Ellwood City’s girl’s track and field 4 x 100 meter relay team is on the road to states.
The team broke a 39-year old record at the Tri-County Invitational a few weeks ago, broke their new record a week later at the WPIAL qualifiers, and again at the WPIALs. Their current record is 50.8 seconds, and the team is prepared to break that at the PIAA meet at Shippensburg this Friday and Saturday.
The team consists (in the order they run) of sophomore Maddy Morella, sophomore Taylor Petrak, senior Brooke Muntean and junior Brianna McClintick.
Head Coach Tom Natale said, “It always feels good to coach such a talented team. What makes this team even better to coach is they are all really good people also.”
Prospects weren’t always sunny for the relay. At the start of the season, rainy and cold weather slowed performance and morale.
“It’s not how you do in March and early April that matters,” Natale said. “It’s cold. Times will be slow and athletes won’t beat who they think they should beat. It’s about getting ready for May that is really important.”
Later in the season, the team had additional problems. Muntean had a quad injury and missed a meet. Then, the day before the qualifiers, McClintick faced problems with her legal guardians and was unable to attend practice.
“It was a terrible practice,” Petrak said. “Nobody could focus. Coach [Al] Campman said we all ran around like chickens with our heads cut off.”
Regardless, the team assembled at the Northern Qualifiers to finish third with a time of 51.8 seconds. At WPIALs, they competed against 15 other qualifiers, winning the silver and cutting their time to 50.8.
“We’re all very excited to go to states,” Petrak said. “Coach Natale’s very excited. It’s the first relay team he’s taking to states.”
Natale has even made shirts for his team, with the logo “The ship just got real.” McClintick said, “It’s really corny, but it’s still cool.”
To medal at the PIAA, the team will have to pass the qualifiers on Friday, and place in the top eight in the finals on Saturday. To improve their time, the team plans on getting quicker at the baton hand off and every individual getting faster.
The four athletes have established pregame routines, which include praying, singing, and dancing. “We’re afraid to try anything new before a race,” McClintick said. “We stick to what has worked.”
The athletes also mentioned the subordinate role track and girls’ sports have in the public eye. Petrak said, “The main boys’ sports [football, basketball, baseball] get all the attention, but it’s the other sports that are doing well.”
However, they emphasized the support they receive on their team.
“The girls, the boys, and the coaches are all very supportive, and we push each other,” Morella said. While all athletes expressed gratitude for their family’s support, McClintick wished to specifically thank her parents.
Their success isn’t just limited to the relay. Muntean also qualified in the 100 meter and 200 meter. Last year, she broke the 100 record [12.5 seconds] and tied the 200 [26.4 seconds]. She has been unable to reach those times again, but is hoping to at states.
Petrak is no stranger to state level competitions, having won the swimming PIAA 50 yard freestyle. She also placed sixth in the 300 hurdles at WPIALs, earning a medal but missing qualifying by one spot.
“The WPIAL is the largest district in Pennsylvania, and this is a really big state,” Natale said. “Now for the girls to make it in the relay, and for Brooke to make it in the 100 and 200 as well as the relay, that is huge beyond measure.”
The old record for the 4 x 100 meter relay was set in 1976 Coral Newton, Midge Gwin, Brenda Crawley and Bev Shakspeare. Trisha Householder held the 100 record since the mid-80’s and is currently tied with Muntean and Tiffany Johnson for the 200 record.