Indoor season provides opportunity to shine for Hempfield track athletes

Monday, February 6, 2023 | 1:29 PM

The numbers don’t lie. Hempfield’s track and field program produces some eye-popping figures.

On a recent Saturday at the PennWest Edinboro Sports and Recreation Center, three members of the Hempfield girls indoor team produced elite numbers at a Tri-State Track Coaches Association meet.

With hundreds of boys and girls from more than 60 schools on hand, the Hempfield trio of girls were among 19 athletes to satisfy MileSplit U.S. Second Team elite standards.

In some cases, it’s nothing new at Hempfield, coach Dave Murray said.

“We have some of the highest-ranked kids in the state,” he said.

Senior Liz Tapper, a Michigan recruit who is top-ranked in the shot put in the TSTCA and is No. 2 nationally, outclassed the field with a throw of 47 feet, 10 inches. She beat second-place finisher Rebekah Miller of District 9 Punxsutawney by more than 12 feet.

Two of Tapper’s Hempfield teammates also placed in the top 10 among 36 shot put competitors. Senior Rebekah Ostrosky (33-8.5) wound up fourth, and sophomore Katherine Dolinski (32-8) was sixth.

While Tapper came out on top by a wide margin, she fell short of a Hempfield record she set recently in the shot with a distance of 49-11⁄2.

“She’s our leader, no doubt,” Murray said, “but we’ve got a lot of leaders on this team. We’ve got a number of talented kids.

Junior Grace Iwig’s winning pole vault mark of 11-4 and senior Giana Torri’s 5-1 showing in the high jump, placing her in a tie for second with Mt. Lebanon senior Ally Braunsdorf and 2 feet behind first-place finisher Ashley Laukus, a Norwin senior, also met the elite standards.

Several other Hempfield athletes also won their events. Junior Peyton Murray (51-9) and senior J.P. Gera (50-31⁄4) finished 1-2 in the boys shot put event, and freshman Lauren Howard (36-1⁄2) and sophomore Allison DeMatt (34-81⁄2) were 1-2 in the girls triple jump.

Howard also finished second (9.77) and senior Lindsay Simmons (10.04) was third in the 60 hurdles.

Also, the Hempfield boys 3,200 relay team won first place with a time of 8 minutes, 36.36 seconds. Team members are seniors Owen DeMatt, Santiago Giordanelli and Antonio Tuttoilomondo and junior Caleb Prola.

Other Spartans coming away with top-five finishes were Torri, third, and Iwig, fourth in the girls high jump; sophomore Luke Snider, third in the 3,000 run; junior Peyton Heisler, fourth in the 400 run; freshman Chesnee Smith, fourth in the 800 run; the girls distance medley relay team, third; the girls 800 relay team, fourth; and the boys 800 relay team, fifth.

The Spartans will have several more chances on the indoor circuit to make their mark.

They were scheduled to compete at a meet at Youngstown State on Saturday and another next weekend at PennWest Edinboro before taking part in the TSTCA Championships on Feb. 18 at Edinboro and the high school state meet Feb. 26 at Penn State.

“We have an excellent chance of competing for a championship at the TSTCA meet,” coach Murray said. “The girls team is special. Overall, this may be the most potential we’ve had to bring to the state meet.”

It starts with Tapper, who is the reigning girls discus New Balance national champion.

“Everybody realizes she’s great,” Murray said. “She comes to work every day and she works hard. She’s a good influence on the others, for sure. It’s passed on to the throwers. People watch and take on that work ethic.”

Joining Tapper among the state’s top-ranked competitors from Hempfield are Gera, a Division II Walsh commit, who is ranked No. 2 in the boys weight throw and No. 10 in the boys shot put; Torre, who is tied for No. 2 in the girls high jump; and Peyton Murray, who is ranked No. 4 in the boys shot put.

“I’m super excited about this team, in particular the girls team,” Dave Murray said. “They’re really deep.”

Senior Cydney Blahovec, a middle distance and relay runner, also is headed to the NCAA ranks for track, having committed to Duquesne.

Murray, a former Division III All-American in the shot put at Allegheny and a WPIAL standout at Norwin, is in his 23rd season as coach at Hempfield.

His son, Peyton Murray, is an emerging star at Hempfield, having won the elite division national champion in the discus last season as a sophomore.

As the Hempfield bus departed for the lengthy journey to Edinboro on Jan. 28, Dave Murray felt a bit under the weather. In fact, he debated making the trip but pushed through because of his love for the sport of track and for his teams.

He also wanted to be with his assistant coaches, most notably longtime staffer LaRoyal Wilson.

“He’s the heart of our program,” Murray said. “He’s my mentor as a coach and someone I look up to tremendously.”

Wilson, 74, a former Mt. Pleasant track star and member of the Westminster College Titan Sports Hall of Fame, has been coaching at Hempfield as an assistant for 50 years.

He currently serves as the Spartans’ middle-distance runners coach.

Wilson founded the girls program at Hempfield along with current girls outdoors coach Ron Colland and another former Hempfield assistant, the late Roger Sullenberger.

“In my eyes, coach Wilson runs the ship here,” Murray said.

“The kids love him, and the alumni love him. I have parents who ran for him. It’s quite impressive.”

Dave Mackall is a Tribune-Review contributing writer.


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