The Bethel Park girls' track & field team is a work in progress.
With a roster full of both new and returning talent, the Black Hawks are prepared for a great season.
Recall last May at the WPIAL championships. Bethel Park won the 3,200-meter relay and set a district record of 9:15.80. From that relay team, seniors Amanda Ruschel and Stephanie Cobb have returned to the team this season. The girls took eighth place in the 3,200-meter event at the PIAA championships last May, finishing in 9:18.07.
Ruschel had also taken eighth place in the 800-meter race at the WPIAL championships in 2:17.72. She placed 12th at the PIAA meet in 2:22.27.
Meanwhile, Paige Kochka-Puskar was part of a tie for sixth place at the WPIAL championship high jump event, clearing 5 feet, 1 inch, quite impressive for a freshman.
She has returned to the Black Hawks roster this spring and as a sophomore ranks among the best in the WPIAL in that event. She is tied with four other girls for the third best reported mark in Class AAA at 5-2. A versatile athlete, she was on the basketball court this past winter as a starting forward for the WPIAL Class AAAA champion Black Hawks (23-4).
Another Bethel Park sophomore, Alexandra Stevenson, placed fifth in the WPIAL for the shot put event last year. At the district meet, she threw 37-101/2, then placed ninth at states with a heave of 38-0.
Ruschel placed fourth in the 800-meter race at the Feb. 16 Tri-State Indoor Track & Field Championship meet. Her time was 2:19.45 even though she was sick that day.
So after returning lots of talent and staying in shape through the winter sports season, what's new for the Bethel Park girls'?
"From the distance team, we've got Courtney Conway. She's a sophomore, and she's doing a fantastic job," Bethel Park girls coach Brian Scott said.
Scott also noted that Madeleine "Magelle" Boucher would also be a Black Hawks athlete to watch in the 400-meter dash, the 800-meter run and the mile.
"At the [April 6] South Hills Classic, Gina Speranza ran some of her personal bests," Scott noted.
Speranza placed 12th in the 200-meter race out of 80 finishers. Her time was 27.21. In the 100-meter dash prelims, Speranza placed 13th for a time of 13.19.
Similarly, junior Tatiana Ruzzini had run the 100-meter hurdles for 10th place in the WPIAL championship prelims last May. Ruzzini's time was 16.44. Like Speranza, Ruzzini is part of a developing core of sprinters and jumpers for Bethel Park.
Scott explained that the Bethel Park girls' team has been affected by the 2012 graduations of Hillary Boxheimer and Kelsey Metheny. Both athletes were phenomenal in cross country and distance events in track, and the two were on the Black Hawks WPIAL record 3,200-meter relay squad.
"[Boxheimer and Metheny] are not going to be easy to replace," Scott said. "We have to find the other two people to help us keep that record or break it. With the way the weather has been through [the early part of the season], it's really been difficult to find who those replacements are going to be. We've got some work to do yet before we can focus in on it.
"Normally we'd be thinking about [breaking the 3,200-meter record], but for now but we've been kind of set back."
Meanwhile, Bethel Park soccer standout A.J. Baroffio has traditionally been a "relay mercenary" for the Black Hawks. At the TSTCA Indoor championships, Baroffio ran in the 800- and 1,600-meter relays. At indoor meets, these events take place back-to-back.
Scott agreed that it would take the stamina of a soccer player to be able to do this, although he noted that Ruzzini did both events as well.
The biggest reason for this may be that Bethel Park track athletes hate to stop working.
"They don't want to quit -- they just want to keep going," Scott said. "They also have a great time together and they're always having fun. But they have the ability to focus when it's time to go."
Bethel Park's Paige Kochka-Puskar placed second in the high jump at the South Hills Classic held at Baldwin High School. A medalist at last year's WPIAL championships, she is a contender to win the title this year.