Kirtland girls’ track coach JP Moran dug deep into his bag of tricks to inspire his athletes heading into the 16th Annual George Gross Invitational at Cuyahoga Heights. At practice last week Moran showed off the plaque his athletes won last season when they scored 194 points to win the 2014 team title.
That strategy paid off as the Hornets defended their title with 166 points. Beachwood was second with 121.
“It was really exciting,” Moran said. “We had a lot of points. I don’t want to say I was surprised, maybe impressed.”
Moran had reason to be stunned by the Hornets’ performance as it was their first meet of the season.
“We had a home meet that got canceled previously, so it was our first meet,” he said. “We really have a lot of freshmen on both sides (boys and girls). We had some time trials at practice but no competition times to go off of so we had to place people and go with it. I’m really happy with everything.”
Katie Straus paced the Hornets with first place finishes in four different events.
She won the high jump (5-0), 100-meter hurdles (16.20), 300-meter hurdles (48.40) and ran a leg in the winning 4×400-meter relay with Hannah Vouk, Danielle Bryll and Sydney Snyder. That group won the event with a time of 4:32.52.
“Katie ran a great leg to put that away,” Moran said of the 4×4 relay. “She’s been working all winter. She loves the sport and her events. She actually asked for and received a starting block for Christmas. She’s run all winter and has been working all winter on her technique and everything. She’s a student of her events and she helps the other athletes on the team.”
Claire Neibecker helped Kirtland’s cause with a first place finish in the long jump (14-9). Neibecker missed all of last season with an injury and returned this year with a new technique after having surgery on her left ankle.
“We actually had to switch the foot she jumps off of,” Moran said. “She had surgery and still went out and wins it. She also popped over and did the high jump for us. She’s been working on it a little bit with Katie and got us a point there as well.”
Kirtland’s 4×800-meter relay team of Snyder, Christine Walsh, Angela Ritossa and Lauren Covetta also finished first with a time of 10:31.10.
The 4×200-meter relay team of Clarice Aquila, Kristi Bryll, Jessica Hepper and Emily Kadas finished second with a time of 1:57.84 and that same group finished runner-up in the 4×100-meter relay with a time of 55.45.
“We were runner up in two of the sprint relays to Beachwood. They have tremendous sprint relays,” Moran said. “We had a lot of young kids who haven’t run for Kirtland that scored some points. It was awesome.”
Aquila is one of the most experienced athletes on those sprint relays.
“She is a veteran sprint relay lead off for us,” Moran said. “She led off the 4×1 and 4×2 and had two really solid lead off legs tonight. She helped with the hand-offs all week too.”
Snyder, who set the Kirtland Middle School record in the 800 last year as an eighth grader, finished second in that event on Tuesday with a time of 2:35.42.
“I’m really excited to have her,” Moran said. “Tonight she did the 4×8, the open 800 and the 4×4.”
Walsh finished second in the two-mile run (13:16.82), Isabella Powers was runner-up in the long jump (14-4) and Maddie Zuberer finished second to Straus in both the 100 and 300 hurdles (17.82, 53.08).
Kirtland’s other top five finishers included Ritossa (third in the 800, 2:35.48), Grace Powers (third in the 200, 28.19) and Kara Aquila (third in the discus, 88-06). Emily Kadas was fourth in the 100 (13.76) and Sarah Kadas, Hannah Kelly and Covetta all claimed fifth place finishes. Kadas finished the two-mile in 15:09.37. Kelly cleared 7-feet on the pole vault and Covetta finished the mile in 5:53.49.
The Hornets’ boys’ team finished sixth with 65.33 points.
Will Armstrong, Matt Grazia and Jon Guenther all turned in top three finishes in their individual events.
Armstrong was second on the pole vault (12-0) while Grazia was third (11-0). Guenther finished second in the 400 (56.57) and third in the 200 (25.36).
Kirtland’s 4×200-meter relay team of Guenther, Antonio Rini, Peter Gabor and Dylan Aquila finished second with a time of 1:41.55.
1. Cuyahoga Heights 153.5
2. Independence 136.83
3. Cardinal 105.00
4. Open Door Christian Academy 78.33
5. Beachwood 75.00
6. Kirtland 65.33
7. Lake Ridge Academy 22.00
8. Fairport 4.00
1. Kirtland 166.00
2. Beachwood 121.00
3. Independence 113.00
4. Cuyahoga Heights 92.50
5. Cardinal 78.00
6. Lake Ridge Academy 24.00
7. Fairport 23.50
8. Open Door Christian Academy 10.00