West Xtra: Riverside senior shows mettle at PIAA track championships

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High school athletes dream of winning a championship -- whether that happens in a team or individual sport, it is what they compete for.

For Riverside's Austin Sheridan, that dream came to reality May 23 when he hoisted the trophy as the new Class AA PIAA discus champion with a throw of 168 feet, 10 inches.

"Honestly, it is an unbelievable feeling," Sheridan said. "It is not just the medal, it is the whole atmosphere. To finish like that is an unbelievable feeling and to give my coach a hug afterward."

His coach, Chuck Kotuby, knew exactly what his athlete was feeling.

Riverside now has four PIAA champions after Sheridan and the 1,600-meter relay team each won gold, but it all started in 1967 when Kotuby won the school's first gold in the mile run.

"To win a state championship, it is so hard," Kotuby said. "Pennsylvania has one of the best track programs around. You have to be a special person and Austin certainly is."

Even though Sheridan won the event as an individual, he owes a lot of credit to his coach for getting him started and sticking with him.

"That is an awesome feeling," Sheridan said about Kotuby. "He is an awesome guy. I have known him since middle school and he is the reason I got into track. Looking back, to be one of the athletes to win a state title, it is an awesome feeling and big deal."

The other boys gold medalist was P.J. Alouise in 1999 in the javelin.

Sheridan's gold medal almost didn't happen. In fact, his whole season almost would have been a blank because of a back injury he sustained during basketball season.

"It was pretty scary," Sheridan said. "Going into the season I thought about not going into track. I pushed through it. Finally getting back to the gym, I was worried about my strength. All the rehab and physical therapy got me back to where I needed to be and to a state title."

Heading into the state meet, Sheridan was riding a wave of momentum with a number of first place finishes, including winning the WPIAL title with a throw of 157-4.

"I got second last year in WPIALs," Sheridan said. "It was a redemption thing. I was number one last year and it didn't work out."

Sheridan also picked up victories at the Midwestern Athletic Conference championships and Beaver County Invitational.

According to Kotuby, Sheridan's distance ranged throughout the year from 140 feet to 160 feet. So when Sheridan got 168-10 on his second throw of the finals, he knew it was going to take a remarkable effort to top him.

"It was a personal-best and school record," Kotuby said. "It was on his second throw. I knew someone had to really launch one out there to beat him. He was able to relax after that."

For Sheridan, achieving a personal-best and school record to win the state title was just icing on the cake.

"Getting the school record was a goal I had for myself," he said. "I went over and hugged my coaches. The atmosphere there and everyone cheering you on was an amazing feeling."

No one saw the transformation Sheridan went through better than Kotuby and he couldn't be more proud of Sheridan for his accomplishments.

"It is a great way to finish it off," Kotuby said. "The last four years he has been working to get to this stage and it has paid off. He is a poster child of what it takes to win a state title."

Sheridan will continue his track and field career next year at the collegiate level where he has received offers from Duquesne and Seton Hill. He is expected to make his decision next week.

Either way, Sheridan will be close enough to keep his followers happy.

"I was talking to Seton Hill on and off all year," Sheridan said. "Next week I will make my decision.

"I was open to anything but my parents wanted me to stay local. In the end it is still up to me and I like the city of Pittsburgh a lot and it kind of just came out that way."

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