Hempfield, Laurel win 2022 WPIAL spirit championships

Saturday, January 8, 2022 | 7:39 PM

Clean and crisp.

That’s what Laurel coach Jenn Horodyski wanted to see from her squad’s performance when they stepped onto the mat for the WPIAL competitive spirit championships Saturday at Hempfield.

She got that and more as Laurel delivered a performance with zero deductions to run away with the WPIAL Class 2A championship.

A year ago, Laurel had more than nine points deducted from its score because of falls and bobbles during the 2 minute, 30 second routine. Those deductions kept the Spartans from qualifying for states. That didn’t happen again.

“Redemption. Yes, and it feels great,” Horodyski said. “I have never actually gone back and watched last year’s performance. I kind of blocked it out of my mind.

“We knew what we could do, and what we could do the most clean and the best, and that’s exactly what we did today.”

It was the second WPIAL title in the past three years for Laurel, which was one of 15 schools that qualified for the PIAA championships later this month in Hershey.

Hempfield capped off the day with its second consecutive championship in Class 3A, edging two-time defending state champion South Fayette by one-tenth of a point.

“I’m not surprised at all,” Hempfield coach Suzy Meyer said of the close competition. “Everybody has gotten so good around here.”

Along with the WPIAL champion and runner-up trophies, plaques were awarded to the top school in each of the five divisions: Hopewell (2A Small Squad), Laurel (2A Large Squad), Butler (3A Coed), Pine-Richland (3A Small Squad) and Hempfield (3A Large Squad).

Eleven schools from 3A qualified for the PIAA championships. Joining Hempfield and South Fayette were Baldwin, Pine-Richland, Thomas Jefferson, Penn-Trafford, Norwin, Seneca Valley, North Hills, Plum and Butler.

Hopewell finished in second place in Class 2A, edging Ringgold and Neshannock for the silver medal. All four schools qualified for the state championships in 2A.

Hopewell’s second-place finish was impressive considering it competed with only 10 athletes.

“A few weeks ago, five of them were in a serious accident on their way to practice,” Hopewell coach Shelly Syrko said. Three were able to compete for the championships.

“I’ve been coaching for 25 years, and this team has come together like no other team I’ve ever coached before.”

With fewer athletes available for stunts, Hopewell had to rely on a clean routine to make up for a lower overall score.

“We just wanted a clean routine,” Hopewell assistant Kelly Waibel said. “This feeling is going to last a lifetime for them.”

Throughout the day, coaches and competitors talked about the fun times being had while back at the competition, but also about the difficulties of executing a routine that has to be consistently adjusted due to injuries and illnesses on a team.

For most schools, no substitutes are available as would be on a typical high school sports team. In the end, those teams who were able to adapt and adjust the best were the ones who had the most success.

“So much of coaching is teaching the girls to be strong, teaching them to be resilient, teaching them skills that they’re going to carry with them forever,” Horodyski said. “I couldn’t care less about the trophy. I care more about what this does for my girls’ character and personality for the rest of their lives. That’s why I do this.”

After last year’s tough finish, Horodyski and her fellow coaches wanted their team to be “clean and crisp” on the mat. They gave each team member hand sanitizer at the final practice before competition to remind them to be clean, and had bacon waiting for them for breakfast before competing to remind them to be crispy.

Not all of the bacon was eaten by the squad, however. The coaches saved a few pieces for after securing the gold medals.

“We actually have some bacon on the bus waiting for us,” Horodyski said, “because now we’ve brought home the bacon.”

Watch an archived broadcast of this event on Trib HSSN.

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