Shady Side’s Melissa Riggins wins twice at Baldwin Invite despite facing ‘worst wind’

Saturday, May 8, 2021 | 11:13 PM

The weather app on Melissa Riggins’ smartphone misled her a little.

“For some reason, I never check the wind,” she said with a laugh. “I’m like, ‘Oh, 53 degrees, that shouldn’t be that bad.’”

It wasn’t good.

Yet the talented Shady Side Academy senior fought through steady winds and some strong gusts Saturday to win two events at the Baldwin Invitational. There were no personal records for her under those conditions, but Riggins was pleased with winning both the 800 meters and the McKinney Mile, a marquee race at Baldwin.

“There’s a running joke that as soon as my events come, the weather gets really bad and nasty,” she said. “You know, I’m not the most aerodynamic person. The wind was just really, really something. Probably the worst wind I’ve ever raced in, honestly.”

Of course, there wasn’t anyone out in front of her to help absorb the wind either.

Riggins won the mile in 4 minutes, 55.86 seconds, which was more than 15 seconds faster than her closest competitor. In the 800 meters, she crossed the finish line in 2 minutes, 11.38 seconds or about 3 seconds ahead of Moon standout Mia Cochran.

The wind first hit runners in the curve, forcing them to run a half lap into the wind.

“You’ve got to keep the arms pumping and keep going for it,” Riggins said. “Everything is going to hurt more. Running these times on another day might feel like a piece of cake, but today it sure burned a little.”

Riggins and Upper St. Clair sprinter Dani Prunzik were the only athletes to win two individual events Saturday. Prunzik, a sophomore, won the 100 meters (12.4 seconds) and 200 meters (26.38).

South Fayette junior Melana Schumaker also left with two gold medals in the pole vault and the 400-meter relay. Despite the wind, Schumaker set a personal best in the pole vault by clearing 11 feet, 10 inches.

Hempfield’s Bella Gera won the discus at 160 feet, 2 inches. She already owned the state’s top throw of the season at 161-1, according to statistics.

A winning javelin toss of 126 feet, 8 inches by Apollo-Ridge’s Casey Weightman ranks her among the state’s 10 best throws this spring.

Beaver’s Emma Pavelek tied her personal best in the high jump at 5-foot-7 despite missing weeks with a foot injury. Her mark also tied the top height in the state so far this season.

The Baldwin Invitational was divided over two days to meet covid-19 restrictions. The boys competed Friday and the girls on Saturday.

Whatever the arrangements, Riggins was happy to spend a day on the track. She is the reigning WPIAL and PIAA Class AA champion in the 1,600 and 800 meters, having won both as a sophomore in 2019.

Her junior season was lost to the pandemic.

“I missed a whole season, so now every meet has so much more riding on it,” Riggins said. “The less meets you have, the more you have to focus on the ones you do have.

“I was hoping this year I’d have a lot of small meets where I could just — not goof off — but try a lot of things I’ve never gotten to try because I’ve been locked in on my events for a while now. It just didn’t happen that way.”

The Georgetown recruit is a two-sport star who plays soccer on the weekends for a Pittsburgh Riverhounds Academy team. The two schedules conflict at times, so she’s skipped some invitational meets this spring for soccer.

“I wanted to run at Butler (on April 23), and apparently Butler was really nice weather, but I had soccer games,” Riggins said. “One was up against the best team in the conference. You can’t abandon your team like that (for) a few individual events that may or may not result in good times.”

Still, Riggins remains committed to track, and in the coming days hopes to match some of her times from her sophomore season. That year she broke the PIAA championship record with 2:08.86 in the 800 meters.

Her best 1,600 time was 4:48.79.

The WPIAL individual championship is May 19 at Slippery Rock University. The state meet is May 28-29 at Shippensburg.

Riggins said she’s aiming to again run around 2:08 or 2:09 in the 800.

“I did 2:08 my sophomore year,” she said. “I’m definitely a lot stronger. I just need the right combination of competition and weather at this point. Usually you get one or the other.”

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

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