PIAA notebook: Injury knocks highly seeded WPIAL champion out of 100 meters

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Saturday, May 27, 2023 | 12:02 AM


SHIPPENSBURG — An injury cut short New Castle sprinter Kaevon Gardner’s debut at the state track championships Friday, forcing one of the top athletes in the 100-meter dash to make an early exit.

Gardner entered the meet with the second-fastest time in Class 3A, but the sophomore injured a hip flexor in a preliminary heat and didn’t qualify for the finals. He’d run a 10.7 to win the WPIAL title last week, but limped across the Shippensburg finish line in 11.39 seconds, was helped off the track and left on crutches.

“He said one of the first steps out of the blocks he felt a pop,” New Castle sprints coach Joe Cowart said. “You could tell he wasn’t right coming down the track. About halfway down or three-quarters of the way, he kind of pulled up and hobbled across. It’s a tough end for a great year for him.”

Cowart said Gardner received some positive news afterward when X-rays showed no break or tear in the hip flexor.

The sprinters at Seth Grove Stadium had a strong wind at their backs Friday, and some were posting blistering wind-aided times in the prelims.

Conemaugh Township’s Ethan Black ran a 10.39 in a Class 2A heat that would’ve been a PIAA championship record if not for the wind. Parkland’s Dylan Simon had the fastest mark in 3A at 10.57 seconds.

Two dozen runners in Class 3A posted sub-11 times.

“The times were so fast in the heats ahead of him that, worst case scenario, we’re saying, ‘This guy is going to run the best time of his life,’” Cowart said. “He’s going to PR today in the prelims.”

Gardner finished 33rd in a 35-person field. However, he has a history of turning disappointment into motivation, said Cowert, who predicted Gardner would return to Shippensburg in the future.

“He was disappointed at WPIALs a year ago, finished sixth, didn’t make state and used that fuel to get him to be a WPIAL champ this year,” Cowart said. “He’ll have some irons in the fire for next year.”

The injury also forced New Castle to scratch its 400-meter relay team, which already was down to four runners with no available alternates.

1 yard equals 205 feet?

Southern Columbia’s Tyler Arnold won a state javelin title Friday with a mammoth throw of 205 feet, four inches, but Westinghouse football fans might remember him more for a 1-yard run.

The senior scored Southern Columbia’s first touchdown in the PIAA Class 2A football final last fall with a 1-yard dive into the end zone on fourth down. The Tigers led 7-6 after his TD run, and defeated the City League champions, 37-22.

Arnold’s previous best javelin throw was a 195-foot, 1-inch effort at the PIAA District 4 meet last week. Friday’s throw ranks seventh-best nationally this season, according to Milesplit.com statistics.

WPIAL champ, PIAA favorite

The track schedule is filled mostly with preliminary heats on the first day of the championships. In all, there were 28 prelims run Friday, and only one WPIAL athlete emerged as a No. 1 seed.

Freeport senior Isaac Wetzel is seeded first in the 300-meter hurdles for 2A boys on Saturday.

Wetzel ran a 38.74-second time that was more than a tenth faster than his WPIAL-winning time from last week. Slippery Rock’s Levi Prementine is seeded second (38.89) and Montoursville’s Josiah Schans (39.19) is third.

Wetzel also was seeded fourth for Saturday’s finals in the 110-meter hurdles.

Championship record-setters

Two PIAA championship records fell Friday, including a girls javelin mark that stood since 2008.

Union/Allegheny-Clarion Valley senior Evelyn Bliss broke the girls 2A meet record with a 170-feet, 2-inch throw, bettering a mark set by Lakeview’s Fawn Miller (167-2) in 2008. Bliss’ throw also ranked as the second longest in the nation among girls this season, according to Milesplit.

Bliss’ previous best was 155-9.

Solanco senior Katie Urbine broke the Class 3A girls meet record for pole vault by clearing 13 feet, 9 inches. Manheim Township’s Meckenzie Horn had held the record at 13-3 since 2018.

Brownsville’s sister act

The Quarzo sisters own the 3,200 meters.

Brownsville senior Jolena Quarzo and older sister Gionna have won the past four PIAA Class 2A titles dating back to 2018. The little sister is already a two-time champion and favorite to extend the family streak to five Saturday.

They’d likely have another gold medal if the 2020 season hadn’t been canceled in the early days of the covid pandemic. That season was Gionna Quarzo’s senior year and she’d already won the 3,200 as a sophomore and junior.

Jolena Quarzo is seeded first at 10 minutes, 55 seconds. None of her competitors in Saturday’s race has run a sub-11-minute time this season.

Chris Harlan is a TribLive reporter covering sports. He joined the Trib in 2009 after seven years as a reporter at the Beaver County Times. He can be reached at charlan@triblive.com.

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