It’s hard to replace a state-championship-winning team that set numerous records during their careers.
But if any program has the depth to do it, it would be State College.
The Little Lions led the way during last spring’s track and field season, and both the boys’ and girls’ programs once again figure to have plenty of PIAA Championship qualifiers by the time the calendar hits the middle of May.
But they are not alone, with several other teams bringing back athletes who made the state meet or will be in the running for a spot at the final meet of the season.
The Little Lions had to say goodbye to the foursome of Kyle Adams, Will Cather, Mason Post and Chris Golembeski, who shattered a 45-year-old school record in the 3,200-meter relay in winning the state title, along with several other state qualifiers.
However, with the Little Lions deep in most of their events, they will be gunning once again for the District 6 title and to send a full bus of athletes to Shippensburg University’s track.
“It is impossible to replace the group of guys that we had break the school record and win the state championship in the 4x800,” coach Rusty McCrea said. “What I do know is that they set the standard very high and some of the boys on our team are hungry for their turn at attempting to achieve the same heights of success. Those boys were extremely hard workers and I believe that a group of boys on our current team are ready to take up the challenge of making their own mark in the annals of State High Track and Field history.”
The Little Lions, who ended a run of more than two decades of Altoona dominance for the district boys’ title and finished fourth as a team at the PIAA meet, are still loaded with talent despite the departures of many of last year’s key contributors.
The team will bring back PIAA qualifiers in sprints and jumps, have a number of distance runners who had strong cross-country seasons and have state-qualifying potential in many other events.
“I really like our relays and the competition to be on them,” McCrea said. “(Returning PIAA triple jump qualifier) Kellin Valentine has the opportunity to do some great things in the jumps. One of the things I like best about this year is that many of our best athletes will be back with us next year. (Distance running coach Steve) Shisler uses the phrase, ‘At State High we don’t rebuild, we reload.’ That is what I want to see as we are replacing some really exceptional athletes from last year.”
The Lady Little Lions also bring back a great deal of their state qualifiers and sport depth nearly everywhere. They have returning PIAA competitors in sprints, distance runs, hurdles, jumps and pole vaulting.
“We have veteran leadership in all event areas,” coach Jenn Evans said. “We are looking for these gals to lead a new and talented underclassmen group.”
State College has been dominant in the girls Class AAA program in the district, taking the crown each of the last nine seasons, and this spring figures to bring it a nice even 10 years.
“(We expect) dedication and perseverance,” Evans said. “We need to commit to focusing on our goals and doing everything in our power to achieve them.”
St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy
While the neighbors from State College have been enjoying track and field success for decades, St. Joseph’s got to experience state-level competition for the first time last spring.
Most of the Wolves’ PIAA qualifiers have returned, including Brian Hackman, who was both an individual qualifier in the 1,600 meters and as part of the 4x400 relay team with Kahsim Buey, Mikey Kresovich and Charlie Ross. Ross also returns, and the success is helping the program grow along with the school.
“With nearly all of our district qualifiers returning, we want to move up from our seventh place finish from a year ago,” coach Jayson Jackson said. “We will also continue to have strong relays from our versatile athletes.”
The St. Joe’s girls have not ascended quite as fast as the boys, but they have been improving each season and had more competitors at the district meet than ever before, with every one of those athletes back this season.
“We have added more depth this season which will help us cover all the events in a strong fashion,” Jackson said. “We’re a well balanced team on both the track and in the field.”
The Mounties bring back several top performers from the Mountain League Championships, but also had some key losses and are struggling to find depth this spring.
“Numbers are up slightly from last season but (we) are still a young team,” coach Roy Warlow said. “We look to have improvement from top to bottom throughout the season and have some surprises and fun along the way.”
The Rams see their lone state qualifier, Gino Nicosia in the 800 meters, return for his senior season, but the team has a number of other athletes who figure to score plenty of points across the list of events.
Nicosia leads the distance crew that ran all the way to the PIAA Cross Country Championships in the fall, but the broad depth helped the team to the Mountain League title last season.
“We will once again be aiming for the Mountain League team title with a well-rounded and talented group of athletes,” coach Drew Welch said. “We will once again have the strongest distance crew in the league with the cross-country runners finishing their season with an awesome performance at Hershey. We have a strong group of newcomers and freshman that will help to fill gaps from our graduating class.”
The girls also won the Mountain League title, and plan on competing for a title again this season, also sporting depth and talent in a number of events.
“The athletes have come into preseason eager to improve on what they accomplished last year,” coach Lynda Federinko said. “The girls are looking forward to an exciting season. Many of the athletes have been involved in the program since they were in seventh grade and are finding that their hard work is paying off.”
The Red Raiders have a young roster with potential, but there is some state-level experience. They did lose their lone state qualifier in shot putter Mitch Grasser, but have PIAA Cross Country qualifier Matt Dabiero.
“The team is young overall but do return experienced members in certain events,” coach Seth Miller said. “I’m looking to see those with experience develop as leaders and help the younger athletes.”
The Lady Red Raiders had their best season in six years last season, and they also have a young roster rising with potential, including in the distance events, jumps and throws.
“(We are) looking forward to seeing the freshman contribute as they are the first group to have two years of competition in the junior high team,” Miller said.
Bald Eagle Area
The Eagles also are young with several key losses from last year’s success, which included a Mountain League meet title and third-place finish at the District 6 championships.
Only sprinter Nathan Styles returns from the Eagles’ PIAA qualifiers.
“All the new athletes, we will be trying to find their best events that will help our team,” coach Jeff Jodon said. “It has been a tough time to train with the bad weather. This year will be a big rebuilding year.”
The Lady Eagles also are rebuilding, but see better numbers this year to give the team more depth across all the events.
“All the new athletes, we will be trying to find their best events that will help our team,” Jodon said. “With our increased numbers, we will be able to do more in balancing our team for meets.”