Burrell track and field carries strong team bond into postseason

Tuesday, May 24, 2022 | 5:55 PM

Every spring, track and field athletes don their school colors, lace up their sneakers and prepare to compete for their team.

Track and field is a team sport in the sense that points from each event go toward a team total, and that all-for-one spirit has created bonds that will last a lifetime for the Burrell track and field teams.

“We’re all so close. We just all get along, and it’s like we always have our own individual practices together, so we all are really close,” sprinter Anna Novak said. “I had my (400-meter relay) practice this morning and then I have a (1,600-meter relay) practice later, so we all stick together, warm up together, and we’re all really close.”

Burrell made it all the way to the WPIAL semifinals and were runner-ups in the section this year but missed out on advancing to the WPIAL finals as a team. Nevertheless, the team put together a strong season and had numerous members qualify for the individual track and field championships that take place Wednesday at Slippery Rock.

For the girls, sophomore Gia Hornack and sophomore Meadow Wlodarczyk are competing in the pole vault. Sophomore Grace Nesko will be running the 1,600, junior Kadi Bauer will be running the 800, and senior Isabella Leger will race in the 3,200. Junior Allison Smola and sophomore Tessa Mathabel will compete in the hurdle events and junior Ali Hughes will compete in the 400 and other events.

For the boys, senior Rex Rayburg and junior Miles Kozarski will be pole vaulting. Sophomore Nicolas Cuiffoletti will compete in the high jump, and senior Kayden Ireland will run the 200.

Novak also qualified for WPIALs in individual events but will be running in the 1,600-meter relay and the 400-meter relay. Novak loves racing alongside her teammates.

“Everybody always looks forward to the relays because I feel like whenever you’re getting the baton from one of your teammates, and then they’re all like right there, cheering and screaming, you just always run better times,” said Novak. “It’s just a lot more fun whenever you’re all warming up and doing it all together.”

Novak is motivated by her teammates, but she admits that running sprint relays like the 400 can be rough. She and the team work hard to prepare for the relay events.

“We do a lot of practicing, like tiring ourselves out and then sprinting towards the end. They just kind of prepare us,” Novak said. “Our coaches say, ‘Sprint as hard as you can at the beginning and then hang on for dear life at the end,’ so we just kind of do a lot of that kind of stuff where you tire yourself out and then try to push yourself at the end once you’re already super tired.”

Novak will be running the 400 relay with junior Morgan Fenoglietto, freshman Ella Anderson and sophomore Ava Rusiewicz and will be running in the 1,600 relay alongside Smola, Hughes and sophomore Catherine Sherer.

Another event that tires runners out is the 3,200. This year, Leger will represent Burrell in the event. Earlier this year, Leger scored a school record for the event, running it in 12:21.07. One of Leger’s friends during her freshman year told her she’d beat the Burrell record one day, and at the Butler Invitational, Leger knew she had the chance to make history.

“We knew it was going to be Butler where I was probably going to do it, so we made sure I ran in the later heat, which was really cool because that’s where some of the best runners of the WPIAL and in the state run,” Leger said. “I did go out really fast, which scared me, but I did it. Barely, but it was probably like one of the coolest experiences I’ve ever had as an athlete.”

Leger broke the record and looks to do even better at the WPIAL meet. She considered this year’s track and field season a down year, but she is still excited to see how the girls and boys do Wednesday.

“It was more of a building year, but we did gain a lot of depth throughout the season, so that was really nice,” Leger said. “We still came up runner-up in the section and went to playoffs. The girls did really well there, so that was nice.”

Leger said she loves her teammates and says that she has seen her training partner, Nesko, almost every day for the past year. She also said that her teammates are the most important people to her and said that the team should have personal bests all the way around on Wednesday.

“Most of us are planning on trying to advance to states. I believe you’ll see a lot of us on the podium. Right now we’re just kind of all tapering down until the end of the season, or spinning our legs out getting fresh,” Leger said. “There’s a lot of anticipation. But I believe the nerves will help, so I think most of the individuals do have a chance to make the podium no matter what.”


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