It is difficult to discern who enjoys the WPIAL individual track and field championships more – the athletes or the coaches.

“A lot of preparation has gone into this moment,” said South Fayette coach Scott Litwinovich. “Most of these athletes have been working towards this goal since they left this meet last year. It is also great to just sit back as a coach and appreciate all of the talent in the area. We don’t just root for our own, we root for the WPIAL and want to represent this side of the state as best as we can.”

Chartiers Valley coach Lori Poe agreed. She said that the WPIAL championships are an opportunity for the Colts to showcase their talents, hard work and dedication to the sport. It is also the “jumping point” to the PIAA meet or the 2024 season.

“There are so many talented athletes in all events to watch,” she said. “It is always a fantastic show of speed, endurance, jumping and throwing.”

Upper St. Clair coach Doug Petrick added that the best thing about the district finals is having a “big stage” for athletes to perform and showcase what they have been doing all season.

The stage is set for May 17 at the Milhalik-Thompson Stadium on the Slippery Rock University campus. The top 24 AAA athletes in each event are entered into the meet based on times and distances achieved throughout the regular season. The top four finishers, male and female, and those meeting the state’s qualifying standards will advance to the PIAA championships set for May 26 and 27 at Seth Grove Stadium on the Shippensburg University campus.

“The WPIAL individual championships are the first step on the journey to the state meet but we also view the District 7 meet as a celebration of sorts,” said Petrick. “If you frame it in a positive way, it takes a lot of the stress away from external expectations and distractions.”

Patrick added that this is a “chaotic” time of the year with sports, academics, activities, and other commitments that athletes can feel out of sorts if they can’t tune out the background noise. That is why consistency and routine are so key to success.

“We remind our athletes to just keep doing what they’ve been doing, rally around their teammates, and find comfort in what you’ve been doing all season,” he said.

“Don’t stress about things outside of your control. Enjoy the moment,” Petrick advised.

This spring, South Fayette has enjoyed many highlights.

The Lady Lions captured their third straight section banner and advanced to the Class AAA team championships for the second year in a row. They were TSTCA outdoor champions and finished runner-up at the Baldwin Invitational.

The SF boys also won a section title. It was their first championship since moving up to Class AAA in 2015.

Litwinovich sited his assistant coaches – Wes Chappel, Bill Finnerty, Elizabeth Kline, AJ Mannarino, and Joe Winans – for helping SF produce a winning program.

“They really do an impressive job of putting our kids in the best possible scenarios to improve and succeed,” he said. “They have very high expectations, and it continually shows through our athlete’s performances.”

Litwinovich anticipates that several SF athletes will fare well at the district championships and claim PIAA berths.

Grace Howard is the defending champion in the high jump and a contender in the 100-meter hurdles. Erica King was runner-up in the javelin last year. Olivia Renk is one of the best sprinters in the area and Lily Colombo will contend in the 800 meters. Though a freshman, Delaney Schumaker is the favorite in the 300 hurdles. Evabella Cox has a shot to medal in the triple jump and the high hurdles. Emily Sinton, Maddie Stock, Siya Joshi, and Colombo should be on the podium in the 4x800 relay.

On the male side, a healthy Michael Gimigliano could shine in the hurdles while Jake Borgesi and Roman Galioto are capable of garnering medals in any distance event they enter. The duo also combine with Tim Danziger and Alaa-Eddine Guetari to form the best 4x800 relay team.

“I’m most looking forward to that race,” Litwinovich said. “We have a very special group of young men that have set their sights extremely high. Coach Winans has really put them in the perfect spot for success and it’s up to them now to seal the deal.

“When we come home from the PIAA championships, I expect there to be a few firetrucks waiting for us as we get off of the exit. That is their goal, to win a PIAA title,” he added.

At USC, Dani Prunzik is a seasoned veteran of district and state competition. A Penn State recruit, she was a PIAA runner-up in the 100-meter dash last year.

This spring, she has dominated that event as well as the 200 race distance in ever invitational and has continued to rewrite the record books at USC. She owns one of the Top 10 times in the state in the 100 and Top 25 in the 200.

