last lap as fast as I possibly could to make a run at that state record.”
After three 63's, 58 seconds did the trick.
A win is a win:
Homer Center junior Angel Piccirillo knew her quest for a Class AA PIAA 1,600-meter run record might be in jeopardy when she found herself striding alone on lap two.
“That was definitely the difficult part,” she said. “Running by myself has never been a strong point of mine.”
Had someone been on her side, perhaps the standout junior could have toppled the standing mark of 4:52.03, which had stood since 1980.
But no one was. And Piccirillo came up just short, winning the title in 4:53.4.
She ran three consecutive splits of 74 seconds before going negative for a 70 on her final leg.
“I really wanted to do it,” said Piccirillo, who will start to visit major colleges over the summer. “I wanted to try to break the record and run by myself. But my first split was kind of messed up and it spilled over. I had to go way negative.
“I was close,” she added. “I saw it at the end. I was like ’Geez.’ But I’m still happy with the win.”
She became a two-time state champion in the event after winning it in 2010. She was happy; though she wasn’t content.
“I’m still glad to run well under five by myself,” she said. “But I should be running faster than this.”
That’s why the fast improving junior won’t look to stop here.
She was invited to the Adidas Jim Ryun High School Dream Mile, which will take place in June in New York City. It’s an event that will pit the best of the best together. Knowing this, Piccirillo just wants to see what she can handle.
“That will be the most competitive race I’ve ever been in my life,” she said. “I’m hoping to get a good time. I’m not looking to go in and win it or get a place. I’ll be running with the best.”
Making up ground:
Springfield Township senior John Trueman entered as the 13th seed in the boys’ Class AA 3,200-meter run.
He finished as the winner, recording a time of 9:31.66. It was 26 seconds better than his seed time.
Stranger things have happened at the state meet, but Trueman’s win was an interesting twist on one of the most unpredictable races. Many runners who qualified for the two-mile instead chose to focus on the one-mile instead.
The chance to double, at least to some, was a risk not worth the value. But for Trueman, he forged ahead. To him, it was an honor to be at the state meet, so why waste the opportunity?
“This isn’t just a privilege,” said Trueman, who also placed fourth in the boys’ Class AA 1,600-meter run. “This isn’t a given right that you’re going to win this race. The next guy wants it as bad as you. You have to work for the full 3,200 to win the championship.”
Trueman certainly did, working tirelessly on moving up and around and to the front. He took the tactic of positioning himself somewhere near the front at the start of the race, but not in the lead.
That, he said, was a death wish.
“Before the race, my coach said ‘Whatever you do, do not take the lead,” Trueman said. “He said, ‘Just sit on the outside shoulder, because if they get around, they have to go to the next lane and fight to do it.’”
The strategy paid off, as Trueman positioned himself right where he needed to be without losing much of his energy. He soon started to pull away and later fought off a late charge from second-place Brendan Shearn of Northern Schuylkill.
“I’m very, very satisfied,“ Trueman said. “This is a little overwhelming. I was real nervous coming in. I wasn’t feeling so great. But once it started, the nerves were gone.
“Kids kept making pushes and I kept responding. Lucky enough, they didn’t keep pressing.”
A year ago, Trueman had scratched the mile in favor of the 4 x 800 relay. It didn’t pan out the way he envisioned, so 2011 was about redeeming what was lost.
“To end like this, it’s really overwhelming,” Trueman said.