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Lancaster, Niagara Falls dominate high school track and field championships

HOUGHTON – Lancaster continued its dominance in the throwing events and the Niagara Falls boys 4x200 relay team broke a week-old Section VI record in a busy Saturday at the indoor track and field state qualifiers at Houghton College’s Kerr-Pegula Field House.

While some athletes had already qualified for states, the top two finishers in each event on Saturday locked up the last spots in Saturday’s state/Federation Championships at Cornell University’s Barton Hall.

On the track, the Niagara Falls foursome of Tariq Taul, Roshain Wallace, Rodney Barnes Staley and Isiah Billips upset Sweet Home’s relay team with a time of 1:32.51 to take the top qualifying spot from Section VI. The time also broke a section record Lancaster’s relay team set a week earlier.

“They want to be the best and they worked their butts off to get there,” Wolverines track coach Jon Robbins said. “It pays off in the last race, so we’re really happy about that.”

Three of the runners also qualified for states in individual events: Taul won the high jump (6-feet, 2-inches) and Wallace’s 7.98 took first in the 55-meter high hurdles.

Barnes Staley finished second in the 55-meter dash to Cheektowaga junior Tyler Summage (6.60), who also booked a trip to states by winning the triple jump (43-feet, 9-inches). Summage made states in both events last year but gave up his spot in the 55 to a then-senior, Naeem Shah.

“I thought it would be nice to have a teammate come along with me to states,” Summage said Saturday. “He helped me a lot that season.”

Colin Blair led fellow Lancaster seniors Matthew Faulise and Connor Strusienski in dual 1-2-3 finishes in the shot put and weight throw, all qualifying for states. Blair won the shot with a 60-foot, 3-inch shot put attempt and 63-foot 1/4-inch weight throw.

In the girls field events, Lancaster’s Brianna McKenzie took first in the weight throw (51-foot, 3/4-inch) and second in the shot put behind Sweet Home’s Tirzah Peters (36-feet, 7 1/4 inch) to make states in both events.

The Lancaster girls relay teams also won the 4x400 and 4x200 races, while Clarence topped Sweet Home in the 4x800 event.

West Seneca West’s Emily Marchitte won both the girls long and triple jump to make her third trip to the state meet. Orchard Park freshman Jenna Crean also qualified in a pair of events, winning the 300-meter dash (41.17) and finishing second to Lancaster’s Ashley Grazen (7.28) in the 55-meter dash.

Katrina Patterson, a Clarence junior, won the 3000-meter race and led the winning 4x800 relay.

Senior Steven Neumaier won the boys 1000-meter race to make states and also anchored the Lancaster 4x800 relay victory, while Orchard Park’s Matthew Mercer won the 3200-meter race and led the Quaker’s 4x800 team to a state-qualifying second-place finish.

One upset of note was the boys Dunkirk/Silver Creek 4x400 relay squad that edged North Tonawanda in the finals. Jose Morales started a strong anchor run by surging past North Tonawanda’s Ed Gath in the first straightaway to take the lead and hang on for the win.

“I knew I needed to push myself,” said Morales, who was mobbed by his teammates and coach on the track floor when he finished. “I really wanted to take this group to states.”

The Dunkirk senior earned a brush burn on his left shoulder in the celebration, but also the admiration of Gath, who waited until he finished his out-of-breath interview to congratulate him.

“The kid he raced is a top 600 runner, so he’s no joke,” Dunkirk coach Adam Woelfe said. “(Morales) knew he had to get ahead. And once he’s ahead he’s not letting go.”

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