Quaker Valley track teams set gold standard in WPIAL postseason

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Sunday, May 28, 2023 | 11:01 AM


Suffice to say, Quaker Valley has become the preeminent WPIAL track and field program in Class 2A.

The Quakers proved as much with their powerhouse performance May 17 at the WPIAL individual championships at Slippery Rock University.

QV ended up with four WPIAL titlists, four seconds, one third and three fourths and 18 medalists overall.

The Quakers had 11 athletes, as well as three relay units, qualify for the PIAA finals set for May 26-27 at Shippensburg University.

QV’s girls team racked up 11 medal winners at the WPIAL meet, led by first-place finishes by senior Nora Johns in the 300-meter hurdles, freshman Mia Gartley in the high jump and the 3,200 relay team.

“Nora is now 3 for 3 for taking first place in the WPIAL 300-meter hurdles,” QV coach Jared Jones said. “Her freshman year was the covid-19 year, so there were not WPIALs.

“She has had a difficult season with different setbacks. I’m extremely proud of how she has battled to claim her third straight WPIAL championship.”

Johns logged a time of 46.58 seconds, taking first place in a close race with two Winchester Thurston girls.

A three-sport star at QV, Johns recently was named as a recipient of the WPIAL’s James Collins Scholar-Athlete Award. She is a four-year letter winner in soccer and basketball and earned three varsity letters in track.

And she was hoping to retain her two-year title in the 300 hurdles at the Class 2A state finals.

“I’m so blessed to have had the opportunity to run in the WPIAL championship, and to win makes it even more meaningful,” Johns said. “I didn’t get a PR or anything, but I did the best I could on that day, and that was enough to win, so I’m pleased with myself.

“I’m going to try to enjoy the time with my teammates at states, the experience and try to win again.”

Johns broke the school record last year in winning the PIAA girls 300 hurdles in 44.78. She didn’t begin competing in the hurdles until her sophomore year and won the state title in the outdoor track season in 45.07.

Johns was a triple PIAA medalist and a four-time WPIAL medal winner in 2022 and holds the school record in the girls 100-meter hurdles.

More girls gold

Gartley captured the top spot in the WPIAL high jump event by clearing a height of 5 feet, 2 inches.

And the QV 3,200 relay team, consisting of juniors Kate Hines, Elizabeth Szuba and Ellie Cain and sophomore Cecilia Montagnese, took first place with a time of 9:47.17.

“The level of competition at WPIALs this year was higher than in past years,” Hines said. “I expected our 4-by-8 relay to perform well and continue (on) to states.”

Montagnese was super motivated to win the 3,200 relay race. The QV girls also were No. 1 in 2A in last year’s 3,200 relay.

“I had faith in our 4-by-8 going into WPIALs,” she said, “but was really excited to see all the girls on our relay give it their all to earn the win. It’s really a close group of girls and we are excited to go to states.”

Cain also ran in the anchor position for QV’s 1,600 relay unit that placed sixth in 4:16.15. She was joined by freshman Emma Currier, Hines and sophomore Kwilai Karto.

Both QV relay teams qualified for the PIAA championship meet.

“I’m very proud of my relays for being able to make states this year,” Cain said, “because all of my teammates ran their hardest to get us to where we are now.”

Boys top medal stand

Quaker Valley’s boys 3,200 relay team rambled to first place at the WPIAL finals in 8:08.63.

Senior Luke Hotchkiss, freshman River Capek and sophomores Jackson Pethel and Clark LaLomia proved to be a winning combination for the Quakers.

“We knew coming into it that we were the second seed behind Winchester Thurston by about three seconds,” LaLomia said. “But we figured if we all just did our part that we could take them because most of us had run PRs since the first time we ran it all together.”

LaLomia rallied the Quakers to victory in the final portion of the race, following in the footsteps of Hotchkiss, Pethel and Capek.

“I received the stick in second place about a second behind Winchester’s anchor,” LaLomia said. “I had run the open 800 a few times against him and won, so I just glued myself behind him for about 350 meters before passing.”

All four QV relayers are multi-sport athletes. Each competes in indoor track during the winter months and, in the fall, Hotchkiss, Pethel and LaLomia participate in cross country while Capek plays soccer.

“We are all very happy about the (3,200 relay) win,” LaLomia said. “Watching the girls win it last year, and this year to start the meet, we knew we really had to pull it together to continue what they started. It was hard watching from the sideline (last year) the girls have so much success. We were happy for them, but we wanted to put ourselves in their position once we moved down to 2A.

“Next year, we are losing Luke to graduation but River, Jackson and I will return so we’d love to try and repeat like the girls have done.”

Medal collectors

Two athletes on the girls team, both sophomores, earned runner-up positions at the WPIAL meet.

Karto placed second in the 100 hurdles in 15.96, and Jay Olawaiye claimed second in the triple jump with a distance of 36-9.5. Karto sliced almost a minute off her preliminary time, and Sydney Taylor of Keystone Oaks won the triple jump event with a leap of 36-10.5, one inch better that Olawaiye’s best effort.

