East Xtra: Assortment of stars lead Hempfield to track title

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At most schools, the tremendous talent that abounds on the Hempfield Area girls track team might be described as an almost once-in-a-lifetime occurrence.

Hempfield, though, isn't most schools.

"We're probably as good as we were last year," longtime coach Ron Colland said.

That could be the highest compliment Colland can pay to his current crop of star performers.

Hempfield is the defending WPIAL and PIAA Class AAA team champion. Monday, the Spartans claimed their third WPIAL title in a row when they defeated North Allegheny (92-50), Mt. Lebanon (99-50) and Shaler (121-28) at Baldwin High School.

It doesn't need to be nighttime to observe the plentiful number of stars on this team. And the collection of talent extends across the board. Hempfield has dynamic sprinters, hurdlers, jumpers, pole vaulters and just about everything in between.

The immense amount of skill has in turn led to terrific results. But that comes as little surprise considering Hempfield returned many of its key performers from last year's team.

"We had most of [the top athletes] back," said Colland, who is in his 33rd year as head coach and 41st overall at Hempfield. "We're pretty much covering most of the events, if not all of them. We're very pleased. We've been pretty healthy, so we've been sort of lucky that way. We have some very talented athletes and good depth."

Hempfield had 18 athletes -- in addition to three relay teams -- qualify for events at the WPIAL championships today at Baldwin. A season ago, the Spartans had nine athletes finish in the top eight in individual events, to go along with a pair of relay teams that also medaled.

Although there is a wide assortment of talent, four girls truly stand out -- junior Maddie Holmberg, senior Jasmine Jones, senior Bridget Guy and junior Lauren George. All of them are among the best in the WPIAL and threats to win multiple individual events.

Holmberg is the premier hurdler in the WPIAL. She is the defending champion in the 100-meter hurdles and 300-meter hurdles and owns the area's top times in each this year. Holmberg, who already owns six gold medals from the WPIAL and PIAA individual championships, finished second in the state in the 300 hurdles and the long jump last year. She'll compete in all three events at WPIALs.

"She's a tremendous athlete and competitor," Colland said. "Over the years, we've had some excellent athletes in multiple events, but she's special. She's right up there with the elite athletes that we've ever been involved with."

Jones is a gifted sprinter and the defending champion in the 200. She finished third in the 100 last year. At the PIAA championships, Jones placed third in the 200 and sixth in the 100. This year, she holds the area's top times in the 200 and 400, and fourth-best in the 100.

"She is very similar to Maddie. She'll do whatever the coaching staff asks of her," Colland said. "She's among the better sprinters in the WPIAL this year. We're certainly going to miss her after she graduates this year. It's so comforting to have an athlete like that."

Guy is among the favorites to win the pole vault competition. She finished third in the WPIAL and fourth in the PIAA a year ago. She holds the top vault in the WPIAL this year and is among the best long jumpers.

"It's hard for me to find different adjectives to define Maddie and Jasmine and Bridget," Colland said. "Bridget is not only a terrific pole vaulter, but she runs the leadoff on the [400 relay] team."

That outstanding relay team consists of Guy, Holmberg, Jones and George.

George is a contender for the triple jump and long jump titles. She placed fourth in the triple jump last year and has the third-best reported jump this year.

Hempfield's other individual qualifiers are seniors Jess Beal (shot put, discus), Lauren Tracy (100 and 300 hurdles) and Brianna Gaudi (800); juniors Gina Cuneo (high jump), Morgan Ansell (1,600, 3,200), Katie Maser (shot put), Morgan DeFloria (triple jump, javelin), Ravenne O'Lear (pole vault) and Cecily Gummo (100 and 300 hurdles); sophomores Maura Loughran (shot put) and Olivia Adams (3,200); and freshmen Gabby Holmberg (400), Michelle Burns (1,600) and Sydney Benedict (800).

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