WPIAL track coaches wary of initial event leader list turnout
Burrell track and field coach Steve White wondered if he needed to apologize to a few coaches as he roamed Art Bernardi Stadium on Friday during the Butler Invitational.
Earlier in the week, the WPIAL unveiled its Class AAA and Class AA track and field event leaders, a key step in its new process of identifying and determining qualifiers for May 18's district finals at Baldwin.
No Bucs appeared on the Class AA list, an odd result considering Burrell's roster included the defending WPIAL champion in the girls discus and shot put, Lizzie Weimer, and the WPIAL meet record holder in the girls 200-meter dash, Nikki Scherer. White wanted his cohorts to know that omission happened because he bungled something in the data-entry process and not because he withheld information in pursuit of some competitive edge.
“I even told the powers that be,” White said. “Especially within our conference, we have a mutual respect with all of our teams and all of our coaches who believe in doing the right thing. So we're all going to try our best to do that.
“Hopefully the next time you're going to see a lot more schools. I know there are some coaches — I don't know them personally — but they're going to hold out until the last minute, which I don't feel is right in the spirit of competition. But if that's the way they're going to do it, so be it.”
The first release of the leader lists failed to erase suspicions among some WPIAL coaches about the existence of “sandbagging.” When the new lists come out this week, curiosity will settle on which teams remain absent and which debut.
Hiding top times, distances and heights is difficult in the age of websites that specialize in reporting high school meet results. If coaches want to find information, there's no shortage of ways, Greensburg Salem coach Nathan Snider said. But Snider still understood why some coaches, particularly those with teams in contention for section titles, might try to conceal roster depth.
“Our team is not in a situation where I feel like we're going to win the section, so for us to put our stuff on there is no big deal,” Snider said. “If we were in that situation, I'm not so sure I'd want to put my stuff on there. But information is out there. You're going to find it one way or another.”
North Allegheny, which won the WPIAL Class AAA boys team championship in 2016 and had three individual WPIAL title winners as well as one first-place relay, did not have any athletes on the first edition of the leaders lists, which included the top 24 performers in each event in Class AAA and the top 16 in Class AA. However, many of the team's top marks were available on pa.milesplit.com.
“Let's face it: It's a lot of data entry, and this is the meat of the season, so it's tough to get that going plus everything else you have to do,” Tigers coach John Neff said of the WPIAL lists. “You'll see us on there next week.”
For a team of North Allegheny's size, the amount of data to enter is undeniably daunting if the goal is to log results for any athlete with a shot at a WPIAL finals berth.
After chatting with a few peers, Latrobe coach Andy Wnek decided to concentrate his early data-entry efforts strictly on his team's top talents.
“We took a rather conservative look at it,” Wnek said. “Those kids that we knew had some pretty good marks going in (we included), as opposed to just putting somebody in every event.
“We didn't want to enter everyone because one of the things was if you put a kid in and they don't make the list, ‘Oh, but coach, you put me in. Why am I not on the list?' Well, you weren't in the top 24 with your mark. So we said OK, let's take a look at where we stand with each of our athletes and then go from there.”
Wnek's “conservative” approach of not entering athletes hovering around the cutoff, particularly if followed by others in the WPIAL, feeds into the fears of Freeport coach John Gaillot, who wishes the leader lists would include not only those in a position to qualify for the district meet but also those who are just short of making it.
“It'd be nice to go to 25 (in Class AA),” Gaillot said, “because my concern is that there's kids that will probably scratch. So if you're No. 17, you don't know if you're 17th (and one away from qualifying).”