PITTSBURGH – South Fayette sophomore Tori Valachovic approaches the hurdles with no fear. In an event that often leaves athletes with gashes on their legs after striking the steel obstacles, the sophomore knows there is no room for error.
Fortunately for the Lions, Valachovic showed no fear when her time of 15.77 set a personal record and was good enough for second place in the 100-meter hurdles and she placed third in the 300 hurdles to help South Fayette to its second consecutive Class AA WPIAL Team Track championship at Baldwin High School.
The mark helped boost South Fayette to WPIAL gold over Beaver, Mohawk and Freeport.
“Hurdles is all about the mindset,” Valachovic said. “You have to focus on reaching your goals and I’ve been training non-stop for the events, so I was ready for anything.”
Valachovic had to be when lightning delayed the start of the meet for more than an hour. Three different lightning strikes extended the delay. After 35 minutes, when the rain passed and athletes became optimistic they would be able to compete sooner rather than later, an additional strike bumped the meet back to a 5:15 p.m. start.
A large gasp of groans echoed throughout the stadium when officials announced an additional delay, but dark, cloudy skies gave way to sunshine.
Valachovic did not mind the delay. In an event that requires a focused approached, she demonstrated that and more. After claiming first place at the Class AA Southern Qualifiers to clinch a spot in Thursday’s WPIAL Individual Championships, the sophomore was seen as a favorite to repeat in the event.
Not even a torrential downpour would stop her.
“You have to put your whole heart into the event,” Valachovic said. “There is no holding back because that’s how people get hurt. It’s a huge meet for us and I was just glad to get us off to a great start. A personal record is a bonus.”
Other events that led South Fayette to the title in its final year in Class AA were the 3,200 relay team took first place with a time of 10:05.05 – 21 seconds faster than second-place Freeport. Also, Graysen Molinaro, who qualified for Thursday’s individual championships in the shot put, gave South Fayette a boost with a throw of 32-8 to take second place, Carly Evanish won the triple jump, Bri Rees was second in the 400 dash and Amanda Oliver finished first in the 100 (12.68) and second in the 200 (26.26). Allison Gates clinched the championship with a first-place finish in the 3,200-meter run.
South Fayette head coach Joe Winans, who decided to resign from his position following the season, said the importance of a team championship cannot be underestimated when the Lions lost only three point scorers from last year’s championship team.
“It’s nice to see the program replenish itself with talented kids,” Winans said. “The girls are moving to Class AAA next year and this bodes well for them making a smooth transition. You want to be mentioned with programs like Baldwin, Mt. Lebanon and North Allegheny. With the success we’re having, the program is earning respect.”
Canon-McMillan’s boys team, which was trying to win its first Class AAA title since 2010, fell short as it finished behind North Allegheny and Mt. Lebanon.
With injuries forcing athletes to run in three or four events, opposed to the usual one or two, the Big Macs showed versatility and reinforced its status as one of the top programs in Class AAA.
“The goal is to score the necessary amount of points to help your team win,” said Josh Lacks, who finished fourth in the 300 hurdles for the Big Macs. “We all want to be successful at the individual championships, but this meet meant just as much to us.”
Canon-McMillan’s relay team, which consisted of Ethan Linderman, Cody Shock, Caden Meier and Michael Strosko, took first place in the 3,200 over track powerhouse North Allegheny, the defending champion.
Shock, who calls Linderman and himself the slower of the bunch, started the event and after two leps, was a step behind a North Allegheny opponent. He handed the baton to Linderman who gave Canon-McMillan the lead it needed. Meier and Strosko finished off the race to give the Big Macs an early advantage.
“We’ve been switching up the order we run in to try to find the best chemistry,” Linderman said. “We just wanted to come out here and win to help our team. It’s a huge boost. In this meet, you have to go for place, and when you can finish first, it helps give your team the points it needs.”
Senior Alec Rideout fouled in all three of his attempts in the shot put, but placed first in the discus with a throw of 174-7.
Canon-McMillan head coach Mike Koot said of Rideout’s foul, “A few of the guys really got down after they heard of his fouls in the shot put, but we’re a really young team and this is an invaluable experience.”
The Hempfield girls won in Class AAA. North Allegheny and Mt. Lebanon were neck-and-neck for the Class AAA boys title with results hinging on the pole vault, which was not completed by press time.