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Plum track teams have plenty of youth

Tribune-Review
| Monday, April 2, 2018 4:30 p.m

Competing in WPIAL Section 5-3A is no walk in the park. Facing Franklin Regional, Penn Hills, Gateway, McKeesport and Central Catholic, Plum track and field coach Nick Oto needs all hands on deck.

“Individually, I’m completely optimistic this year,” said Oto, in his sixth season as coach. “This year, we don’t have the numbers. We would love to have all the football players, basketball players and lacrosse players come out for track.”

The Mustangs have 57 athletes: 32 boys and 25 girls. That leaves little room for error, or injury, with 18 events each meet.

“I just dwell on who is there and work with them,” Oto said. “We can’t dwell on the people who aren’t coming back.”

The boys and girls teams finished with 3-5 records in dual-meets last season.

The girls team has two seniors and seven juniors. But Oto has 10 sophomore and seven freshmen who are going to get experience.

The Mustangs will be led by junior Maddy Monick, who finished in eighth (15.61 seconds) in the 100-meter hurdles at last May’s WPIAL Class 3A individual championships. Her performance earned her a trip to the PIAA championships at Shippensburg. She finished 23rd (15.50).

“(Monick) should break out in both the 100- and 300-meter hurdles,” Oto said. “She has trained in the offseason.”

Plum’s youth movement is ready to make the next step. Sophomore Claire Gendron is back after qualifying for WPIALs last season in the 100 hurdles. Sophomore Olivia Pernice qualified for WPIALs in the triple jump last year. Another sophomore, Angela Valotta, is poised to break out in the 1,600 and 3,200.

While the boys roster has eight seniors and four juniors, Oto has nine sophomores and 11 freshmen.

“We were blessed this year with a great crop of ninth graders,” Oto said.

The story this season is not so much the athletes but the coaching. Oto brought in former Knoch throwing coach Scott Taylor to mentor his throwers. Taylor helped coach Knoch grad and Arizona track and field standout Jordan Geist, who set PIAA and WPIAL records in the shot put and discus.

“(Taylor) lives in Plum, and his kids go to Plum,” Oto said. “I said, ‘Listen, if you want to come to Plum, I would gladly step away from the throwing and let you take over.’ We are very lucky.”

Taylor’s knowledge already has made a difference for junior thrower Hunter Linhart in the discus, shot put and javelin.

“Linhart is going to make a run at states,” Oto said. “Coach Taylor has him working well, and he’s doing everything that he needs to do and the results are showing.”

Freshman Max Bondi is expected to compete in the long jump, and sophomores Robert Hankinson (1,600) and Joel Tarzoho (800, triple-jump) continue to make strides. Oto said both have the potential to qualify for WPIALs.

“Hopefully, it’s going to work out well,” Oto said. “Its’ so early in the season, and the weather is so terrible.”

William Whalen is a freelance writer.

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