Cain also secured third place in the 800 in 2:22.69, and sophomore Sarah Minard finished fourth in the pole vault competition by clearing 9-6.

“For my individual race, I honestly was a little disappointed with my performance,” Cain said. “I went into the race not feeling my best and I was up against some great competitors who ran very well.”

Two other individual medalists were Montagnese and Hines. A distance specialist, Montagnese ended up eighth in both the 1,600 and 3,200.

“Track has been a great experience this year,” she said, “and I’m really proud to be a part of this team.”

Hines placed sixth in the 800 and later said she “would love to run a PR” at the PIAA finals.

“My personal goal was to make states in the 800,” she said. “The (WPIAL) times in the 800 were faster than last year’s. I’m happy to be among this group of talented runners moving on to states.”

Oumou Thiero, a 6-foot-4 freshman, just missed earning a medal in the high jump with a ninth-place performance.

For QV’s boys team, sophomore Thomas Debelak was the runner-up in the triple jump with a distance of 42-8.25, as was senior Alex MacDonald in the discus with a toss of 159-7.

“Alex’s throw is second all-time (at QV) by only about nine inches,” Jones said. “Alex is chasing Dom Lagnese’s discus record (160-3.5) set in 2019.

“Alex seems to be peaking at the right time. I was told that he was going to forgo his final throw since he already placed in the top five to go to states. Another coach talked him into taking his last throw and that was the best throw of his life.”

Fourth place went to LaLomia in the 800 (1:59.48) and sophomore Davin Gartley in the 110 hurdles (15.34).

Freshman Tyler Bell in the 3,200 and senior Noah Leathers in the 110 hurdles rounded out the list of QV medalists.

Reaching goals

Quaker Valley’s girls team has gone from a top-five showing in 2021 to winning back-to-back WPIAL titles in 2022-2023, all under the guidance of Jones, QV’s third-year coach.

“I’m very proud of the girls repeating as team champions.,” Jones said. “Coming into the season, I thought the girls team was stronger overall than last season when we won the WPIAL championship. I made it clear to the girls that this also meant there was a lot of pressure on them to repeat as team champions.

“As the season progressed, individuals had setbacks, but the team as a whole stayed strong and consistent. I’m hopeful to see if they can defend their title again next year.”

Cain believed the Quakers were athletic and tough to beat in several events entering the 2023 season.

“I knew we had a really strong team and I had high expectations,” she said, “but I also knew there were other strong teams in the WPIAL.

“We all worked really hard and supported one another throughout the season. I think everyone also listened to our coaches, which paid off in the end. It’s really exciting to be able to win WPIALs as a team because it’s more fun to share a victory with teammates.”

Szuba said a season-long goal for the Quakers was a successful defense of their WPIAL team championship.

“The entire team had their eyes on defending our title,” she said. “We knew that as a team we had become much stronger, but we also knew our competition had gotten stronger. Last year, we won WPIALs by a small margin, so we knew we couldn’t get too confident as the favored team (in 2023).

“I think all the girls did an amazing job. Everyone worked so hard to get better for the team and for themselves.”

Team effort

The QV girls wrapped up first place in the overall scoring at Slippery Rock with 65 team points. They were followed by Winchester Thurston (59 points), Laurel (45), Hopewell (38), Avonworth/Northgate (35), Carlynton (33), Eden Christian (31.5), Shenango (31), Shady Side Academy (29) and Freeport (27).

“I couldn’t be prouder of how the girls have done this season,” Johns said. “Everyone seems to get better every day, and they have amazing drive and work ethic. I wouldn’t want any other teammates.”

The state qualifiers for the girls were Johns (300 hurdles), Gartley (high jump), Karto (100 hurdles), Olawaiye (triple jump), Cain (800), Minard (pole vault), Hines (800), the 3,200 relay and 1,600 relay.

QV’s boys team competed in Class 3A the past few seasons before grinding out a top-five finish in 2A this year.

Beaver Falls topped the boys team standings at Slippery Rock with 50 overall points, and the Tigers were followed by Washington (42), Quaker Valley (40), Greensburg Central Catholic (35.5), Carlynton (35), Hopewell (32), Riverview (28), Freeport (28), South Park (25), Laurel (22) and Shenango (22).

State qualifiers for the QV boys were Debelak (triple jump), MacDonald (shot put), LaLomia (800), Gartley (110 hurdles) and 3,200 relay.

Jones is the successful architect of the Quakers track and field program, along with his behind-the-scenes assistants Ron Graf, John Doucette, Laura Jones, Kari Miller and volunteer coach J.J. Veshio.

“Our coaches have worked to make a really supportive team environment, which I think has been reflected in our success,” Szuba said. “When my teammates were not competing in their events, they would cheer on the rest of the team.”

Hines said the coaching staff has proven to be awesome.

“We couldn’t have accomplished our goals without our coaching staff,” Hines said. “Our team is hard working and supportive of each other. That is a reflection of the coaches.”

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