Normally a wrestler, Riverview's Tyler Murphy makes strides at national track championships
Riverview rising junior Tyler Murphy possesses a strong foundation in wrestling because he took up the sport in fifth grade and his stepfather, Joe, coaches the Raiders' varsity team.
But in recent years, Murphy has expanded beyond the mat circle and — to his own surprise — displayed promise in track and field.
Although it's somewhat rare for a wrestler to excel in hurdling and jumping events, the 16-year-old Oakmont resident is making it work well.
Murphy captured a seventh-place medal with a time of 57.06 seconds in the intermediate boys' 400-meter hurdles at the USA Track and Field Junior Olympic National Championships in Baltimore last month.
He advanced to the finals by finishing seventh (57.46) among 44 competitors in the preliminaries. The intermediate boys' division was for athletes born in 1996 and '97, and Murphy's birthday is Feb. 16, 1996.
Murphy, who started track and field in seventh grade and represented the A-K Track and Field Club this summer, is amazed by the progress he's made since last year.
“It really does surprise me,” Murphy said. “If you'd asked me last year, I would have never told you track would be my future (in sports).”
Chad Walsh, head coach of A-K Track and Field Club and long-time assistant with Highlands' varsity team, thinks Murphy is just starting to tap his potential. Walsh agrees it's uncommon for a wrestler to stand out in the hurdles and jumps.
“Usually, you see more of a football crossover with track,” Walsh said. “You don't see a lot of wrestlers. Tyler has a really good work ethic. He's started working more on his technique and knows it's more than just running around the track.”
At this spring's WPIAL Class AA track championships, Murphy claimed an eighth-place medal (42.33) in the 300 hurdles and also competed in the triple jump. In the last wrestling season, he placed fifth at 145 pounds at the Section 3-AA finals, qualified for WPIALs and was 12-13.
Murphy's stepfather coaches wrestling, but that hasn't stopped him from becoming one of Tyler's biggest track fans.
“No matter what I do, he's very supportive,” Tyler said. “He's shown so much interest in my track. When he's not there, he's always texting me to make sure he knows how I'm doing. He's always the first to find results to compare with online.”
Murphy qualified for the national meet by advancing through the Region 2 championships, which included teams from Pennsylvania, Delaware, New Jersey and part of New York. He ended up second in the 400 hurdles and competed in the triple jump and long jump.
Murphy was pleased with his season but made a mistake at nationals that threw him out of rhythm and was tough mentally because of the loud crowd at Morgan State University's 10,000-seat Hughes Stadium.
“I ran one of the worst races I've ever run,” he said. “I was in about third place going around the last turn, and I messed up my steps. I started going over the hurdle with the wrong lead leg.”
In addition to the national meet, a track and field camp at California (Pa.) University highlighted Murphy's summer. Former Olympians Roger Kingdom, Hollis Conway, Jack Pierce and Norman Tate shared their knowledge.
“It was like a dream come true,” Murphy said about the camp.
Paul Kogut is a staff writer for Trib Total Media. He can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or 724-224-2696.