|Co-Most Valuable Player Joseph Blanda '14 waits for a relay pass.|
Western Reserve Academy’s boys track & field squad may have been short on experience 2012, but it would be hard to know that judging from the results.
The Pioneers earned five Top 3 finishes in their six meets during the season behind the leadership of co-captains Dan Crowder ’12 and Dallas Gibbons ’12. WRA finished in first place at the East Palestine Relays, and posted second-place finishes at the Perry Relays, Cuyahoga Heights Relays and Canton Central Catholic Relays.
“We were not great individually but we were deep and versatile, so our objective was for the whole to be so much greater than the parts,” coach Gerard Manoli said. “We ran some times in meets that the guys could never achieve individually, but they had great chemistry and the ability to make perfect passes with the baton which goes a long way.
With a squad that was large in numbers with 82 members, “the largest team I’ve had in my 19 years as head coach,” Manoli said, but light on experience (four of the six award winners on the team were underclassmen), the Pioneers entered the season cautiously optimistic.
“I thought we would be decent because we have some real good athletes on the team, but I had no idea Erick Bryant ’13 and Paul Kollat ’14 would have the impact that they did,” Manoli said. “The one area that was a big question was with our distance guys, but our young runners surprised me as I had no idea what those guys could do. We had Rodin Schimper ’14 and Nick Sovich ’13 coming back, and Brett Kramer ’15, Colin Horgan ’15, Alex Wheaton ’14 and Johnathan Saucier ’13 really stepped up to support them.”
In addition, Dane Englehart ’12 and Tomson Tai ’13 were key contributors in the distance events.
Bryant and Joseph Blanda ’14 were named co-Most Valuable Players.
“Erick led the team in overall scoring this season,” Manoli said. “In the field he was our best high jumper with a high of six feet, two inches, a mark that only six WRA athletes have ever beaten. On the track, he was an irreplaceable part of our 4x100, 4x200 and sprint medley relays.
“Joe was perhaps the anchor of this team as he was always counted on to carry the baton last. The pressure that comes with running the anchor leg in races like the spring medley relay and the 4x400 relay is something that many runners shy away from, but something that Joe seems to relish and enjoy. Of course, if you could run a 400-meter relay split in 51.6 seconds, you’d enjoy being the anchor, too.”
Bryant and Blanda, along with Bob Wen ’13 and Shane Arena ’12, were part of the sprint medley relay team that posted a time of 1:37.7 at the Canton Central Catholic Relays – the fifth best time in school history.
Bryant also joined Nash Widowski ’12 and Kollat to hit 17 feet, six inches in the high jump medley at the Perry Relays – the fifth longest combined jump in school history.
Blanda also ran a 51.6 in the 400 meters at the Rollin W. Waite Freshman/Sophomore Invitational, breaking a meet record that had stood for 20 years.
Kollat earned the Most Improved Player award.
“I had a fairly good idea that Paul would be our most improved athlete before we ever ran a meet,” Manoli said. “His dramatic improvement in the sprints and the jumps was already that apparent. Paul went on to have a wonderful season as he high jumped five feet, eight inches, ran a 53.8 400 meters – second best on the team – and his 19-foot, 11.5-inch long jump was a team best.”
Arena and Saucier shared the Coaches Award.
“A Coaches Award winner must demonstrate genuine talent and outstanding performance – in other words, this is not a spirit award,” Manoli said. “To receive this award one must have a positive attitude, of course, but you must also be very good and, through your outstanding performance in competition, make a significant difference in the outcome of each meet. This year, Shane and John did just that.
“I’m pleased to award this year’s Coaches Awards to two soft-spoken, humble, yet fiercely competitive boys whose athleticism, versatility, winning attitude and maturity contributed greatly to our team’s success.”
The Carl Basnett Award, given by the Class of 1965 to honor the memory of Carl Basnett ’65, was presented to co-captain Dallas Gibbons ’12.
In addition to the award winners, the Pioneers received solid seasons from Jae Min Shim ’14 in the hurdles and 400 meters; John Waldon ’13, Matt Hard ’13 and Ramya Shah ’12 in the shot and discus; Kevin Ly ’13, Arena and Ricky Mayer ’14 in the pole vault; and Rishav Banerjee ’13 and Federico Silva ’13 in numerous events.
Manoli credited his assistant coaches for playing a large role in the team’s success this year.
“We can’t afford to neglect any category if we want to win a meet, we have to be good in all 17 events and that means a lot of coaching,” Manoli said. “A lot of credit should go to our assistant coaches. Jim Fraser is brilliant with getting the most out of the distance runners, Pat Smith and Anthony Baldridge work well with the weight guys, and Andrew McMillan made a tremendous impact on our kids in the pole vault.
“I’ve had more talented teams, but I’m not sure I’ve had a team that accomplished as much as this one did – I don’t think we’ve ever done a better job of working together as a team.”
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