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Kittanning's track team shows improvement

| Tuesday, April 19, 2011

Few things indicate a track and field program's progress as effectively as broken records, and by that measure, Kittanning's team, now in its 10th season, continues to improve.

Several records have fallen through the first month of the season. Senior Wes Schmidt surpassed the javelin record distance last week. Earlier this month, senior Leah McKelvey set a new mark in the 300-meter hurdles and bettered her own record in the 100-meter hurdles.

None of the record-breaking performances struck the athletes or their coaches as particularly surprising. They simply were natural progressions.

"I didn't expect to do it this soon," said Schmidt, who started throwing as a junior. "I was expecting later in this season, more toward WPIALs. But I'm happy I did it. That's what I've wanted to do ever since I joined last year and saw the record."

His throw of 164 feet, 2 inches during a meet against Apollo-Ridge bested the previous record of 155 feet, a mark set by Chris Shepard.

As a junior and newcomer to the event, Schmidt lacked technique. He mostly relied on raw strength, something that, for a football lineman such as himself, was never in short supply.

This spring, Schmidt benefitted from the arrival of Carrie Miles, a full-time throwing coach. She refined his steps on the runway and his arm positioning. Schmidt's throws began to sail 140 feet with regularity.

Last week, Miles, who predicted Schmidt's record-breaking potential at the first practice of the season, watched the thrower finally get everything synchronized.

"I knew it was just a matter of time before he actually hit one," Miles said. "As soon as he let it go at the meet, I didn't even have to turn around. I knew."

Now, the owner of the school record has a new mission: Medal at the WPIAL Class AA championship and earn a spot in the state meet. He has already secured a berth in the WPIAL Northern Regional meet.

"(Before the season), I thought I had a chance of maybe going to states, but I was doubtful," Schmidt said. "But now that I threw that, I'm more optimistic."

Said Miles: "I think that was just the breakthrough he needed. He's got to get quicker with his legs. ... If we can get him up here and get him quicker on the runway, I think you're going to see more. Our goal is not to stop at 164-2."

McKelvey, meanwhile, set both of her hurdling records at a meet with Springdale on April 7. Her accomplishment, the product of training that began her sophomore year, completed the McKelvey family's monopoly on the team's hurdle records -- Colin McKelvey, Leah's brother and a 2007 graduate, set the current boys team marks.

McKelvey ran the 100 hurdles in 16.7 seconds and finished the 300 hurdles in 52.09 seconds. Both times guaranteed her spots in the WPIAL Northern Regional meet.

"I definitely could improve on my times," she said. "But I'm satisfied with what I'm running this year.

"I focus mainly on the 100 hurdles. The 300 ... it's too long. It's really exhausting. The last hurdle, you basically just hop over."

McKelvey's dislike for the longer event didn't stop her from pursuing the record set by Emma Eisenbrandt in 2008, though.

"She wanted the record," said hurdles coach Kevan Landstrom, "and that's kind of what we've been working for all year -- not so much winning as wanting the record.

"This is really going to be her year. We're expecting big things out of her."

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