PIAA District 7 WPIAL Championships
ALL CLASSES (3 teams, 15 individuals)
Meet Feature and Photos by Phil Grove
With all that was at stake – PIAA qualifying berths and district title win streaks – and what was new on the table – Class A bragging rights – Thursday's WPIAL championship at Cooper's Lake was bound to be memorable.
As it turns out, it's one that many competitors – and coaches and spectators – might never forget.
A sun-baked course and record-breaking temperatures topping 80 degrees pushed competitors to the limit and beyond, resulting in a trio of 10-minute delays as WPIAL officials worked to stay ahead of the heat-related problems affecting countless runners. By the time the medals and trophies had been awarded, all of the runners transported to area hospitals for treatment were reported to be in good condition.
“That was a little bit difficult,” Quaker Valley coach Dave Noyes said of managing the delays and unrelenting heat. “One of our parents ran to his car, he happened to have three umbrellas there. All of the teams are on the line, and we are standing there under umbrellas.
“We did what we consider heat training all week in sweatshirts and coats during practice to get ready for the heat. And I told them, dump some water on your head. Brendan Shearn, you see him before every race he seems to do that. I thought if we can get ourselves a little bit wet and let that evaporate while we’re racing, it might help us stay cool.”
With many coaches saying they never experienced anything like this year’s title meet, various approaches were deployed to get their runners to the finish line as quickly – and safely – as possible.
“We knew Monday it was going to be hot up here so we really took a special emphasis on our nutrition and hydration,” said Ron Schreiner, coach of Mt. Lebanon girls’ squad. “We knew we had to be ready yesterday, not today, get (nutrients and water) in there 24 hours ahead of time. We did that.”
Joining meet officials in stressing the importance of proper hydration as the races unfolded, John Neff of North Allegheny also kept his boys’ team out of the extreme conditions by arranging a separate bus ride to Cooper’s Lake.
“We didn’t bring the boys up until later in the day, I’m glad we did,” he said. “It was pretty hot. To have them sit there all day, that would have been tough.”
Another tight pack nets North Allegheny another WPIAL title
No matter the conditions, it goes without saying that the key to posting a low team score is a strong, tight pack of runners. Registering 1-5 spreads below 20 seconds on a regular basis speaks to the talent of Neff’s North Allegheny boys’ team, which extended its WPIAL title streak to eight years in a row with 50 points and a 17-second spread.
“They all know that they’re just as good as each other,” Neff said of his scoring five. “Every one of those kids has won a meet this year.
It’s not like some years where you will have one guy that’s obviously going to win, one guy that obviously is No. 2. You never know what the finish order will be with these guys.
“They are very close friends, they’re together all the time, at practice and out of practice. But at the same time, they have a little rivalry there. They are not going to let one of the other guys get ahead of them. It’s a great thing to have.”
Senior Josh Zemet led the champions in seventh, followed by sophomores Matt McGoey (8th) and Seamus Love (10th), junior Cordon Louco (11th) and sophomore Scott Seel (14th).
Another WPIAL win for the No. 2-ranked Tigers was hardly a surprise, but the shake-up in the standings behind North Allegheny probably raised a few eyebrows. Powered by the 2-5 finish from Ethan and Colin Martin, Fox Chapel Area stormed home in second with 136 points. Mt. Lebanon (PA#5) trailed Hampton by 34 points through the No. 3 runners and rallied to beat the Talbots in the tiebreaker for the final qualifying spot as both teams had 175 points.
The dominance that North Allegheny showed throughout the Cooper’s Lake layout, Brent Kennedy of Kiski Area bottled up and saved for the sprint for the tape. With about 500 meters left, Kennedy was shadowed by Ethan Martin and Allderdice’s Ean DiSilvio. By the time the leaders reappeared in front of the castle, the Kiski Area junior was clear of his challengers and en route to a WPIAL title in 15:59.
“It doesn’t really change the race much, but everyone is feeling tense,” Kennedy said of the delays, including the final one as the AAA boys were reporting to their starting spots. “The weather doesn’t change the race, but it slows it down, creates some adversity there.
“The finish is long here, about 1200 meters of switch backs. Ethan came up past me, I was waiting for that and that’s when I went, trying to make my kick as short as possible. I just held on from there.”
In the AAA girls’ race, there was no team or individual suspense as Mt. Lebanon (PA#3) and Brianna Schwartz of Shaler Area resisted any challenges early and cruised to the awards stand. The Blue Devils had 49 points with four runners (Jillian Hunsberger, Kelsey Potts, Julie Kocjancic and Audrey Gordon) in the top 10, while North Allegheny (97) and North Hills (108) were comfortably ahead in the race for the final two state spots.
“We knew coming in we had a target on our back,” Lego coach Schreiner said. “We knew it was ours if we could duplicate or come close to last week. We knew we had a chance.”
Schwartz edged ahead of Potts at the mile mark and was never threatened in finishing first in 18:32. Mary Malone of North Hills was second to the sophomore for the second week in a row in stopping the clock at 18:56.
