A-K Valley athletes hope to contend for medals at WCCA track and field championships

Wednesday, April 26, 2023 | 9:06 PM

With just three weeks remaining until the WPIAL track and field championships at Slippery Rock, Thursday’s Westmoreland County Coaches Association championships at Latrobe Memorial Stadium serves as somewhat of an opening salvo for Kiski Area, Burrell and Valley in the stretch run of the regular season.

A number of individuals and relays hope to make their mark in the field of 17 teams.

“The kids just love the county championship,” Kiski Area coach Tom Berzonsky said.

“It is our first opportunity to compete for a (team) championship. It raises to that championship feel with WPIALs just around the corner. We were competitive for individual titles in the previous invitationals we’ve gone to this year. It’s always awesome that you can become an individual county champ and then also work to help the team win as well.”

Junior Eliza Miller knows what it’s like to stand at the top of the podium at the county championships. She did it most recently at last year’s meet when she won the 1,600-meter run while earning silver in the 800.

She set school records in both events at the Butler Invitational (5 minutes, 2.95 seconds in the 1,600 and 2:15.89 in the 800).

The WCCA record in the 800 is 2:13.75, and the 1,600 record is 5:02.09, so Miller, Berzonsky said, hopes to make more history at Latrobe.

Berzonsky said the boys and girls 3,200 relays will be competitive, along with Braden Mika in the javelin. Mika placed third in the event at the Butler Invite.

The Cavaliers boys 400 and 1,600 relays, Justin Gross in the 800 and Tatiana Holt in the 3,200, Berzonsky said, also will be a factor.

“We have people to keep an eye on in a lot of events,” he said.

Kiski Area garnered a sizeable amount of momentum Tuesday with a sweep of North Catholic on senior day. The wins in the Section 4-3A finale clinched the section crown for both teams at 5-0.

The exact seeding for each event will not be finalized until an hour or two before the first set of events are to begin.

Entries for the championships were accepted up to 11 p.m. Wednesday evening.

Burrell senior Kadi Bauer, an Edinboro commit, set a school record in the 1,600 (5:20.34) in a section tri-meet with Knoch and Springdale last week, which helped the Lady Bucs clinch a WPIAL playoff spot.

She then was 17th in a fast 1,600 (5:25.59) at the Butler Invitational on Saturday. Among WPIAL Class 2A runners, she was third as WPIAL Class 3A runners dominated.

“Kadi is extremely excited for the chance to run at the county meet and represent Burrell,” Burrell coach Steve White said. “She has a main goal of bettering her school record and going after more school records. She is very motivated. She will be highly seeded for the 1,600.”

Bauer also will be in the 3,200 and 1,600 relays.

White said there is a lot of momentum for athletes from both Burrell teams coming off the Butler Invite.

“A lot of our kids had personal bests at Butler, which is a very tough meet,” White said. “You’ve got 88 to 90 schools, so you know you are competing against some of the best in Western Pennsylvania. We told the kids that there will be some kids in front of you (at Butler), and they are in triple-A. We were comparing ourselves against the double-A kids, and all of our kids, boys and girls, stepped up very well.

“We’ve had a good week of practice, and, hopefully, it will roll over into Thursday.”

Junior hurdler Alli Smola, White said, will be highly seeded at the WCCA meet and is running well. Miles Koziarski, also a junior, is expected to fare well in the pole vault.

“Miles has had a great season, and he is on the cusp of tying or breaking the school record,” White said.

Junior Luke Guerrini will shoot for medal placement and a school record in the 800.

“We’re really now trying to put it all together so we can do our best at WPIAL and be at peak performance,” White said.

First-year Valley coach Jeff Thimons is optimistic his athletes will be able to have strong performances Thursday.

Senior Jayden Richter, 11th in the Class 2A boys javelin at WPIALs last year, came into the season with a personal best of 153 feet, 7 inches.

“He has increased his distance throughout the season and is hoping to make the finals,” Thimons said.

Others Thimons expects to challenge for a spot in the finals or contend for titles are sophomore Taimel Davis (boys 110 hurdles), sophomore Jorie Houser-Leonard (girls 100 dash), junior Darnell Coaston (boys long jump), the girls 400 relay (Nevaeh Patrick, Houser-Leonard, Mackenzie Guy and Aaliyah Burke), and the boys 1,600 relay (Davis, Coaston, Donnell Blackwell and Charles Perkins).

“We are a young team that has been working hard,” Thimons said. “Expectations for this year and beyond are extremely high.”

Westmoreland County Coaches Association Track and Field Championships (100th boys, 43th girls)

When: Thursday afternoon and evening

Where: Latrobe Memorial Stadium

Host: Latrobe Track and Field

Entries: pa.milesplit.com

Tentative meet schedule: Field events, 2 p.m.; Track event preliminaries, 3:15 p.m; Track event finals, 6 p.m.

Meet records and team champions: wccaonline.net/track-and-field

Defending champions: Norwin (Girls 3A); Greensburg Central Catholic (Girls 2A); Hempfield (Boys 3A); Ligonier Valley (Boys 2A)

Participating teams: Kiski Area, Burrell, Valley, Belle Vernon, Derry, Franklin Regional, host Latrobe, Greensburg Central Catholic, Greensburg Salem, Hempfield, Kiski Prep, Ligonier Valley, Mt. Pleasant, Norwin, Penn-Trafford, Southmoreland, Yough

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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