There’s something different about throwers compared to their track and field sprinting counterparts.
Maybe it’s because their events tend to be separate from running and jumping at most meets that they often become their own biggest fans.
“We’re a lot more like a family,” Lancaster throwing coach George Rak said. “Throwers are always the kids who get pushed away, shunned, kind of cast aside. That always brings us closer together.”
“They’re almost kind of tribal,” longtime Lancaster head coach Kevin Carriero said. “They’re pretty vocal cheering for teammates and throwers on other teams. They get after it pretty well.”
Aiding with the formation of their bonds has been the practice of most of the top throwers in the area gathering at Lancaster daily for workouts under the direction of Rak.
That still continues, but this winter a good number of Western New York’s best do not have to travel all that far. That’s because seven of the top 12 throwing distances in the shot put this season belong to Lancaster.
Senior Colin Blair, who is being actively recruited by Division I South Florida, set the school record earlier this season in the shot (59 feet, 7.5 inches) and last weekend took first at the Dartmouth Relays. He also set the Section VI record in the weight throw at Dartmouth with a distance of 65-7.5, good for second at the invitation that draws top scholastic competition from throughout the country.
Blair and teammate Connor Strusienski (53-2) have already hit the state qualifying standard in the shot, with fellow Legend Matt Faulise just on the cusp of hitting the standard with a season-best throw of 51-2.5.
Paul Kemsley and Ryan Eleczko are Lancaster’s fourth and fifth-ranked throwers and closing in on the 50-foot distance. They stand fifth and seventh overall in the WNY rankings. Like any other thrower in close pursuit of the top three, neither should be counted out. A bad throwing day by one of the leaders and great throwing day by a pursuer during the Section VI State Qualifying Meet on Feb. 27 at Houghton College is all it takes to make states, provided the upstart hits the state qualifying mark and finishes top three. If someone who has hit the state qualifying mark doesn’t finish in the top three at the state qualifier, then that person does not get to go to the state/Federation meet March 5 at Cornell.
There will be a strong Lancaster contingent representing Section VI in the first Section V vs. Section VI meet at Houghton College on Jan. 23. A good number of Lancaster athletes (boys and girls) are expected to participate since each section can put up to 20 athletes in each individual event.
The top four distances in the weight throw all belong to Legends. Know what that means? There will be plenty of Lancaster throwers at the indoor track facility built by the Pegulas.
Williamsville South’s Mark Thomas should be there, too, as he’s fourth in the section with a shot put near 50 feet.
Going the distance: Lancaster’s Steve Neumaier took fifth in the mile at Dartmouth and figures to be one of the top contenders in the 1,600 and 1,000. Pioneer-Allegany/Limestone’s Owen Barber, an All-Western New York first-team cross country selection, also is a favorite in both those events. Both are coming off strong outdoor seasons they capped by placing at the state meet last June.
Distance events could be extremely competitive what with five having already posting state-qualifying times in the mile, with relative ease to boot. Neumaier has the top time in the area (4:18.6) followed by Barber (4:23) and All-Western New York first-team cross country picks Matt Mercer of Orchard Park (4:35.34), Chris Nowak (4:25.74) of Sweet Home and Peter Rindfuss of Hamburg (4:28.64).
“To have five under 4:30 this early in the season is crazy,” said longtime Section VI boys chairman and West Seneca West coach Pete Szymanski.
Catholics rise up: There are only three Catholic schools that offer boys indoor track (Canisius, St. Joe’s and St. Francis), but that may not stop them from making others hear them roar come time for the Federation meet at Cornell.
Three of the four fastest runners in the area attend private schools, with Desmond Nicholas of Canisius leading the pack with a 6.50 in the 55 meters. Nicholas Miller of St. Francis has the third fastest 55-meter time (6.7), followed by St. Joe’s Darren Thompson (6.71). All have hit the state standard. Also, Miller is ranked first and hit the state-qualifying mark in the 55 hurdles,
“Those kids definitely have an opportunity to show those other kids (downstate) they’re for real,” said Szymanski regarding the state Catholic High School Athletic Association meet, which serves as a Federation meet qualifier for the Catholic/private schools. “I expect to see them at states.”
Go ahead, jump: Cheektowaga’s Tyler Summage has the second-fastest 55-meter time in the area at 6.62, tops among Section VI runners, and ranks first in the triple jump (45-3).
He along with Nicholas and Lancaster’s Jake Valley are also in a battle for the top distance in the long jump. Nicholas has a leap of 22-6, followed by Valley (22-4) and Summage (22-2.5).
Keep an eye on Niagara Falls’ Tariq Taul. He shares the top height in the high jump (6-2) with Williamsville North’s Fatir Glover and also ranks third in triple jump with a leap of 42-11.75.
Around the track
Tapestry keeps making history. This time, sophomore Latrell Warner became the first Thunder Hawks boy to qualify for the Section VI meet. He runs the 55-meter dash.
• Add Andrew Shelton of Williamsville South to the list of tough competitors in the 1,000. He’s coming off a fourth-place at sectionals in the 800 last spring.
• Orchard Park sophomore Cal Puskar looks to ride the momentum of qualifying for states during cross country season into a state-qualifying spot in the either the 1,000 or mile.
• Lancaster relays boast top times in 4x200 and 4x400, with the 4x200 relay of Dave Wolanin, Connor Fuller, Cal Hoag and Jesse Kucewicz holding the school record with a time of 1:33.40. Carriero, though, really likes his distance relay. Lancaster ranks second in the 4x800 to Sweet Home. The Legends’ foursome consists of Neumaier, Brad Bedell, Jared Rogalski and Matt Skakal.
• Lockport’s Chris Sims is the man to beat in the 3,200.
Key dates: Rock N’ Roll Throw-Off, 9 a.m. Jan. 30 at Lancaster High School. Section VI Team Championships, 10 a.m. Feb. 6 at Houghton College. Section VI State Qualifier, 10 a.m. Feb. 27 at Houghton College. State/Federation Championship Meet, March 5 at Cornell University.