Hempfield girls searching for 6th WPIAL title
It's been an impressive run for the Hempfield girls track and field team.
The Spartans have won five consecutive WPIAL Class AAA titles. Are they primed for a sixth?
Longtime coach Ron Colland said he believes that could happen if some of the underclassmen are up to the challenge.
“We've have some holes to fill but do have a lot of pieces in place,” Colland said. “We still have talent. We'll learn a lot about the team early in the season.”
Hempfield's top returning performers include senior Duquesne recruit Gabby Holmberg (jumps, hurdles, sprints), senior Samantha Orie (throws), senior Rachel Hutchinson (throws), junior Molly DeBone (pole vault, jumps) and junior Bailey Traczynski (hurdles).
Colland joked he'd like to use Holmberg is six events. Rules, however, permit an athlete to compete in four during a meet.
But Hempfield still has a strong group, especially in the field events with Hutchinson, the reigning WPIAL discus champion, and the Orie sisters, Samantha, who placed fifth in the state in the shot put, and McKenna, whom throwing coach Dave Murray said has a bright future.
Hempfield's dominance in the field events is key because Colland still is searching for distance runners who can score points.
Holmberg said her favorite event is the 300-meter hurdles, and she also will compete in sprints and jumping events.
Hempfield also has strength in numbers in pole vault, where DeBone, a PIAA seventh-place finisher, leads the way. Taylor Knavel and Kaitlyn Lander also are back.
“We have depth in a lot different events,” Colland said. “I'm anxious to see how some of the younger athletes perform.”
Senior Megan Powell (400, 800) and sophomore Jenna Uncapher (jumps) are two athletes Colland expects to do well.
“We need to find a few more sprinters, and we want them to develop an attitude of trying to win every event,” Colland said. “We have some athletes who do not like to lose. We hope the younger kids develop that same attitude.”
As for the boys, Colland hopes strength in numbers develops into another big season. The boys made the final four in 2016.
Leading the way is senior Hayden Fox, who placed in the pole vault and javelin at last season's PIAA meet; senior thrower Alex Murray, son of the throwing coach who is coming off an excellent indoor season; senior hurdler Trevor Ross; and junior jumper/sprinter Eudel Mojeta.
Colland also expects scoring from senior swimmer Zane Wilson in the high jump and javelin. This is the first time Wilson will participate in track.
Like the Hempfield girls, the North Allegheny boys have dominated the team championship by winning the past four.
The Beaver girls have won two consecutive in Class AA, and the Freeport boys are hoping to defend their title.
All teams will have to adjust to the WPIAL's new qualifying system.
The WPIAL eliminated the five qualifying meets this season and will qualify based on their times and marks throughout the season.
Colland, who is a member of the WPIAL track committee, said he is eager to see how things work.
The top 24 marks in each event in Class AAA and top 16 in Class AA will qualify for the WPIAL championship May 18 at Baldwin.
The WPIAL will post an honor roll of top performers every week so athletes know where they stand.
“This will help an athlete who posts a good mark (time or distance) during the season,” Colland said. “There are some concerns. The running times and the jumping heights shouldn't be a problem. We just hope everyone is honest when measuring jumps and throws.”
Colland said instead of qualifiers, the last chance meets May 9 will become important.
Other districts across the state have used this system in the past.