At 6-foot-1, 225 pounds, Riverview senior Nick Delmonaco looks like he’d make a powerful offensive lineman or wrestler. But his favorite sport involves throwing heavy objects, not people.
Delmonaco put aside the pads after ninth grade and wrestled only in 11th grade so he could focus on the shot put and discus events in track and field.
He picked an uncommon path for throwers, who often use field events to stay in shape for football or other sports, but it’s worked out perfectly for the polite, quiet athlete.
Delmonaco took a huge step forward in his chosen arena of expertise at the end of last year. He collected a pair of silver medals at the WPIAL Class AA meet and captured third place and broke a 38-year-old school record in the shot put with a toss of 55 feet, 6 inches at the state finals. Since then, he’s reached 60 feet in practice.
“He’s definitely the best thrower I’ve had,” said Riverview coach Dave Ilnicki, who enters his 20th season. “He’s the strongest kid I’ve coached, the hardest working kid I’ve coached and most dedicated. He didn’t do football or wrestle. He wanted to lift and work on throwing. Throwing is his passion.”
Delmonaco soon could surpass the school’s record in the discus (Tom Skemp, 2009, 160-0), based on his practice results in the 180-foot range. His personal best in official competition is 147-9.
Delmonaco’s accomplishments have attracted attention from Division I colleges — Miami (Ohio) has offered, and he’s expecting another offer from Robert Morris. He’s received interest from Vermont, among others.
“I practiced over the summer and most of the fall until the weather started getting bad,” he said. “I like the sports individuality. It’s no one’s fault but your own if you lose.”
Locally, Delmonaco’s progress will be one of many storylines to follow in boys and girls track and field. The Alle-Kiski Valley is home to a promising crop of athletes who could claim WPIAL or state gold medals.
As usual, the strongest local group appears to be the Class AA girls.
Springdale senior Kim Watterson, who has signed with Syracuse, won gold in the 400 meters (58.25) and silver in the 200 (25.83) at the WPIAL championships last year. At states, she placed fifth in the 400 (57.62) and seventh in the 200 (26.16).
Watterson said her primary goals are to break the WPIAL meet record in the 400 (58.00) — set by Springdale’s Alexa Sarsfield in 2008 — and finish in the top three in the 400 at states. Over the winter, Watterson lifted weights and ran indoor track.
“I’ve noticed a big difference already (this spring),” Watterson said. “I can tell the lifting helps. It’s a challenge for me to go to Syracuse, but I want to get better. One day, I want to be around 53.0 in the 400.”
Springdale sophomore Emily Lelis seems to have Division I potential. In her freshman year, she cruised to WPIAL gold in the 100 hurdles (15.50) and 300 hurdles (47.24). She then placed third in the 100 hurdles (15.45) and fifth in the 300 hurdles (46.13) at states.
Lelis has been mentored by her older brother, Tyler, a former standout hurdler for Springdale who designed a training program for her.
“There is always pressure during any competitive event, but this is a new year with new challenges, and you never know what’s going to happen,” she said.
Watterson and Lelis both contributed their speed to Springdale’s WPIAL championship in the 1,600 relay (4:07.94). Junior Marissa Sarsfield also returns from that team.
Riverview senior Katie Flowers will try to defend her WPIAL title in the pole vault (10-9). She also took seventh place (10-6) in the state and holds the school record (11-0). In practice, she has cleared 11-6, which would have been good enough for second at states last year.
“I think (WPIAL and state titles) are definitely within reach,” said Flowers, who hasn’t decided if she will compete in college. “The competition is out there.”
Burrell sophomore Kami Kaczanowicz enjoyed an outstanding freshman season. At WPIALs, she placed second in the 100 (12.65), third in the 200 (25.16) and was a member of the second-place 400 relay (50.70) and fifth-place 1,600 relay (4:11.11). However, a hamstring injury kept her out of the state finals.
“I was really sad I couldn’t compete,” Kaczanowicz said. “I wanted a medal really bad. I watched the races and thought that could be me.”
Freeport’s girls return a solid core of athletes who can contribute in several events and could make a run at repeating as WPIAL Class AA team champions.
In Class AAA, there aren’t as many local standouts — at least at this point in the season.
Fox Chapel senior Megan Kirk, who’s bound for Bucknell, claimed fifth (5-3) at the WPIAL finals in high jump. Kirk then improved to third (5-6) at states and tied the school record set in 1977.
Kiski Area’s boys 3,200-meter relay team will attempt to defend its WPIAL title, although half of the squad graduated. Senior Richard Lednak, a Robert Morris recruit, and sophomore Brent Kennedy are the returning members of the foursome that ran a school-record time (7:55.96) at WPIALs. Lednak and Kennedy could make an impact in individual long-distance events, as well.
GIRLS TRACK AND FIELD
Athletes to watch
Caitlin ChaffmanFreeportSr.discus, shot put
Tatiana CloudKiski AreaJr.100 H, 300 H
Katie FlowersRiverviewSr.pole vault, long jump
Kami KaczanowiczBurrellSo.100, 200
Megan KirkFox ChapelSr.high jump, pole vault
Emily LelisSpringdaleSo.100 H, 300 H
Kala RodiDeer LakesJr.100, 200
Bronte SoulFreeportSr.long jump, triple jump
Kim WattersonSpringdaleSr.200, 400
Kayla ZboranFreeportSr.1,600, 3,200
Boys to watch
Eric ArrowPlumJr.100, 200
Garrett BlakeFreeportSr.400, 800
Tre CarterKiski AreaSr.triple jump, long jump
Nick DelmonacoRiverviewSr.shot put, discus
Matt GraftonKittanningJr.110 H, 400
Brent KennedyKiski AreaSo.800, 1,600
Richard LednakKiski AreaSr.1,600, 3,200
Ethan MartinFox ChapelSo.1,600, 3,200
Andrew Rumburg-GoodlinKnochSr.200, 400
Andy TuzikowKnochSr.shot put, discus