“My goal today was to get a better time so I wanted to take it out faster than last week,” the winner said. “After the first mile, I took the lead and tried to push the pace, but the heat didn’t help much.”
The hard luck team of the afternoon was Hampton, which picked up a pair of individual qualifiers in both races but also placed fourth in both team categories.
Quaker Valley wins big, small in AA sweep
Over the past handful of years in Class AA, it has been do as Quaker Valley does. Noyes’ boys’ team extended its WPIAL championship run to six years in a row, while the girls’ squad has now won the past four AA titles.
In the girls’ race, Quaker Valley and Uniontown waged the closest battle of the day. Uniontown matched the Quakers’ two in the top six with two of its own but could not upend Noyes’ team, falling 65-67 on the strength of Quaker Valley’s fifth runner.
“There was no clear-cut winner before the race,” Noyes said of his pre-race assessment. “To me, there was just any number of teams out there. It was not going to be a low score, the 20s type of a score, that was going to win today.”
With identical lineups of three seniors, two juniors, and a sophomore and freshman, both teams were about as close as they could be on the score sheet as each also had four in the top 20.
Knoch picked up the final Hershey berth with 110 points, while Moon Area won the tiebreaker over rival West Allegheny as both teams had 121. The top five teams claimed all but two of the top 10 runners.
Individually, Julie Friend of Uniontown won a nip-and-tuck battle with Alexis O’Shea of West Allegheny. Running hip to hip at times, the lead duo pulled away from the field, with Friend making her break in the second half of the 5,000-meter course to win in 19:23 to O’Shea’s 19:37.
“We were really just running next to each other,” Friend said of the close proximity to O’Shea. “I don’t think anyone wanted to lead.”
In the boys’ race, Quaker Valley put up some numbers eerily similar to the girls’ race – two runners in the top 10 and four in the top 20. Senior Roy Hadfield led the Quakers in fourth at 17:05 as their 1-5 spread was an even 60 seconds.
“They had to be conservative with this heat,” Noyes said. “They ran a smart race, no doubt.”
Although Thursday’s conditions were not conducive to jumping into the lead at the gun, Tyler Rigby’s front-running style had produced a pair of invitational wins and a top 20 finish for the South Park senior at the Tri-State meet the previous week.
“The whole season I have been running the races the same every time,” said Rigby, who broke the tape in 16:59. “Today was not different. I didn’t want to be the first to the top of the hill. I’ve had a little bit of a bad experience with that in the past. The way it worked out, I took the lead before the half mile and just held it from then on out.”
After missing out on his first state berth a year ago by a fraction of a second and one place, Rigby had enough of a gap to survive a late charge from Marshall Bruce (17:04) of Beaver Area and Blackhawk’s Zack Black (17:05).
Indian summer proves more than worthy opponent
The fine line that runners had to navigate to beat the heat and their opponents became apparent in the opening event, the inaugural Class A girls’ race for a district title.
Neshannock’s Lizzie Manickas, a two-time PIAA qualifier in both cross country and track, wasted little time in separating herself from the field, owning a 12-second cushion as she covered the opening mile in 6:09. At the 3,000-meter mark, the junior was 21 seconds ahead as Laurel’s Emily Maxwell gave chase.
A PR winner earlier this year at the Sharpsville Blue Devil Invitational, Manickas held onto the lead until Maxwell flashed by with about 800 meters to go. Maxwell reached the finish in 20:14, good enough for a 19-second win over Caroline DeFrank of Bishop Canevin with Madeline Schmiedeknecht of Winchester Thurston third in 20:39.
“I knew that she was a little bit tired, but she still looked pretty comfortable,” Maxwell said of her frequent competitor in Manickas. “I had to go for it. I had to make my move then.”
Soon after exiting the castle, Manickas collapsed to the ground, unable to finish the race’s final 200 meters. She later was treated and released at Butler Memorial Hospital, as were all but one of the competitors transported for medical treatment. That athlete was transferred to Children’s Hospital for additional care.
As the meet continued, additional equipment and personnel were brought in to help competitors manage the extreme conditions. A pair of misting fans were set up near the starting line, a misting station was available near the finish line and a truck with a water container and bags of ice was stationed at the base of the main hill should runners need assistance after leaving the race.
A literal battalion of Slippery Rock University students and athletic staff gave aid to those runners who could only take a step or two after the finish and helped keep the finish chute as clear as possible for those competitors racing for the line.
Maxwell’s victory sparked Laurel to the history-making team title in Class A over Shenango, 100-117. Vincentian Academy was third with 132.
“I knew she had the capability of winning it if she stuck to her game plan and what we went over all year … her strategy all year,” Laurel coach Greg Schmitt said of Maxwell. “She stuck to her game plan … and she won. She did an excellent job.
“When I started here in 2008, we only had two varsity girl runners, that’s it. And now here we are in 2012, and we won WPIALs as a team. It shows how far that our program has come.”
For Vincentian’s Ryan Archer, there was only one place he wanted to go … to the front of the pack in the boys’ race. Bolstered by a season of racing many of western Pennsylvania’s best from all classes, the senior was clear of the field after the opening mile and headed to victory in 16:34.
