As the high school track and field season moves into the final month of competition, Hampton High School senior Nate Sloan has his sights set on some lofty goals forged during a solid season.
"I'm very pleased with how [the season] has gone," said this 18-year-old Hampton resident who already has signed a letter-of-intent to compete for the University of Pittsburgh in cross country, indoor track and outdoor track while pursing a degree in mechanical engineering. "Last year was a breakout season for me in track, and I'm excited with my times thus far and see how things go. I want to peak at the right time."
Hampton track coach Derek Brinkley said Sloan doesn't short-change himself or his team, either during practice or at meets.
"He has a very impressive work ethic, and he's probably the best boys runner I've ever coached," said Brinkley, who is in his 11th season as Hampton's coach. "He's always willing to try to get better, and he treats every day -- even practice days -- as a meet."
Sloan's dedication isn't diminished when he's not feeling his best.
At this past Friday's Mars Invitational, Sloan was still battling the effects of the flu, but managed to win the 1,600-meter run with a time of 4:21.78, just ahead of Seneca Valley senior Brett Foster, who was clocked in 4:22.21.
Sloan's time in Friday's victory was about two seconds slower than his season's best time of 4:19.37 that he recorded two weeks earlier at the Butler Invitational.
"He was excited about his splits at Butler," Brinkley said. "He will have a successful run if he achieves the splits that he wants."
It is virtually a certainty that Sloan's splits and the ensuing times will be faster as he is just one of a group of very talented runners competing in the WPIAL this season.
Not only is Sloan the top-ranked runner in the 1,600-meter run, he also is fifth in the 3,200-meter run with a time of 9:32.86. A good friend of his, Fox Chapel's Colin Martin, has the season's best time in the 3,200 with a time of 9:25.34.
"Earlier in my career, I was behind the top runners," he said. "But I pushed my training to catch up with them, and now I'm beating some of them. But I'm happy to be in the company of great runners and great guys."
Sloan believes that his ideal race will take place once the temperatures rise this month.
"I like the hot weather, and I like to be in a race where some of the guys may be better than me and they take it out [with a fast pace]," he said.
Sloan likes to tuck in behind the lead pack, and take his chances just before or right as the gun is fired for the final lap.
"I have pretty good speed, and I've run a 52.4 split while running the second leg of the 4-by-400-meter relay," he said. "I think I have a pretty good kick at the end."
Brinkley said it will be difficult to gauge who will be the WPIAL champion in the 1,600-meter run. Right with Sloan are Kiski Area's Brett Kennedy, Martin, Foster and Foster's Seneca Valley teammate Mike Kolor, North Hills' Jacob Heinauer and Upper St. Clair's James Smith.
"There's about three to five guys who are right there," Brinkley said. "They all run about the same pace and have the same goals. That's going to be the group to watch."
Brinkley said he would like to qualify as many Hampton athletes as possible for the state meet at Shippensburg University later this month.
"Nate has a good chance to get there, and he's the one who will help the other guys get there," the coach said.