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Lehigh Valley boys runners demolish record book on District 11 track and field’s second day

The loud, concussive sounds heard emanating from Blue Mountain’s football stadium late afternoon and early evening on Wednesday were the result of the District 11 boys track and field record book exploding.

In the space of an hour or so, in the dimming light of a chilly day, Lehigh Valley athletes lit up the track with red-hot performances the meet has rarely seen the likes of.

In the final three boys events of the day, in Classes 2A and 3A, five meet records were broken. F-I-V-E. And not just broken, Laid to waste.

The record rampage started in the 2A 800-meter run, where Notre Dame senior AJ Sasso ran what was at the time (but see below) the race of his life to win in a blazing 1 minute, 54.53 seconds, a huge personal best, to break the record of 1:55.74 from Mike Cadau of Mahanoy Area from 2006; Sasso’s teammate and classmate, Alec Miner, was second in 1:54.73, which would have been a record, too.

In the next race, the 3A 800, Nazareth senior Gio Mastromonaco erased the record of 1:53.84 by Pottsville’s Collin Ebling from 2018 with a brilliant, high-stepping run that just got better as it went along to win in 1:52.93, becoming only the third Lehigh Valley runner to go under 1:53 (Wilson’s Joe Espinal ran 1:51.09 in 2016, and Emmaus’ Charlie Norelli ran 1:52.1 (converted from an 880-yard run) in 1973).

Then up next came the 2A 200-meter dash, where Bethlehem Catholic senior Robert Williams uncorked a sizzling 21.89 clocking – despite having tweaked his hamstring in the 100 meters earlier in the day – to send the 21.95 by Palmerton’s Monty Suzkics in 2012 packing from the record book.

“I’m in shock,” Williams said. “I don’t really know what to say.” We know how he feels.

The next race saw no record, just Parkland junior Nathaniel Janukowicz running the fastest 200 in the area this spring in 21.75 seconds, the third-fastest fully automatic 200 in regional history but just off Julian Liaci of Nazareth’s 21.60 D-11 record from 2017.

Then came the 2A 1,600-meter relay, with Nativity BVM and Notre Dame squaring off in a back-and-forth donnybrook that the Pottsville school seemed to have finally wrapped up when they led by 20 meters early in the final lap.

But Sasso – who, remember, had just set the 800 record just a while back – ran what might have been the relay leg of his life and almost caught the Green Wave, who won in a record time of 3:23.32 to the Crusaders’ 3:23.58; the record had been 3:26.93.

That Sasso came up a step shy – and just a step; five more meters and he wins – should not take away from just how powerful that anchor leg was or how well teammates Alec Miner, Joseph Phillips and Saleem Diakite performed before it. Notre Dame dazzled at districts and the red-hot relay was the near-perfect close.

Notre Dame’s 1,600 relay time was the top time in the lehighvalleylive region this spring for about five minutes as Parkland closed out the track portion of the meet with the magnificent – there’s really no better word — senior Andrew Beers earning his third gold of the meet (he’d won both hurdles earlier and set a District record in the 300 intermediates) on the anchor as he brought the Trojan team of Alexander Kelchner, Nate Janukowicz and Tyler Rothrock home in a D-11 record 3:20.62, breaking the 20-year-old record of 3:21.17 ran by Southern Lehigh back in 2004.

“That’s the school record, too, that’s what we have wanted all year,” said Beers, whose smile stretched all the way back to Orefield – at least.

Spectators could join the runners in feeling out of breath. What a run of records.

Let’s take a deeper look at each.

Notre Dame seniors Alec Miner (left) and AJ Sasso after their record-breaking runs in the Class 2A 800 meters on Wednesday at the District 11 track and field championships at Blue Mountain. Sasso won the race, Miner was second.

“The 800 Academy”

A reporter called Notre Dame the “800 Academy” after the Crusader girls finished first (Lauren Bower), third (Samantha Karwacki) and fourth (Ella Schweitzer) in the 2A 800. This was after the Crusader boys had set a D-11 record in the 3,200 relay on Tuesday.

Little did he suspect how apropos that comment would prove as the boys opened their race.

Bethlehem Catholic junior Mekhi Britt appeared to have the race in hand with a substantial lead on the final lap with Sasso and Miner, who were on that record relay, in pursuit.

“All I was trying to was to stay with Mekhi,” said Sasso, whose previous PR in the 800 was 2:00.40. “I wasn’t thinking of the district record. I knew I was capable of it, I just had to make it happen.”

Britt’s blistering pace – “he ran a 53 or 54 in the first 400km, he was flying,” Sasso said – set the stage for the final drama. With about 150 meters to go, Sasso said he noticed Britt (understandably) starting to fade.

“I just opened up my stride and in the last 120 meters I made my last kick,” Sasso said.

He sure did – taking off like a rocket, sailing past Britt and into the record book – but not before hearing the proverbial footsteps … from a friend.

“I didn’t know Alec was there (alongside) me until I heard him grunt,” Sasso said. “I am proud of him. I am proud of myself.”

So was his teammate.

“I don’t like losing,” said Miner, who had taken off on his kick around the same time Sasso did, just from a bit further back, and whose previous best 800 was 2:01.50. “I got off to a bad start. But if I have to lose, AJ is the one guy I don’t mind losing to. I can live with my having a good last 100 meters.”

