A swimmer. A sprinter. A hockey player. A cross country runner.
Put them together, and what have you got? Perhaps one of the most improbable stories of the WPIAL track and field season.
Carlynton’s Natali Lutsiv, Katy Kozy, Lexi Jones and Erin LaQuatra ran the 3,200-meter relay for just the second time as a unit at the WPIAL championships May 16 at Slippery Rock. The quartet shattered the school record in the event by 61 seconds (10 minutes, 18 seconds), placed fourth and qualified for states.
They were joined at Shippensburg by Carlynton junior DeQuay Canton (100, 200) and his 400 relay teammates Brandon Jones, Brandyn Brock, Matt Hilarzewski.
Chartiers Valley also was represented at the PIAA championships by senior Elias Zajicek, who placed fourth in the WPIAL Class AAA 800 with a school-record time of 1:55.81, and junior Caleb Nelson, who was fourth in the WPIAL triple jump (44 feet, ¾ inch).
But those performances were somewhat expected. The Cougars 3,200 relay was one of the surprises of the WPIAL championships given how and with whom the team was assembled.
“It was just strange how the whole thing worked out,” coach Nate Milsom said. “As the year went on, we just kind of pieced it together.”
Lutsiv, a sophomore, is better known as a WPIAL qualifier in swimming. Track and field is something she took up just to stay in shape for swimming.
“I never in a million years thought I would go to WPIALs for another sport except swimming,” she said. “I did (track) mostly for fun.”
LaQuatra, Jones and alternate Gwen Kalimon are freshmen. LaQuatra, on the team via co-op with Bishop Canevin, is the only member of the relay who was part of the group from the beginning. She has run cross country since third grade but is in her first year of track and field.
“I went to one (track) practice, and it was encouraging teammates and positive coaching,” she said. “After that, I knew I wanted to do it.”
Jones, also in her first year of track, focuses most of her energy on hockey, where she recently won a USA Hockey national title with her Penguins Elite 14U team. Besides the leg strength acquired from years of skating, she also has the experience of participating in high-stakes competition.
“I was nervous at first, but I knew the coaches put me there for a reason,” she said. “It’s always an amazing feeling when you win not just by yourself but with a team. Just standing (on the medal stand) in front of all those people was amazing.”
The versatile Kozy was the final addition to the relay. At the final meet before WPIALs, one of the other girls was unable to participate, so the coaches “threw me in it.”
Though it was her first time in the event, she ran the fastest split by 10 seconds, Milsom said. That set the lineup for the WPIAL championships, and Kozy’s leadership was as important as her athletic ability.
“Everybody was very prepared,” she said. “I just tried to stay out of everybody’s head. I just told them to calm down and run as fast as they could.”
The only thing that might be more exciting than the team’s sudden success is what the future holds. Kozy will graduate, but Kalimon, a member of the relay earlier in the season before being moved to alternate, will be ready to slide into her spot.
With an entire year to work together, the group figures to make more trips to the medal stand.
“I am really excited that we all are going so far now with how young we are,” Kalimon said. “We are going to work really hard for it. We had no idea the four-by-eight was going to go this far.”
Chuck Curti is a Tribune-Review staff writer. You can contact Chuck by email at firstname.lastname@example.org or via Twitter .