The 300 meter hurdles and 1600 meter run are two of the most physically taxing events in track and field. The hurdles not only requires one to sprint an extended distance, but navigate hurdles as well. The 1600 (approximately one mile) requires speed, endurance and a considerable amount of strategy to pace the four laps and outlast the competition.
Ellwood has an athlete advancing in each event.
Junior Taylor Petrak placed fourth at the Class AA WPIAL finals in the girls 300 hurdles with a time of 47.35 seconds and junior Billy Lott placed seventh in the boys 1600 with a time of 4.26.57. The top eight medal at WPIALs and the top five advance to the PIAA this weekend at Baldwin University. However, Lott met the automatic qualifying time.
Petrak is no stranger to state competition. As a state champion swimmer, and a national competitor in club swimming, she’s accustomed to large-scale competitive races. Nor is this her first trip to Baldwin. Last year, she participated in a school-record breaking 4 x 400 meter relay team that advanced to the semi-final at the PIAA. In all, this is her fifth trip in a PIAA meet.
She wasn’t originally intending on advancing via the hurdles but due to a dropped baton in the relay at the WPIAL qualifiers, she focused her attention on her individual event.
“Track can be completely different from swimming but there are some similarities,” Petrak said. “They’re both individual sports but there is more team support in track.” As Ellwood has no swimming pool or swim team, Petrak competes as an individual.
“The transition from swimming to the impact of running on the track initially hurt my legs,” Petrak said. “There are a lot of methods for jumping over hurdles and the race is long and grueling, similar to a 200 yard freestyle [in swimming].”
Currently, Petrak’s weekday after-school schedule involves an hour of track practice, going home to eat, then traveling to Butler for two hours of swimming practice plus cross-training.
At Baldwin, Petrak is aiming to advance to the final heat, which requires winning a preliminary heat or having one of the top four times among the other finishers of each heat.
“We’ve talked about running competitively, and trying to compete at the level of the other athletes, who you know are going to make it to the finals,” head coach Tom Natale said.
For Billy Lott, this is his first time traveling to a PIAA meet. Despite running 50-60 miles a week and having competitive times, such as a career best time of 16:40 in a five kilometer (the distance in a Cross Country race), the WPIAL competition has edged him out in qualifying races.
“I’m a little nervous since this is my first time at states, but I still feel I can run a lot faster,” Lott said, as he intends on advancing from the prelims to the finals.
“It takes a lot of grit to push yourself to that next tier, knowing that you may fall short of the goal,” Natale said. “The physical part has been taken care of. They’ve got to now be mental about it.
Lott occasionally runs with Herb Cratty, a multi-year winner of the Ellwood Ledger 10k Race and a former Cross Country volunteer coach, and Cratty told tales of Jake Walker, Ellwood’s current record holder for every distance event, who would later run for the Division I teams at the University of Notre Dame.
While Walker was in high school, Ellwood had the best distance program in the conference and one of the best in the WPIALs where sending several runners to states in track was a routine occurrence. Now, Lott is the sole runner in his tier in Ellwood while the competition in the WPIAL has increased. However, he still has the same coach- Tony Nocera.
Nocera coached a cross country team that won the gold at WPIALs and the silver at states and has continued as the distance track coach.
As a sophomore, Lott attempted to advance to the PIAA in the 3200 and ran a sub-10 minute race, but didn’t qualify. This year, his speed greatly improved compared to his endurance so he focused his efforts on a competitive 1600.
At the WPIALs, he improved his time by several seconds.
In his senior year, Lott has his sites set on state medals in both Cross Country and track.
“I like both sports about the same,” Lott said. “I like the competitiveness. They’re different from other sports since they’re individual oriented but you still have the team support.”