Britt, by the way, was third in a terrific time of 1:56.86, the No. 4 time in the region this spring – it just took two epic races to beat him.

Sasso’s win was perhaps a delayed payoff for his team-first attitude in 2023.

“I jogged the 800 at districts to concentrate on the 4×4 to get our relay to states (which didn’t happen),” Sasso said. “It came back me today.”

In the best way possible.

Ice cream man

Mastromonaco followed Notre Dame’s 800 clinic with one of his own. Unlike the Crusaders, the Duquesne-bound Blue Eagle had very little competition, or a rabbit like Britt, in his race. Give him either or both and Espinal’s regional mark would have been at risk.

“My goal today in the 800 was 1:51 or 1:52, and I got the 1:52,” said Mastromonaco, who had earlier won the 1,600 in 4:16.85, a personal best, just off the D-11 record of 4:15.35 (Rich Ryan, Easton, 2004) and No. 1 in the region this spring. “My goal was not to go crazy in the 1,600, and I still have a lot more energy in my tank. I want to run a 4:10 or under in the (1,600) at states; in the 800 I think I can win it all.”

Indeed, Mastromonaco went more crazy in the 1,600 than he planned.

“I didn’t want to go fast as I did, but I had to, because Paul Abeln (second in 4:20.98) and the other Parkland guys were right there. I could hear my coach (Ken Rolek) to pump my arms more for more speed and to open up my leg strides when my legs felt super-dead in the 1,600. In the 1,600 today all I wanted to was to get the gold, time wasn’t as big.”

Not that the little extra effort in the 1,600 seemed to slow Mastromonaco down much in the 800.

“I run a super-quick first 200, and my first 400 was two seconds quicker than I thought (at 56 seconds, not 58),” he said. “The 800 is just two laps, I just want to take it all out and I have a pretty good idea of how it goes. Today I wanted to have it all in the 800 – the win, the record.”

Mastromonaco said one of the keys for state prep – where he won’t have to run both the 800 and 1,600 on the same day – was eating healthy and staying away from his nemesis.

“Cookie dough ice cream,” he said of what he needs to avoid. “I have to eat healthy.”

A stunner

There was absolutely no reason to suspect Williams taking down a district record going down in the 2A 200.

He’d run a season-best 22.46 in the EPC 200 prelims last week but finished third in 22.47 in the final. He’d only run under 23 one other time this season and never under 22.

And then Wednesday, in the 100, came what looked like disaster.,

“I hurt my hamstring,” Williams said. “I did a couple of stretches and I felt OK for the 200. I thought it would be a closer race. I ended up with a PR and a record. I did not see that coming at all. I’m in shock.”

Williams said his best part of the race is usually the start, but on Wednesday he said the way he ran the turn at the head of the final straightaway was his best stretch.

Williams wasn’t done for the day, either. Becahi coach Fred Rice had slotted Williams in on the Becahi 1,600 relay but he stressed to Williams if he felt the slightest bit unable to run safely, to sit it out.

“But if you do run, bring your team to states with you,” Rice said.

Williams did just that with an excellent leg as Becahi finished third in 3:26.05 and earned a trip to Shippensburg, with Brandon Andrews, Timothy Kraus and Britt with Williams on the relay.

Sasso redux

Pottsville Nativity, which had the top two finishers in the open 400, Alek Gorski (49.49) and Michael Stank (50.23), on its 1,600 relay, was the definite favorite in the 2A 1,600 relay, especially considering the exertions Miner and Sasso had done in the 800 just earlier.

And the Green Wave slowly took control of the race and had that significant lead into the anchor.

But then came Sasso.

As the Crusader senior cranked it up, he began to close on the Green Wave, and the buzz began to grow in the stands and on the back stretch. By the time Sasso reached the final 100 meters, the whole place was buzzing, and as he somehow found the reserves to raise his level one more time, as the crowd roared and gasped, the only question was – could he?

Not quite, but Sasso made it as close as possible through sheer will and determination. On the list of epic D-11 anchor legs, this one will always be right up there.

And the Crusaders and Green Wave could do it all again in Shippensburg. Yes please.

Parkland’s boys 1,600 relay after winning the Class 3A race in record time at Wednesday’s District 11 track and field championships at Blue Mountain. From left: Nate Janukowicz, Andrew Beers, Alexander Kelchner, and Tyler Rothrock.

A goal achieved at last

Parkland’s 1,600 relay made it clear: the school record was what they wanted.

“That’s all we wanted,” said the Monmouth-bound Beers. “All year, that’s all we wanted.”

The district record came along for the ride, which was just fine with the Trojans, who were as giddy afterwards as children on Christmas morning.

Parkland had to earn its gold, as for the first three legs Dieruff was in hot pursuit. But the Huskies suffered a poor handoff onto the anchor leg and nobody is ever going to catch Beers like that. He ran the final 400 alone; with more competition, sub-3:20 is possible, and that’s high-state-medal territory (Coatesville’s 3:17.37 is No. 1 in PIAA 3A now).

Beers had earlier won the 110 high hurdles in 14.21 seconds, which tied his personal best, and anchored the Parkland 400 relay to second and a state berth; the Trojans ran 42.39 seconds, a season best.

Results

District 11 3A boys track and field championship

District 11 2A boys track and field championship

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Brad Wilson may be reached at [email protected].

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