WPIAL distance running all-star team clocks nation’s best time

Monday, February 15, 2021 | 6:17 PM

When Knoch senior Mike Formica and Deer Lakes junior Carson McCoy, two of the top distance runners in the WPIAL, got to talking at the Spire Ohio Championship Preview Meet in Geneva, Ohio, on Jan. 30, they discussed plans to break away from the usual individual races they had run for several weeks this winter and see what an all-star relay could accomplish.

Greensburg Salem senior Quintin Gators and Riverside senior Colby Belczyk quickly entered into the mix, and the group tested its mettle at Saturday’s Youngstown State University Open/High School Meet at the on-campus WATTS Indoor Track Facility.

“We’ve kind of known each other for a while, and we thought we could put together the best team possible,” said Formica, who owns the top high school indoor mile time in Pennsylvania – 4 minutes, 16.77 seconds – recorded at the Jan. 30 Spire meet. “It just kind of grew from there.”

Saturday’s result was both breathtaking and record breaking.

Dubbed “WPIAL’s Finest,” the quartet ran the best high school 3,200-meter relay time in the country this winter with a time of 7:50.60, surpassing the previous top national mark (7:56.03) by six seconds and also crushing the previous facility record.

“We practiced handoffs for the first time about 30 minutes before the race,” Formica said. “The handoffs all felt really good, really natural. We all felt like we were ready to run really fast. We were expecting to break the facility record, but in terms of the time, we all through we would be around 7:55 to 8:00. To run 7:50, it was a pretty great surprise. With Carson anchoring us at 1:54, he really brought it home strong.”

Gatons got the relay off to a strong start before giving way to Formica, who passed the baton to Belczyk.

McCoy said the strength of the first three legs gave him a rush of adrenaline to finish it off.

“I knew right away it was going to be a really fast day for us,” McCoy said. “When I saw 7:50 flat, I was amazed. That was really, really fast.”

WPIAL’s Finest finished almost 35 seconds faster than the runner-up, Canton Cross Country.

“It was awesome,” Gatons said. “We put the relay together to go after the top time in the U.S. We were a little bit ahead of it when Carson got the baton, but he just ran an insane leg. It was super fun to get together with a couple of kids from around the area and run fast.”

The team will go after a national title at the Adidas Indoor Nationals on Feb. 26-28 in Virginia Beach, Va.

“We can definitely go faster because we know there will be other teams throwing fast 4x800s together,” McCoy said. “When we have competition with every single leg, I think that will push us to drop more time.”

All four also plan to run in some individual open and championship distances races at nationals. McCoy and Formica have qualified for the championship race in the mile.

Gatons plans to run at this weekend’s Youngstown State meet with the hopes of dropping a few seconds and earning a qualifying berth into the championship mile.

Formica, McCoy, Gatons and Belczyk arrived at the indoor track season after strong performances at the WPIAL cross country championships in late October.

Formica brought home the Class AA boys title with a time of 16:15 on the White Oak Park course. He went on to place 11th at states.

Gatons helped Greensburg Salem capture the WPIAL Class AA boys team title as he placed third individually (16:22). He took 22nd at states.

McCoy posted a 12th-place Class AA finish at WPIALs in a time of 16:51.

In Class A, Belczyk landed in fifth place overall at WPIALs with a time of 16:41 and punched his ticket to Hershey.

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .

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