Rain soaks Baldwin Invitational but doesn’t dim Quaker Valley hurdler’s sunny outlook

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Saturday, May 7, 2022 | 12:39 AM


A cold rain drenched everyone at the Baldwin Invitational, but Quaker Valley hurdler Nora Johns was among those not too bothered by the wet weather.

“Honestly, it wasn’t as bad as I’d thought,” she said. “There was a nice breeze. It wasn’t too warm. And the rain wasn’t too hard, so it didn’t get into my eyes. It actually was quite nice.”

The junior’s positive attitude — far sunnier than some of her counterparts — surely played a part in Johns running her fastest time of the season Friday to win the 300-meter hurdles, an event that gets dicey on a wet track.

She seemed to barely notice.

“Weather hasn’t bothered me unless it’s really pouring down snow or something,” said Johns, a defending state hurdles champion. “Once you’re running, you’re just running. You’re not worried about anything else. … I run my best in the worst weather. It’s so strange.”

Not everyone was so calm.

As longtime coaches insisted again Friday, running track in Western Pennsylvania is about more than outracing the person in the next lane. Often, it’s about overcoming the unpredictable elements, a battle waged at Baldwin with varying degrees of success.

“You can’t control the weather,” Baldwin coach Ed Helbig said. “We’re going to go from this to 90 degrees, I just know it. There’s not going to be any springtime. This is one of those things you’ve just got to get used to.

“The kids that didn’t let the weather defeat them did very well. But there were other kids I heard saying, ‘I can’t believe I’m here.’ I’m sure they didn’t do well.”

The weather certainly didn’t affect two of the WPIAL’s top sprinters. Upper St. Clair’s Dani Prunzik won the girls 100 meters in 12.21 seconds, and North Catholic’s Trevor Paschall won the boys race in 11.09. The USC girls also won the 400-meter relay with Prunzik running anchor.

The wet track didn’t scare them away.

“It’s Western Pennsylvania — you’re used to running in some rain or with some wind or with some other conditions,” said USC assistant coach Matt Cosgrove, who works with the sprinters. “It’s just part of where we’re at. I’d like to wish our spring was a little bit nicer, but it’s not, so we deal with it.”

One of the day’s closest finishes featured Moon’s Jacob Puhalla and South Fayette’s Jake Borgesi in the McKinney Mile, a celebrated event at the Baldwin Invite. Borgesi had the lead down the stretch, but top-seeded Puhalla caught him and won by less than two-tenths of a second.

Borgesi later won the 3,200.

Reigning state 1,600-meters champion Carson McCoy of Deer Lakes won the boys 800 meters and later helped his team place second in the 1,600-meter relay.

“I was definitely happy with my race in these conditions,” said McCoy, who won the 800 in one minute, 53.20 seconds. “The weather is nothing close to ideal, so I wasn’t really trying to shoot for a time too much.”

McKeesport sprinter Kanye Thompson also left with two medals after taking first in the boys 200 meters (23.06) and second in the 100 (11.13).

Meet organizers made some schedule changes because of the rain. Traditionally, the finals don’t begin until 6 p.m. and finish under the lights, but this time the finals started much earlier.

The pole vault was moved indoors, where Waynesburg’s Andrew Layton cleared 14 feet, 10 inches to win the boys event. South Fayette’s Melana Schumaker won the girls event with a vault of 11-10. Schumaker also won the long jump (17-5), making her the only athlete to win two individual events Friday.

The field events were streamlined to one flight with contestants each receiving four attempts.

A number of teams backed out of the meet after seeing a weather forecast that predicted rain all day and a high temperature near 60. Helbig said there was no way to reschedule the meet, especially with Mother’s Day on Sunday.

“The weather Saturday was just as bad,” Helbig said. “In fact, Saturday is actually going to be worse during the morning. … We had no options. I said, ‘If you can’t come, I understand.’ But that’s just the way it is. An invitational of this size, you can’t move it. We have very little leeway at this time of the year.”

Besides, he said, learning to run in the rain can help come championship time.

“I don’t know what the weather will be like (for WPIALs) on the 18th,” Helbig said. “I don’t know what the weather will be like at states. Last year, states was miserable. It rained all day. It was cold. It was nasty. You have to run in it. They’re not going to cancel that.”

Johns was ready to run the hurdles in the heavy rain when she learned from her dad that there might be a short afternoon window with little precipitation. There was, and it matched up perfectly with her 300-meter race.

“It was the universe telling me it’s all good,” she said with a laugh.

Johns won in 46.03 seconds, her fastest time of the season, as she ramps up for the WPIAL championships in two weeks. She finished more than a second ahead of Oakland Catholic’s Emily Cooper, who’d earlier won the 100 hurdles.

A year ago, Johns was a newcomer to the event and surprisingly ran her way to a state title. This year, no one is surprised to see her win.

“A part of me says, ‘Oh no, there’s a target on my back,’” Johns said. “But another part of me says it’s a new year. Last year is in the past. Everyone is stronger, faster, better this year. I just need to focus on the future and not so much the past.”

Johns has tried to balance the demands of track with basketball. Her father Ken is the girls basketball coach at Quaker Valley.

“We’re trying to do a spring league for school and I also play AAU basketball,” she said. “But I’m starting to get my priorities straight where track comes first. … I just need to focus here now.”

Her times are about a second slower than last year’s state championship mark of 45.07, but she’s hoping to be back in the 45s at the WPIAL championship.

“I’m the reigning champ,” she said. “I’ve got to show up.”

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Chris by email at charlan@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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