Norwin girls track carries on proud tradition with strong season

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Saturday, May 20, 2023 | 11:01 AM


Track and field teams like the Norwin girls do not compete for championships by simply showing up and stretching.

No, it is a year-round commitment to training and a special discipline that helps the Lady Knights improve their times and distances and keep the program among the WPIAL’s elite.

“The part that sticks out to me the most is how competitive they have been,” coach Tim Van Horn said. “Practices have sparked some of our fiercest competitions, and we have kids battling back and forth all season for the top spots on the team. They feed off of each other in practice, and I believe this gives us an edge heading into our meets.

“Each training group was able to see the others training hard and getting after it every day.”

Norwin recently posted a second-place finish at the WPIAL Class 3A team finals, following a sixth consecutive section title.

From sprints to jumps and throws, Norwin scored points. This was one of their better teams, and it rivaled WPIAL championship teams of 2007 and ‘08.

“This was one of the most balanced teams we have had,” Van Horn said. “If a team was really strong in one area, the rest of our team knew they had to pick it up for them.”

The key to winning team titles in a individually perceived sport is to make sacrifices within the lineup. That often means competing in multiple events and trading specialization for the betterment of the team.

“We go over our meet lineup the day before each meet and what we need from each event,” Van Horn said. “The athletes are aware of what the team needs. If we are giving up a few points in the jumps, we know the distance team has got our back. Or maybe we know it will be tight in the sprints, so the throwers really need to step up and pick up extra points with their throws.

“The girls just had each other’s backs. Most of our athletes just wanted to see the team be successful. We even had seniors put their personal achievements on hold to help the team the best they could. It is that kind of selflessness that helps get the team as far as we got.”

At the WPIAL team finals, Bella Brozeski won the 300-meter hurdles, while Ashley Laukus won the high jump.

A number of runner-up finishes helped the Knights stack points as they improved on a third-place finish from last year.

Norwin defeated South Fayete, 103-47, and Canon-McMillan, 78-72, but lost to champion North Allegheny, 87-63.

“The key to our success has been our depth,” middle-distance and relay runner Anna DeFazio said. “We have some of the top competitors in the WPIAL, but we have girls that can step up when called upon, and that has definitely proven to be useful throughout the season. Especially on the distance side, our depth has been super advantageous. We can put fresh, quality runners on the line for each event when many teams have to use the same few girls.”

Other key contributors include pole vault standout Hannah Shaw, a Northeastern commit, and Nataiah Robertson-Dutrieuille, who set a school record in the long jump at 18 feet, 5 inches.

Shaw ran the 100 at the team finals.

Annie Czajkowski is an up-and-comer in middle distance, while Emma Jiancristoforo, a Robert Morris commit, scores points in long-distance races.

Thrower Savannah Schneck has inspired teammates with her comeback from multiple ACL injuries.

A St. Francis (Pa.) commit, DeFazio missed last season with a hip injury but is back competing again.

“This team has trained hard since November, and the team atmosphere and feeling of family is unlike any other,” DeFazio said. “We go out and compete as a family.”

Norwin has established a tradition in track and field, and former athletes return to pass on their knowledge and experiences.

That is what drives the program.

“Many of our graduates talk at our end-of-year banquet and you hear many of them mention track and field feeling like a family,” Van Horn said. “You can see it during our practices, meets, bus rides and our normal school day. Our athletes genuinely enjoy being around each other and want to see each other be successful. Our athletes are also our best recruiters. Sure, our coaches have done a great job at getting athletes to commit to our program, but our kids really help to load our team.

“When you get kids to commit and have a really passionate coaching staff that is willing to put in the work with all of our athletes, it is a little bit easier to carry on the proud tradition.”

Bill Beckner Jr. is a TribLive reporter covering local sports in Westmoreland County. He can be reached at bbeckner@triblive.com.

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