Boardman Spartan Invitational
Meet Story and Photos by Phil Grove
Austin Pondel kept looking over his shoulder, but there was nobody there. The Corry Area standout’s punishing opening mile made certain there wouldn’t be anyone close enough this year to steal a victory from him at the Spartan Invitational.
Pondel’s dominating performance in Division II was one of the highlights from a sizable western Pennsylvania contingent in the Boardman, Ohio, meet that had more than 5,200 runners entered in 14 races. North Allegheny’s boys showed why they jumped to PA#1 in Class AAA with their third consecutive event title, while freshman Bernadette Prichard of Villa Maria Academy posted the third-fastest time of the day in winning the Division II girls race comfortably.
A year ago, the smooth-striding Pondel battled to the wire in Division II with Taylor Allderdice’s Ean Disilvio, being outkicked by seven-tenths of a second. Saturday’s ideal conditions – sunshine, barely a breeze and a hard, fast course that was to his liking – provided a perfect backdrop for Pondel’s performance, which made certain there would be no companion for him at the finish line.
“The first mile was pretty fast, and going into the race I didn’t know any Ohio kids so I wanted to run my own race,” Pondel said. “I had a good cushion, and I was looking back … to see where people were.”
When he hit the mile in 4:53, Pondel was already ahead by almost 10 seconds. Cheered on by spectators lining almost the entire course, the senior rarely saw his closest pursuers and won in an unchallenged 15 minutes, 44.71 seconds. The runner-up was 39 seconds behind.
“I came into this race last year planning on winning it and (Ean) upset me that day,” Pondel recalled. “My training mentality is totally different this year, and I came in (knowing) I was going to win. (Disilvio) switched races so we didn’t get to have our little race together so (winning) was on my mind.
“This course is very flat, very open. I like it. You can get into a rhythm, and there’s only really one hill here (per lap). I like the course even though it is quite a bit different (from Pennsylvania).”
Corry Area coach Katie Kuttenkuler said Pondel’s summer training program, which featured some 75-80 mile weeks, included a new focus on being able to close out races.
“We decided over the summer and also through track season that we were going to work on speed so Austin has really been preparing for stronger finishes than what he has been used to,” she said. “He has always had great endurance, and he’s been able to keep working on that but at the same time he had to work on speed.”
With Allderdice opting for the Division I race Saturday, Disilvio was one of the early leaders in that competition along with always front-running and 2011 winner Dan Jaskowak of Grove City. Leading through the opening half and then mile at 4:57, Jaskowak had company in his western Pennsylvania counterpart and a group of juniors from the Buckeye state in Chardon’s Nick Elswick, Mark Hadley of the host team and Garrett Crichlow of Twinsburg.
The Ohio trio gained a slight edge over the defending champion just past the 2-mile mark with the second trip up Boardman Hill dead ahead. Elswick was the first to the finish, clocking 15:39.83 to Hadley’s 15:45.13 and Jaskowak’s 15:46.01. Disilvio finished fifth.
“I just have to get a couple more races under my belt,” said Jaskowak, whose summer training was interrupted by a foot injury. “I’ve been running consistently.”
Running bunched closely behind the race leaders, North Allegheny was building a formidable pack that would result in another Spartan Invitational title. Senior Josh Zemet was at the point of a chase pack looming in the shadows of the leaders during the second mile, and a few seconds behind came the rest of the scoring Tigers separated by only a few feet.
“We love coming over here because we get to see some different teams and we get to see some different terrain,” said North Allegheny coach John Neff. “We have a lot of courses around our area that are hilly and this is not. This is flat, and it’s fast and it’s a little bit more like a track meet.
“I feel like a lot of these runners from Ohio are very similar to the runners that we see over in the east. It’s a great place to come. Boardman runs an awesome meet. It’s one of the most efficient things that I’ve seen. They run 14 races on clockwork, and it’s a great place to be.”
Although they were not able to duplicate or possibly surpass their 17-second spread from the Red, White & Blue Invitational, the Tigers were too much for the field to handle. Zemet was seventh in 16:17.46, with junior Cordon Louco (14th), sophomore Matt McGoey (17th) and senior Michael Meehan (19th) providing the difference in the team scoring as the Tigers’ 93 points was well ahead of Boardman’s 156.
“I’m really pleased with how the kids did,” Neff said. “Now, maybe we didn’t necessarily hold it real tough over the last mile there, and we did have (Scott Seel) out of the race who was in last week. I’m sure that he is going to be back in top form next week. I was very pleased because for the work that we’ve put in, I thought we ran very well.”
In the girls’ race for the big schools, freshman Madeleine Davison provided a jump start for North Allegheny, placing second overall in 19:24.83. Junior Caroline Bojarski and senior Maddie Nellis were ninth and 10th, respectively, to propel the Tigers to a runner-up score of 106 behind Hudson’s 81.
“She didn’t have a great race (last week because of an illness), and I think she had something to prove to herself today,” Neff said of Davison. “Boy, oh, boy, did she ever. We know she’s good, a lot of people know she’s good, but today I’m excited because I think now she sees that she’s good.”
Another underclassman who has a bright future is Villa Maria Academy’s Prichard, who was the meet’s only champion from the lower two grades. Her 18:52.05 clocking in Division II was almost 20 seconds ahead of the field and added to a string of solid performances during her first month as a high school athlete.
“She seems to have a great ability to keep a really nice consistent pace as the race goes on where people start falling back,” said Villa Maria coach Therese Brown. “She is just steady Eddie at that pace. She’s got a nice gift, and she doesn’t come in with a lot of running into ninth grade. It looks to be the beginning of something really good.”
Prichard also is a standout with the school’s tennis team and has balanced a busy schedule thus far.
“So far I like cross country because I’m doing better at it,” said Prichard, who said she started running in kindergarten at the urging of her parents. “It felt really good because the weather was pretty nice today.”
The opening race of the day produced the fastest clocking over the double-loop course as Cory Glines of St. Thomas Aquinas outdueled Independence’s Kyle Polman, 15:37.87 to 15:41.93, for the top spot in Division III. The team race was equally close as Ohio’s top-ranked teams in the division squared off with No. 1 Maplewood besting archrival and No. 2 McDonald, 65-77.
Flash report and photos by Phil Grove
Austin Pondel of Corry Area and Bernadette Prichard of Villa Maria Academy claimed individual titles in dominating fashion, while Pennsylvania’s top-ranked North Allegheny boys easily claimed their third consecutive team championship Saturday at the Spartan Invitational in Boardman, Ohio.
Outkicked a year ago, Pondel was never threatened in rolling to a nearly 40-second victory in Division II, covering the 5,000-meter course in 15 minutes, 44.71 seconds.
On the girls’ side, Prichard was almost as untouchable, with the freshman’s winning time of 18:52.05 almost 20 seconds ahead of the field.
In Division I, four Tigers were in the top 20 as North Allegheny cruised in the boys’ race, beating host Boardman by 63 points. Dan Jaskowak of Grove City was third in 15:46.01, leading a total of nine western Pennsylvania runners in the top 20.
North Allegheny’s girls finished second behind a runner-up effort from freshman Madeleine Davison. Caroline Bojarski and Maddie Nellis also were top 10 finishers for the Tigers.
Photo Gallery by Phil Grove
(our apologies - email issues delayed posting of these interviews)
John Neff, Head Coach, North Allegheny
Bernadette Prichard, Villa Maria Academy
Austin Pondel, Corry Area