“With a smaller field, I just wanted to take it out,” Archer said. “I think I put about 10 meters on the field in the first mile, and then coming home, I wanted to keep it together in the last mile and not fall apart.”
Laurel’s Ethan Wilson was the next fastest finisher, cruising past Ryan McGuire of Trinity Christian for the runner-up spot in 16:38.
In the battle for the boys’ Class A crown, Our Lady of the Sacred Heart had a pair of runners in the top 10 and all seven in front of runner-up Vincentian’s fifth. The Chargers had 113 points to 125 for their section rival and 131 for Northgate.
“They have been running against them in section all year,” OLSH coach Bob Berg said of Vincentian. “We lost the section championships to them by 3 points on their home course. The boys knew their agenda, and that might have been a very good thing.
“They were always aware that Vincentian would be their No. 1 rival in this race, even though we beat them last week by 10 points. The boys knew what they had to do, and they got it done. I’m so very proud of all the boys on the team.”
FLASH SUMMARY BY PHIL GROVE:
With record heat, the conditions were far from optimum. In fact, the meet was delayed a few times because there was no ambulance on site to transport to the hospital. But the races were run.
On the boys' side, North Allegheny and Quaker Valley added to their championship winning streaks in the AAA and AA races, respectively, while Our Lady of the Sacred Heart was a narrow winner of the inaugural Class A title. John Neff's Tigers cruised to their eighth consecutive WPIAL championship, finishing with 50 points off a 1-5 spread of just 17 seconds. Paced by Ethan and Colin Martin, Fox Chapel Area was a surprise runner-up with 136, while Mt. Lebanon grabbed the final team qualifying spot by winning a tiebreaker with Hampton as both teams had 175 points. Brent Kennedy of Kiski Area came away with the individual title in 15:59, pulling away from Ethan Martin (16:04) and Allderdice's Ean DiSilvio (16:13) in the final 400 meters. In Class AA, Quaker Valley picked up its sixth district title in a row with 66 points as senior Roy Hadfield led the Quakers in fourth. Mars Area (132) and South Fayette (135) punched their tickets to Hershey as the next four teams were separated by only 29 points. Front-running Tyler Rigby of South Park was the top finisher, leading a pack of 208 runners with a 16:59 for a five-second cushion over Marshall Bruce of Beaver Area and another second ahead of Blackhawk's Zack Black. The Chargers of Sacred Heart had two finishers in the top 10 as their 113 points bested section rivals Vincentian Academy (125) and Northgate (131). Ryan Archer of Vincentian built a comfortable margin and then held on for the victory over Laurel's Ethan Wilson, 16:34 to 16:38. Trinity Christian's Ryan McGuire was third in 16:49.
The girls AAA race finished similarly to how the Tri-State championships finished. In the team race, Mount Lebanon were once again strong in their final tune up race before the state meet, placing four in the top seven overall and cruising to the team title over rival North Allegheny 49-97. North Hills will be making a return appearance to the state meet, finishing only 11 points behind North Allegheny with 108 and comfortably in front of 4th place Hampton. The individual race also finished similarly to last week, as Brianna Schwartz has won two big meets in a row, running 18:32 to defeat runner up for the 2nd week in a row, Mary Malone of North Hills by 24 seconds. Jillians Hunsberger (19:17) and Kelsey Potts (19:20) were 3-4 for Mount Lebanon. Betsy Erlanger of Upper St Clair rounded out the top five with a time of 19:29. In AA, it was a close battle for the top spot, as Quaker Valley emerged victorious over Uniontown Area 65-67. Knock held on for 3rd place with 110 points to earn the final state spot over Moon Area and West Allegheny by 11 points. Both Quaker Valley and Uniontown had four of the top six finishers, including a win for Uniontown's Julie Friend in 19:23. Alexis O'Shea of West Allegheny was 2nd in 19:37, Rachel Skolnekovich of Quaker Valley ran 20:06 for 3rd. In Class A, Laurel were carried to the team title by a championship win from Emily Maxwell in 20:14 to score 100 points and defeat Shenango by 17. Vincentian Academy took the final state spot with 132 points to hold off Bishop Canevin by 18. Behind Maxwell, Caroline DeFrank of Bishop Canevin ran 20:33 to finish 2nd and Madeline Schmiedeknech of Winchester Thurston ran 20:39 to finish 3rd.
Slippery Rock, PA
Photo Gallery by Phil Grove
Ryan Archer of Vincentian Academy (A boys)
Emily Maxwell of Laurel (A girls)
Tyler Rigby of South Park (AA boys)
Julie Friend of Uniontown (AA girls)
Brent Kennedy of Kiski Area (AAA boys)
Brianna Schwartz of Shaler Area (AAA girls)
Bob Berg of Sacred Heart (A boys)
Greg Schmitt, head coach of Laurel (A girls)
Dave Noyes of Quaker Valley (2 interviews for AA BOYS and girls)
Dave Noyes of Quaker Valley (2 interviews for AA GIRLS and boys)
John Neff of NA (AAA boys)
Ron Schreiner of Mt. Lebanon (AAA girls)