SLIPPERY ROCK High’s boys track and field program never had won a district championship before Saturday; now the Rockets could be ready to roll to others in the near future.
A stable stocked with middle-distance and distance standouts staked Slippery Rock to the District 10 Class AAA team title at Harbor Creek High’s Paul J. Weitz Stadium.
Brady Kadlubek, Josh Jones, Mark Cessar and Shane Kirkwood fueled the Rockets’ rally to a 91-80 win over runner-up Cathedral Prep.
When weather suspended Class AAA competition on Wednesday, approximately at the meet’s midway mark, Grove City had garnered a 57-40 lead over Prep.
“We came here down by almost twenty points to Grove City; we knew we had our work cut out for us. But we also knew that we had our best events comin’ up, so we were hopin’ to make up some (points),” explained Slippery Rock Coach Tom Meling.
“Right away, in the four-hundred, we got second and third (Kadlubek and Kirkwood, in 50.83 and 52.03, respectively) — that helped,” Meling continued. “Then a big, big eight-hundred. The guys and I talked about it, how we needed it big, and they were one-two-three, and that’s just so difficult to do, to sweep an event at a district level. When they did that, we knew that we had a chance.”
Kadlubek (1:59.96), Jones (2:02.55) and Cessar (2:03.12) secured Slippery Rock’s sweep.
“Then Andrew Maxwell, who’s been out two weeks with an injury, comes back in the two-mile and PRs (9:52.24 in the 3200-meter run), like, by fifteen or sixteen seconds, gets us a big fourth-place there,” Meling mused. “And then we felt good about our four-by-four team. It was kind’ve a heartbreak that we lost by such a close (margin), but still, getting second place we knew that would kind’ve sew it up for us.”
Meling, meandering with the remnants of his squad’s equipment, was one of the last people to exit Weitz Stadium Saturday, but may have been the most gratified.
“For me, it’s the first time in school history that we won a district championship in track for men, and to see the kids rally like they did ... Again, seeing a kid get eighth-place in the three-hundred hurdles (Nate Popejoy, 43.18), those little points that help get you through.
“I’m just proud of all of them, just proud of all of them.”
Sacrifice spawned Slippery Rock’s success, Meling said.
“What we’ve come up with is ... the kids make sacrifices. The kid who runs the half-mile for us (Kadlubek), he’s one of our sprinters. He runs a twenty-two something two-hundred (meter dash), fifty-point in the four-hundred (meter run). And in the middle of the season, he said, ‘Coach, we need help in the eight-hundred — I’m willing to do it,’ and he goes out and does it — he won districts in one-fifty-nine.
“And our distance guys,” Meling continued, “like Josh Jones. It helps having that break (the meet was suspended for 2è days), he had the four-by-eight (relay) and the mile (1600-meter run) on Wednesday, and that takes a lot out of you. But he had two days rest, and that really helped him come up big here ... Mark Cessar’s just been really consistent for us, and Mark just rose to the occasion, because there’s been some guys who he hadn’t beaten, so I said, ‘It’s time for you to beat them,’ and just he did it.
“Our distance guys are just pretty hard-nosed, competitive, and then our sprinters kind’ve bumped up there a little bit to give them a little bit of help.”
Saturday was a long day — Slippery Rock’s girls had competed in the Class AA event which was staged beginning at 9:30 that morning, concluding approximately 3 p.m. By the time Meling made his way to head home it was approaching 7 p.m.
“I’m old,” he laughingly replied when asked, for perspective, how long he’s been coaching Slippery Rock’s track and field program.
“ ... Over twenty years,” he said.
Then Meling made his most salient point: “We lose only one person from this whole group. So next year, hopefully we can maybe even be a little stronger next year— at least we’re hopin’ to be.”
For now, however, he’s hoping Slippery Rock’s success translates to Shippensburg University’s Seth Grove Stadium, site of this weekend’s annual PIAA Championships.
“It’s great! Fantastic! Any kid you get to state is great, but this is just fantastic!” Meling admitted.
Ed Farrell is assistant sports editor for The Herald