The Herald, Sharon, Pa.

Sports

May 14, 2014

D-10 Class AAA Track Championship today; AA Saturday

- — As District 10 track and field ambassadors, there’s been none better than Barb Dzuricsko and Mark Slezak. But the co-head coaches, who have devoted the better part of the past 3 decades to Hickory High’s program, announced they will be stepping down at this campaign’s conclusion.

So as farewell tours go, copping a D-10 crown this week would serve as a memorable send-off for Dzuricsko and Slezak.

For the second straight season Harbor Creek High will host the qualifiers for the annual PIAA Championshps. The D-10 Class AAA event is set to begin 3 p.m. today, while the AA event commences 9 a.m. Saturday.

Hickory and Grove City’s girls, and Grove City, Slippery Rock and George Junior Republic boys will be Mercer County area’s lone representatives competing today. Last year Grove City got by Hickory for the AAA girls’ team title, while Hickory’s boys edged West Middlesex for the AA.crown.

Veteran Lou Marriotti mentors the Grovers, who garnered a 150.5 to 108.1 win last year. But early this season in a dual meet, Hickory swept Grove City. However, Dzuricsko is not deluded by defeating an opponent in April, as the mid-May stakes are considerably greater.

“ ... We’re always optimistically confident. But,” she cautioned, “I don’t like to say, ‘We’re gonna do it,’ cause you know — ‘on any given day ...’

“But I like what I see,” Dzuricsko admitted. “We have really improved throughout the season in some events and with our relays, so we’re excited about the opportunity.”

For his part, Marriotti mused, “We, basically, have probably five or six athletes that we are hoping to be able to get to the state meet. It’s mostly been a rebuilding year for us.

“On the girls side, (McKenzie) Fagan is seeded second in the high jump and (Hailey) Hall is the top seed in the pole vault. We are hoping both can make it to state. And we are hoping (Mary) Jaskowak can repeat as district champ in the 3200.”

The Lady Hornets do not have the hammer of a marquee, 4-event gold medalist, though frosh sensation Heather Grober rapidly is gaining ground in that regard — “she’s really exceeded our expectations,” Dzuricsko admitted — Hickory has depth.

“Grove City has some good athletes (Fagan, Hall, Mary and Catie Jaskowak) ... but there’s Franklin ... Meadville has some sprinters and jumpers ... and McDowell is always strong. Every team has that event or events where there’s strength,” Dzuricsko assessed. “But where I’m hoping we can rise above is we have good sprinters (Grober, Nikki Arbanas), good distance people (Lexi Bible, Haley Boyd), good hurdlers (Grober), strong throwers (Elena Marchand, Sophia Fustos), decent jumpers.

“That’s what I’m hoping for — that the (collective) strength of all of our events can help us as a team.”

Grober (200-meter dash, intermediate hurdles) and Marchand (shot put, discus) are top-seeded, as is Bible (3200-meter run). The Lady Hornets’ school record-setting sprint-relay foursome, anchored by Arbanas, also tops the charts (50.31).

For Coach Tom Meling’s Slippery Rock boys, Shane Kirkwood (400-meter dash, long jump), Brady Kadlubek (800-meter run),  Josh  Jones (1600-meter run) and Fred Urbaniak (high hurdles) are No. 1 seeds. Kadlubek, Jones and Mark Cessar fuel a pair of top-seeded Rockets’ relays (4x8 and 4x4).

Grove City’s Aaron Benka (3200) and Warren Marlowe (disc), as well as George Junior Republic’s Ronald Pearson (triple jump) are top-seeded, also.

Marriotti said, “ ... Marlowe is the top seed in the discus and third in the shot put. He’s a senior and hoping he can make his first trip to the state meet. Benka is the top seed in the 3200, along with (Ryan) Budnik in the 1600, and they are two big hopes that make it to state also.”

Recalling last spring’s Grove City-Hickory girls’ finish, Dzuricsko continued,

“We were one-two last year. We scored lots of points in the meet last year. And with the ‘little guys’ being the top two, it gave us confidence that we can hold our own against the bigger schools — it took that intimidation factor out.

“But to win the district is one thing; to go to state in triple-A is a whole, different thing.. It’s gonna be tough, (the competition’s) at another level, but we want to be able to get as many kids as we can there (state).

“We’ve never put that kind of pressure on the kids,” Dzuricsko declared regarding D-10 championships. “That’s icing on the cake. If that occurs, if we win the District 10 title like our boys did last year, we’d certainly love to win it, but we don’t want to jeopardize anyone.

“Our goal at every district (championship meet) is to get as many kids to the state meet as we can. ... We want to fill up the bus,” Dzuricsko said.

As well as the medals stand, which translates into team titles.

“Depth, that’s when we were really strong in girls’ AA, we’d have two, three people on the (medals) stand in every event — that showed the depth of our program,” Dzuricsko recalled.

“We have a unique mix of a couple really top people who’ll get you eight, ten points, but also the unsung heroes, and their points certainly add up. That’s how (the Hornets) won it last year.

“When you win by three (points 91-87.5) at the end of the meet, it’s because those kids actually made the difference, though nobody hears about them,” Dzuricsko emphasized.

With many Mercer County track and field programs experiencing success, it’s helped — no pun intended — raise the bar, increasing the county contingent’s competitiveness as a whole.

“Mercer County track and field is very strong all around,” Dzuricsko observed. “In the top eight, there’s definitely some events where the county will send an awful lot of kids to state in both double-A and triple-A from our county schools. It’s very exciting!”

It’s already been a big week for Dzuricsko, who enjoyed a special Mother’s Day gift — seeing her son graduate from college. Now she’s setting her sights — and Slezak’s — on a fond farewell.

“It’s the last one (District 10 championship meet), so it’d be nice to get one more goin’ out the door, but that’s not our ultimate focus. We just want to make sure everybody gets what they deserve.”

No one’s more deserving that Dzuricsko and Slezak. — Herald sports writer Rob Malsom contributed to this preview.

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