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High school notebook: Burrell girls 400 relay team is special group

| Sunday, May 19, 2013, 12:11 a.m.
Burrell's Kami Kaczanowicz, shown practicing at the high school, contributed to the 400-meter relay team that won the Class AA title and to the 1,600 relay that placed second Thursday at the WPIAL championships.
Burrell's Kami Kaczanowicz, shown practicing at the high school, contributed to the 400-meter relay team that won the Class AA title and to the 1,600 relay that placed second Thursday at the WPIAL championships.

There's no argument about where Burrell's girls 400-meter relay team ranks in the WPIAL — a title-winning performance in the Class AA championships Thursday at Baldwin High School settled that.

But evidence suggests this relay also is Burrell's best ever.

The four Bucs — seniors Kelly Mazzei and Jessie Biltz and juniors Kami Kaczanowicz and Emma Brown — won the finals with a time of 49.22 seconds, a mark determined by a fully automatic timing system.

Burrell lists its 400 relay record as 49.18. The mark belongs to the 1998 team, which won a PIAA championship with that performance. But that group actually ran a 49.42 at the state finals, which also used fully automatic timing.

As a program, Burrell adjusts all of its records to account for the prevalence of hand-timing — computerized timing is rare outside of championship meets, and timers with stopwatches tend to start the clock late and end it early due to the limits of human reactions. The nationally accepted practice for adjusting automatically recorded times is to cut .24 from the mark, longtime Burrell relay coach Frankie Phelps said. So this season's relay team will go into the record books with a time of 48.98.

Phelps believes the girls might improve their own record before this season ends. Because Washington, Burrell's top challenger in the 400 relay Thursday, dropped the baton during the third leg, the Bucs inherited a commanding lead rather than a close one. At the PIAA championships, which begin Friday in Shippensburg, the strong field might give Burrell a boost.

A failure to break their own record will hardly ruin what has been a special season for the four girls, three of whom — Biltz, Kaczanowicz and Brown — ran together on a 400 relay team that made it to the 2010 U.S.A. Track and Field Junior Olympics national championships in Sacramento, Calif.

“I wouldn't have to wanted to win this with any other girls,” Kaczanowicz said of the WPIAL title. “We get along so well.”

Competing with pain

Brown gritted her way through the 400 relay but, hampered by back pain, chose to step aside for Burrell's 1,600 relay, which took second in the WPIAL with freshman Tori Slomka as Brown's replacement — the other three members were Mazzei, Kaczanowicz and Biltz.

Back pain bothered but failed to stop another Alle-Kiski Valley area athlete from shining, as Freeport junior Cole Hepler persevered his way to a third-place finish in Class AA javelin with a personal-record throw of 167 feet.

A record day seemed unlikely for Hepler, who strained his back at the Class AA Northern Region Qualifier meet on May 7 and then played in a hockey tournament in Texas during the weekend before the WPIAL championships. His father, David, had to push on his back to help keep the muscles loose.

“I didn't really bother me until the first throw,” Hepler said. “I just needed one good throw that I knew I had in me.”

On his third attempt, he unleashed the throw that earned him his spot on the medal stand.

Pumped to jump

Fox Chapel junior Brian Papich competed in track and field in middle school, but a hip injury suffered in gym class kept him away from the spring sport the past two years.

As evidenced by Thursday's WPIAL meet, Papich has returned with authority. He qualified for the PIAA Class AAA championships in the long jump and high jump, as he placed second in the former with a distance of 23-3 and tied for fourth in the latter with a height of 6-1.

His long jump mark broke the school record (22-6), an achievement Papich said was his main goal at the meet. A spot in the state meet just sweetened the deal.

“I thought I could sneak up in the top four; I wasn't expecting second, though,” Papich said.

Papich places basketball above all his other athletic activities. He hardly considers himself among the “big-name” jumpers who also earned trips to Shippensburg.

“I'm just trying to rely on natural hops,” he said.

Bill West is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. Reach him at or via Twitter @BWest_Trib.

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