There aren’t many places on earth like the finish line of a high school track meet. Turn 360 degrees and you’ll see teenagers pushing themselves to the brink of human performance, years of commitment rewarded and dreams devastated in fractions of seconds.
Wait long enough and you’re likely to find any combination of blood, sweat, vomit and tears.
The array of emotions readily on display spans the entire spectrum. But as Kristen Kline took the handoff for the final leg of the final event of the All-Catholic Championships on Sunday at St. Francis High School, the scene at the finish line was rare, even by these standards.
Kline’s Immaculata teammates – all of them – crowded the finish line, knowing they needed a victory in the 4x100 relay to win the meet. They talked all week about defending their honor one last time before their school closes its doors for good next month. Coach Charlie Planz, a veteran of more than 40 years, struggled to keep his face free from emotions, hoping his girls would be spared from another heartbreak.
As Kline took the final steps to the finish line, two dozen or so teammates hugged and laughed and cried in the infield. Planz struggled to gather himself when asked to explain what this title – Immaculata’s seventh straight – meant for his girls.
“We talked at the beginning of the day about being proud,” he said finally, following 17 seconds of silence.
“The school’s closing,” he added, his voice cracking, tears flowing. “We talked about going out on top … and that’s what they did.”
The margin of victory was only five points: Immaculata first with 124, Nardin second with 119. The Bears had three of the top five finishers in the 200 meters, led by Emilee Chiavetta’s 28.06. Theresa Gerard and Jordan Heinold went 1-2 in shot put while Anna Brady won the long jump.
“It was such a rush,” Kline said of coming down the final stretch with her entire team at the finish. “Coach gave us a talk before the meet and said this is his life and he loves this team and we wanted to do it for him. Everyone was crying before the meet.”
“Everyone was trying to push because they know it’s our last year,” said Chiavetta, who also placed second in the 100. “We just want to show everyone that Immaculata will always be on top – well, not always, but you know what I mean.”
St. Joe’s won the boys title comfortably, finishing with 175 points. Double winners were Liam Hilbert in the 1,600 and 3,200 meters, and Julian Smallwood in the shot put and discus.
Canisius’ Desmond Nicholas won the 100 meters in 11.12 seconds, but false started in the 200. That cancelled a showdown with St. Joe’s Darren Thompson, who breezed to victory in 22.71.
Nicholas also won the long jump. The best individual performances came in the girls 3,000 meters, where Nardin twins Danielle and Gabrielle Orie ran away from the field and shattered the all-Catholic record. Danielle, older by 13 minutes, won in 10 minutes, 7.46 seconds, while Gabrielle finished just behind in 10:07.70. The next best finisher was well over a minute behind. The previous record was 10:44.86, set in 2013.
Danielle also won the 1,500, but Gabrielle flipped the script in the 800, winning in 2:19.86 and beating Danielle by almost a full second as each sister won her preferred event. The juniors said neither one of them has ever lost to the other in their preferred event, not once, even in practice.