Either St. Joe’s will do something it hasn’t done since the 1990s or one of its Monsignor Martin Association rivals will prevent it from attaining the All-Catholic three-peat it dearly covets.
The drama will start to unfold at 4 p.m. Monday during the first day of the All-Catholic boys and girls championship meet at Canisius’ Stransky Athletic Complex in West Seneca.
Usually the All-Catholics is a two-team race, but this year there could be a crowd at the top as the events dwindle during the meet’s second and final day next Wednesday. Three teams are expected to contend for the title, with St. Joe’s challengers being regular-season co-champions St. Francis and Canisius.
The regular-season standings do not affect the meet ones, though, which means St. Joe’s, which lost dual meets to the co-champs by a total of 16 points, still has a shot at winning three straight All-Catholic meet championships, something it last achieved from 1997-99.
“It’s rarely this tight,” said 26th-year Marauders coach Matt Hellerer.
“It’s probably the most competitive league we’ve had in quite some time,” St. Francis coach Steve Otremba said.
St. Joe’s key athletes seem to be peaking at the right time. Darren Thompson posted a 22.08 in the 200 at the Penfield Invitational last Saturday. He also runs the 100 and is a member of the 400 relay that boasts the second-best time in Western New York (44.34). Canisius ranks first with a 43.04.
The Marauders’ lone returning individual All-Catholic champion is Julian Smallwood, who has already thrown the shot a personal-best 49 feet, 8 inches. Cordell Owens is a player in the 100 after posting an 11.23 time at Penfield, which only trails the 11.04 of Canisius’ Desmond Nicholas.
St. Joe’s has depth in distance events led by Liam Hilbert (9:49) and Anthony Belfatto (9:54) in the 3,200.
Canisius’ Nicholas is also a threat in the 200-meter dash. Teammate Jaelin Marong is the only runner in the area who has finished the 400 in under 50 seconds. Andrew Heitzhaus is one of WNY’s top mid-distance runners.
St. Francis’ Chris Walter has the top pentathlon score in the area and is among the contenders in the 110 hurdles, 400 hurdles and long jump. He’s planning to attend Geneseo.
The Red Raiders are looking to win their fifth All-Catholic title under Otremba, who is in his 12th season. Among the returning All-Catholic champions hoping to lead St. Francis to its first league-meet title since 2012 are discus champion Matt Kowalski and 3,200-meter runner Isaiah Utley. Senior Ryan Kawalerski (800 meters) will run for Stony Brook next year.
Sweet Home senior Justin Willson, a member of last year’s Section VI championship 4x100 relay team, will focus mostly on 800, 1,600 and 3,200 and is versatile enough to be in almost every field event, according to coach Brian Lombardo.
Defending Section VI pole vault champion Josh Willson, a senior, took sixth at states last year. Senior Justice Milton is the defending ECIC champion and took second at sectionals in the 100. He ran lead-off leg for the Panthers’ 4x100 relay team.
Lehigh-bound Mitchell Daddario anchors the 4x800 relay team and has the top time in the area in the 1,600. Sophomore Chris Nowak returns after helping the 4x800 relay to a third-place finish at states and a section record during the indoor season.
Newcomer Nathaniel Davis, a freshman, ranks second in Western New York in the triple jump and is in the top five in the 200. Outdoors rookie Jalen Wallace won the 100 and 200 at the Batavia Invitational.
EA knows running
East Aurora’s Matt McLaughlin returns after a sophomore season in which he set a school record in the 800 and was part of a record-setting 4x400 relay, along with Mike Coatsworth, Mike Durant and Jack Zagrobelny, that took third at states.
They all have a shot at doing well at ECICs and sectionals, as does cross country champion Kenny Vasbinder (3,200 and 4x800 relay), TJ Murray (steeplechase and 4x800) and Will Zink (4x800).
Top notch athletes
Alex Dildy of Bennett is hoping for more success. The defending Section VI Division II champion in the 100 and 200 placed fourth at states in the 100 last spring. He currently has the top 200 time among Section VI runners.
He’s not the only talent to watch in the Buffalo Public Schools league. I-Prep/Grover’s Kibrom Gebriwot is a quality distance runner. Jordon Green, the league’s top 400 runner, is expected to help Hutch-Tech contend for the league title. McKinley’s Keyon Johnson is among the leaders in the 100.
• Niagara Falls’ Jeff Menyah has the top time (15.44) among Division I athletes in the 110 hurdles. Division II Falconer’s Josh Fischer has the top time (15.3) in WNY.
Menyah also is a contender in the 400 hurdles while teammate Anthony Hawthorne, a past indoor state tournament qualifier, ranks second among Division I competitors in the 800.
• Frontier pole vaulter Trevor Koch is back after placing eighth at states last spring. The reigning Section VI indoor and outdoor champion took sixth at states during indoor season.
• Williamsville South’s Christian Graziano leads the pack in both the long jump (22-1.5) and triple jump (44-4.75) and is among the contenders in the high jump (6-0).
• Depew’s Nick Serafin and Orchard Park’s Tyrique Wheatley both have posted 6-6 to set the pace in the high jump. Serafin took eighth at states in Division II last year. Terius Wheatley of OP has leaped 6-2.
• Lake Shore’s Cal Butlak has the top time in the 3,200 and ranks second in the steeplechase. The future Albany Great Dane runner finished seventh at states in the 3,200 last season.
• Caleb Makuch of Silver Creek and Holland’s Zachary Jones are the top two in the 400 hurdles.
• Lancaster’s Colin Blair leads the throwers in the shot put with a recent effort of 59-7. He’s thrown the discus around 155 feet, but the man to beat in that event appears to be Starpoint’s Sam Wray, who has a 179-4 on his resume. Wray placed seventh at states last spring in the Division I competition. Steven Neumaier of Lancaster ranks second in the 800 and third in the 1,600. Teammate Jake Valley is a contender in the long jump.
• Matt Mercer of Orchard Park has the top time in the steeplechase and is a contender in the 1,600.
• Aiding Barker’s quest at winning its fifth straight Niagara-Orleans League title is Sergio Cruz, who has signed to run cross country at Niagara. Casey Webb could contend at sectionals in the 400 hurdles and long jump.