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Section VI track & field preview: New relay rules open the state-qualifying field

The Western New York track and field leaderboards may not mean much when the Section VI Championships get underway at Houghton College’s Kerr-Pegula Athletic Complex Friday morning.

It’s tough to gauge the favorites and contenders of an event when no one knows who’s actually going to be competing. Teams and coaches have until the seeds become official (which usually happens 20 to 30 minutes before the event) to scratch their athletes from a specific race.

Regardless, the collection of talent figures to be among the deepest in recent memory.

“This is the most competitive girls field I remember,” Sweet Home coach and Section VI girls chair Brian Lombardo said. “We’ve added depth in the league, and adding teams that have depth means this could turn into a trend.”

Some of that depth comes from the additions of Olmsted and McKinley, as well as perennial cross country and outdoor track power East Aurora joining forces with Holland.

A new rule change this year could affect which athletes are used in relay events. Sections can now send two relays to states for the first time. The winner automatically goes. The second-place finisher also qualifies, but only if they meet the state standard.

For individual events, the top two automatically qualify and the third place also advances if they reach the state standard.

“Being able to qualify two relays in one event might open up relays for other teams in the other relay events,” Lombardo said. “Last year teams might’ve moved up from the 4x200 and tried the 4x400. This year they can stay put and race for second to get to states.”

A great last leg by Orchard Park junior Jenna Crean helped the Quakers come from behind and win last year’s 4x200 race ahead of Tapestry and Lancaster, which have the top two qualifying times this season. The 4x200 appears to be the best chance Tapestry has at winning its first indoor sectional title.

On the boys side, Sweet Home’s 4x200 and Lancaster’s 4x400 are the only relay teams to reach the state standard.

Competitive pride drives Sweet Home's 4x200 relay team

A few additional events and athletes to keep an eye on Friday:

  • The highest-quality and deepest girls race could be the 1,500 meters. Holland/East Aurora eighth-grader Megan McLaughlin has the top time coming in at 4:51.06, just .61 seconds ahead of Lockport freshman Sydney Nowicki. West Seneca West junior Anna Rybczynski (4:54.50) and Holland/East Aurora senior Riley Jones (4:54.80) are also contenders.
  • A comparison on the boys side is the 55 meters. Sweet Home’s Eric Johnson (6.59), Sweet Home’s Anthony Williams (6.62), West Seneca West’s Peter Borzillieri (6.65), Hutch-Tech’s Jack Manue (6.65) and Jamestown’s Francisco Rodriguez (6.69) are the top five contenders.
  • The girls triple jump field is loaded. Five or six are capable of qualifying for states. Kenmore West senior Christina Wende has the top leap of 38 feet, 7.5 inches, but Hutch-Tech senior Nisa Raqib isn’t far behind with a best of 38-6.25. Wende (8.63), Raqib (8.76) and Fredonia senior Lydia Lanski (8.76) are a close 1-2-3 in the 55 hurdles.
  • Orchard Park’s Cal Puskar and East Aurora’s Ian Russ are .07 apart if both compete in the 1,600 meters. Puskar’s 4:23.69 and Russ’ 4:23.76 both came at the Section VI vs. Section V Border War Invitational on Jan. 20.
  • Lancaster’s Surdej siblings have a chance to win sectional titles. John, a junior, has the top shot put distance in the state at 58-9. Younger sister Natalia is first in WNY in the weight throw at 49-11.5, which is a New York State record for a freshman.
  • Cheektowaga’s Andrew Reichert and Williamsville North’s Zac Chazen both have season-best pole vaults of 13 feet. Six girls have pole vaulted higher than 10 feet, with Orchard Park sophomore Leah Pasqualetti leading the way at 12-0.
  • Sweet Home will be doubling up in the boys 300-meter race with senior Nathaniel Davis joining the event with Johnson, the defending sectional champ. Davis set the Section VI record on Jan. 27 by running a 34.28 at the Dr. Sander Invitational held at The Armory in New York City.
  • High jumpers Emilee Hanlon (5-6) of Dunkirk and Amaya Turnage (5-4) of Sweet Home have taken turns beating each other this season.

Click here for the Section VI boys indoor qualifying list

Click here for the Section VI girls indoor qualifying list

Last year's story from the Section VI Championships:

Finnish exchange student Kunnas vaults to Section VI title

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