Having a track and field All-American for a father to lean on for competitive advice has its advantages.
That proved most apparent Saturday at the Section VI indoor track and field state qualifier at Fredonia's Steele Hall as Hamburg junior Jamal Norward captured the first sectional titles of his career. He won the 55-meter dash and 55 hurdles to earn a berth in Saturday's state championships at Cornell.
While Norward won the 55 hurdles rather handily in 8.07 seconds, it took some extra effort to pull out the triumph in the 55 meters. Norward ran a season-best 6.81 to edge longtime nemesis Terrell Hutchenson of Amherst by .01 and North Tonawanda's Dan Zuch by .02. But it was the advice the 16-year-old Bulldog received from his father prior to the race that enabled him to overcome a slow start out of the blocks and beat Hutchenson for the first time.
"We talked about leaning at the proper time," said Keith Norward, who still holds the Fredonia State record in the 55 hurdles (7.51 seconds set in 1985). "He held on and leaned at the right time instead of leaning at the first line."
Hutchenson leaned at the first line, the 50-meter marker, to give Norward the opening he needed to surge ahead.
"I probably would have finished second," said Jamal, who placed second in the 55 hurdles last year in earning a trip to states. "We've been going at it all season. Terrell's a great athlete. It was a really, really close race. I was just really excited I beat him for the first time. It's more meaningful in a sectional meet than any other meet."
Added Hamburg coach Bill Malican, who piloted the Bulldogs' girls team when Keith Norward ran for the boys during his scholastic career: "That's incredibly close at our level. We don't usually see the hundredths that close."
The winner and runner-up, as well as third-place finishers who hit the state-meet qualifying time, earned the right to go to Cornell.
After capturing the Section VI girls team title two weeks ago, Morgan Billi and her West Seneca West teammates dominated the qualifier. The school qualified seven girls for the state meet.
Billi led the way for the Indians. She broke her own school record in the 55 meters to defend her sectional title. She edged North Tonawanda's Casey Green by .01 in posting a time of 7.42 seconds. She also captured the long jump and helped the 800 relay team of Nicole Castilloux, Kristina Wright and Kelsey Randall reach victory lane in 1:50.15.
"She puts a lot of time into what she does," coach Emilio Mancino said of the sophomore Billi, who's in her fourth varsity season. "She's usually one of the last athletes to leave practice. She has an inner drive to be the best, and that's just something I can't coach."
Added Billi: "I came in here confident knowing that if I just try my best and go for a personal best . . . hopefully I would make it [to states]."
Other Indians going to states include Danielle Kozub, who set a school record in the racewalk (7:59) and will be joined in the event by Melissa Szymanowsky, who finished second in a personal-best 7:59.09. Kailey Sullivan qualified with a third-place finish in the 600.
"The best part about it is we're very young," Mancino said. "To be so young and to be able to step up during a competition like this I think is a true sign of confidence and determination."
Williamsville North's Richard Wong was a double winner (high jump and triple jump) and also qualified for states in the long jump. He went to states in the triple jump last season.
Lockport's Pat Russell and Lyle Tolli finished 1-2 in the 3,200 and also helped the 3,200 relay team to victory. John Haenle, also a member of that relay, won the 1,600-meter title.
Christine Sprehe of Orchard Park won the 1,000 and 1,500, while Lancaster eighth-grader Melissa Kurzdorfer earned her second trip to states but won her first sectional title in the shot put (39 feet, 7 inches). She edged runner-up Alyssa Pirinello of North Tonawanda by 6 inches.