Dani Prunzik of Upper St. Clair studies videos of renowned sprinter Justin Gatlin, hoping to pick up pointers from the five-time Olympic and 12-time World Championship medalist.
So far, she has nailed down his finishing flair, but is still working on another aspect of Gatlin’s performance.
“He has a really good start and that is where I need the most work,” said Prunzik. “I’m getting better, but my strong part is the ending. As the race goes on, I get faster and can pull away.”
Prunzik pulled away from the field during the Baldwin Invitational. She clocked a 12.40 to win the 100-meter dash and a 26.38 to capture the gold in the 200.
Though neither were personal best times – she has run as fast as 12.34 in the 100 and 25.55 in the 200 – Prunzik was pleased with her performance, considering the conditions.
“I was very excited and happy with my races,” she said. “The big difference was there was a ton of wind, especially at the end, and it was very hard to pick up speed. But it was nice in a way because the races ended up being very competitive with other girls close to me. I love competition. It pushes me.”
Prunzik persevered in the relays as well. She anchored the 4x100 team to a season-best time. She ran the lead leg in the 4x400 for another season best.
“Dani had a big day at Baldwin,” said USC sprint coach Matt Cosgrove. “Like all the athletes there, there were some major headwinds that effected sprinters down the home stretch but Dani powered through.
“Dani is an extremely strong and versatile athlete,” he added. “She has range in all of the sprints.”
At the WPIAL track and field championships set for May 19 at Slippery Rock University, Prunzik will face a wide range of competition. The 16-year-old sophomore owns the Nos. 2 and 3 seed times in her premier races.
Currently, Paige Drake from Central Valley owns a top-seed time of 12.33 for the 100. Peters Township’s Alaina Koutsogiani has a mark of 12.43. while Trinity’s Alyssa Clutter follows with a time of 12.48.
South Fayette’s Amy Allen has the top time in the 200 at 25.27 followed by Clutter at 25.31. Koutsogiani is fifth at 25.66.
“For WPIALs, we are going to play to her strengths and really focus on the 100, 200 and 4x100,” said Cosgrove. “As a sophomore, Dani is showing to be a powerhouse in the WPIAL.
“As a coach, my expectations are for her to run strong and powerful races. She has put in the work and it is paying off.”
Since last year’s outdoor track and field season was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic, Prunzik trained extensively with Karlon Nixon. She has worked with Nixon for more than six years since became a standout on the USATF youth circuit. In addition to running, she lifted and she adhered to a strict diet that included plenty of fruits and vegetables.
She also relied on her father to help her over the mental hurdles of competition. Dan Prunzik was a three-sport standout at Mt. Lebanon and a wide receiver at the University of Maryland.
“There is so much that goes into running. The training, working hard, eating right, getting the proper rest,” said the daughter of Sandra Prunzik. “But I don’t think I would have been able to do all this unless it were for my parents and coaches. I have to credit them. They have pushed me to be my best.”
At the WPIAL championships, Prunzik’s goal is gold.
“I’d love to get a win,” she said. “That would be very exciting. Because of all the hard work I’ve done, I think it would be nice to do a personal best. My dad tells me that all the hard work is done, now it’s my time to shine. I’m ready for it. I’m motivated.”
So is the competition. Most of Prunzik’s opponents are seasoned veterans.
“Obviously since I didn’t participate last year because my freshman season was canceled by COVID, I’ll probably be nervous because I haven’t competed in such a big meet for a while,” she said. “But, I think, though, with all the hard work I have put in, I will be fine.
“Competition brings out the best in me,” she added. “So I am looking forward to the WPIAL championships.”