Most recently, Prunzik captured three gold medals at the Baldwin Invitational. She won the 100 in 11.99 seconds and the 200 in 25.15. Prunzik also anchored the 4x100 relay to victory. The unit also included Noor El Nokali, Ashley Sanderson, and Sadie Tomczyk.

“Dani has had a stellar senior season. She continues to break records and that relay has broken the school record multiple times this season,” Petrick said.

A freshman, Tomczyk has held her own in the sprints while Evie Ellenberger has developed into a “dynamic” pole vaulter as well as jumper. Meredith and Lydia Rhodes have been “amazing leaders” and “powerful” distance runners, adds Petrick. Anna Engleman is another jumper expected to do well at the WPIAL meet.

On the male side, sprinter Carter Chui, Evan Sarkett (800 meters) and distance runner Sawyer Weinman are among the Panthers to watch at the WPIAL meet. In the pole vault, sophomore Tyler McClintock-Comeaux has progressed and shown “amazing talent” this spring.

“It’s been a fun season with tons of highlights,” Petrick said. “We hope to keep things rolling into districts and onto the state meet.

“We are looking to perform well in one of the most competitive districts in the state. We feel fortunate to compete in District 7 and in the South Hills with so many talented athletes and teams. Week in and week out our group gets amazing competition, which helps transition into championship season. I feel very happy to work with such an intelligent and supportive staff, one that always puts the athletes in a position to succeed, which is all you can really ask for as a head coach.”

At Chartiers Valley, the coaches are playing a waiting game because expectations are for more athletes to qualify for the WPIAL championships at the last chance meet held May 12 at West Mifflin.

The core of the Colts team is comprised of sophomores but seniors such as Chase Dalbon and Derek Armfield have been “excellent” leaders. Dalton placed second in the 100-meter dash at the Baldwin Invitational while Armfield won the javelin event. Poe expects both to be on the podium at the WPIAL meet and qualify for states.

Sophomore Christian Crowly is a strong vaulter and looks to make his mark in the WPIAL finals. Senior Eva Tokar looks strong in the girls’ javelin and shot put and junior Rachel White is a top entry in the 800 run.

The 4x800 relay team of Rachel White, Eva Kulbago, Katie Hanson and Gia Kwasniewski is determined to improve upon last year’s ninth place showing and the boys’ foursome of Eric Wilson, Santo Riccardi, Brady Laughlin and Landon Smith are looking for a season best time at the championships.

Other CV athletes with a chance to compete in the WPIAL meet are: Santo Riccardi, Eva Kulbago, Brendan Gahanna, Lily Nixon, Eric Wilson and Olivia Tokar. Comprised of freshmen and sophomores, Hevin Harvard, Cheyenne Jones, Olivia Tokar and Lilly Carlson will fight for a spot in the 4x100 relay.

“It as been exciting to watch our team grow this season,” Poe said. “Many of our younger athletes have stepped up into scoring positions. Also, it is always fun to discover new track athletes who excel on the team. We had a lot of first year athletes that were upper classmen. They really excelled and helped our team compete.”

PT preparedAt Peters Township, Justin Pinto is anxious to see how his athletes demonstrate improvement and segue from section meets to individual competition.

“From the indoor season through section meets until now, they have worked so hard,” said the PT skipper. “It is really a joy to see how far they have come and how far they can go.”

The Indians are headlined by two returning PIAA qualifiers in Brett Kroboth and Lexi Pirosko. New contenders who could join the duo in Shippensburg are the distance girls that comprise the 4x800 relay. Grace Senneway, Mari Grim, Sydney Shock and Meagan McKenna also have “possible individual chances” to earn PIAA berths.

As a team, PT challenged to make the playoffs, with the girls being so competition that their meets often came down to the last few events.

“One of the greatest aspects of this sport,” Pinto said, “is you have all these kids out there trying to do their best in their own event each time and then the whole meet comes down to one race. One throw. One jump. Then they are all their cheering for each other and yelling for their teammates to give it their all. Nothing better than a close thrilling track meet.”

Fans, coaches and athletes alike can all expect that come May 17 at the WPIAL individual track and field championships.

Almanac Sports Editor

An award-winning journalist, Eleanor Bailey has been employed by Observer Publishing Company since 1982. She is the sports editor at The Almanac and a contributor for the Observer-Reporter.

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