Heading into the WPIAL Class AA individual track championships, Matt Haupt had hoped to put together a strong performance ... but Haupt ended up doing more than just that.
He accomplished something no other boy had done in Our Lady of the Sacred Heart track history.
Haupt, a senior, won a gold medal, a first by a boy at the Moon-based Catholic school near the Coraopolis border. Haupt captured top honors in the 3,200-meter run with a personal record time of 9:41.45, narrowly edging out Freedom Area's Wes Roberts, who finished in 9:42.71.
Earlier in the day at the event held last Thursday at Baldwin High School, Haupt ran the second leg for OLSH's 3,200 relay team that finished fourth and qualified for the PIAA championships with a mark of 8:18.64.
OLSH coach Bob Berg said he spoke with Haupt shortly after that race, and came away thinking Haupt had a legitimate shot of claiming gold in the 3,200.
"He had run the [3,200-meter relay] and said he felt comfortable doing it, and that might have given him more confidence," Berg said. "After that, he told me he was going to go out and win it."
Haupt, a Bellevue resident, paced himself just behind the head of the pack before making his move with two laps to go. After that, it was just a case of pushing himself even harder and believing in himself.
"[I took the lead] at the very beginning of the seventh [lap]," he said. "Once I took it, I got pretty excited because I was in first. I just kept reminding myself that I was front and that I actually could [win the race]."
Berg, who also coached Haupt on the school's cross country team that won the WPIAL Class A team championship last fall, said he knew Haupt had what it took to win the race despite not being the favorite going in.
Said Berg: "It was a pleasant surprise, but not much of one. I always knew he had it in him."
Haupt's time was the best in school history. He became the school record holder last season and has broken that mark multiple times since. Haupt also has OLSH's top time in the 1,600, his best being a 4:34.66 this season.
He ran both in last year's WPIAL championships, finishing seventh in the 3,200 and sixth in the 1,600. Haupt qualified for the 1,600 at this year's qualifiers, but chose to concentrate on the 3,200 and 3,200 relay this time around.
Haupt was very familiar with his competition in the 3,200 final, as all but one of the other runners had advanced to the championships from the Northern Qualifier meet. Roberts had the fastest qualifying time, while Vincentian's Ryan Archer, who holds the best time in WPIAL Class AA this season (9:38.49), placed second in qualifying and fifth at the championships. This time, Haupt beat them all.
"[The runners were] all packed pretty good," Berg said. "[Haupt] looked pretty smooth. We told him to go for the lead. He did and he got it."
Haupt, who plans on running track and cross country at Robert Morris, was the first OLSH boy track athlete to earn WPIAL gold, but not the first athlete overall. Katie Purcell, a 2002 graduate, won the 1,600 and 3,200 her senior year. She then went on to win the 3,200 at the PIAA championships.
Haupt hopes to replicate his WPIAL performance at this weekend's PIAA meet. In addition to running the 3,200, he'll compete on the 3,200 relay team that also includes senior Dom DeSalle, junior Nick Kocent and sophomore Ryder Ballou.
In the 3,200, Haupt is the No. 8 seed. Rico Galassi of Holy Cross in Dunmore is No. 1, having qualified with a 9:15.78 at the District 2 championships. For Haupt to drop better than 25 seconds off his time might be a bit too much to expect, but he believes he'll put together another strong outing.
"I felt pretty good in that [3,200] at WPIALs and I think I can drop more time," he said. "I want to get a medal, but I also want to run a 9:30.00 and maybe a few seconds under."