By Joe Scalzo
After the Fitch High girls track team won the county championship on April 21, Canfield girls coach Pat Pavlansky kept a stiff upper lip, then challenged Falcons coaches T.J. Koniowsky and Seth Steiner to a grow some hair on theirs for the conference meet.
“Our coaches manned up and grew the mustaches,” said Koniowsky, sporting a horseshoe mustache. “Our wives or girlfriends weren’t big fans so we took the heat at home, but we told all our athletes why we look so goofy.
“Basically they said if you guys are going to put it out there, we’ll put it out there with you and they gave the effort on the track.”
Led by their coaches’ “mustache power” — Koniowsky’s phrase — and some surprising performances from junior Paige Henley and sophomore Gabby Figueroa, the Falcons beat Canfield, 184-139, for the girls title at Tuesday’s All-American Conference American Division meet at Fitch High School.
(Alas, Pavlansky shaved off his mustache, blaming his daughter’s prom pictures.)
“We went undefeated [in the league] this whole season and this just means so much to us,” said senior Theresa Scott, who won the 100-meter dash and helped the Falcons break meet records in the 4x100 and 4x200 relays. “We lost some great seniors [from last year] and we just pulled our team together.
“All the dedication and motivation and hard workouts and everything brought us together and got us here.”
Henley won the high jump and long jump and finished second in the pole vault and Figueroa won the shot put and the discus to help Fitch overcome a foot injury to its top distance runner, sophomore Carissa Jenkins.
“We were talking earlier about losing [2011 seniors] Jen and Kaity Shiley and Makayla Martin and Ali Tolich and being without our biggest gun in Carissa, so for us to put a pretty substantial lead up there, that was nice,” Koniowsky said. “Are we as talented as those seniors we lost? Maybe not. But they made up for it with heart and effort.”
The Falcon boys, meanwhile, more than doubled the point total of runner-up Howland, 214-92, to win their second straight conference meet. Fitch won the Federal League title last year.
“We’re at a different level this year,” said junior Rob Venters, who won the 200 and helped the Falcons break meet records in the 4x100, 4x200 and 4x400 relays. “Last year we broke at least two school records and this year we broke them again.
“We have high expectations for this year and the year after this.”
The Falcons dominated the sprints, throws (junior Billy Price won the shot and discus) and jumps (senior Jay Jakovina won the high jump and long jump and Dylan Latone won the pole vault). Fitch boys coach Rich Kempe, who is retiring at the end of the season after 35 years, said this year’s team is “one of the better teams we’ve had in school history.”
“These guys are amazing,” Kempe said. “They amaze me every week. We’re looking forward to the next several weeks where, if we stay healthy and do the right things, we can have some good days ahead.”
And not just this year.
“This team will be better next year,” said Kempe. “We have a great group of seniors but their points are going to be replaced and they’ll be better. The kids won’t be replaced — you can’t replace the kids — but their points will be replaced.”