By Greg Gulas
For Mahoning Valley track fans, there are two major storylines to watch at today’s state indoor track meet at the University of Akron.
In Division I, Fitch junior Gabrielle Figueroa has already clinched the nation’s top indoor heave in the weight throw (58 feet, 11 inches), but is trying to become just the fifth player nationally to ever throw a hammer 60 feet indoors.
In Division II/III, Warren JFK brothers Carl and Chad Zallow, who are ranked first and second, respectively, in the 200-meter dash will try to edge the other for gold.
At last year’s state meet, Figueroa threw 55-5, topping her best throw by a foot and breaking the meet record by two. She placed third at last week’s New Balance indoor nationals in New York with a throw of 56-5 1/4, earning All-America honors for the second straight season. The winning throw at nationals was 58-8.
“I cannot help but be excited with the success that I have had so far this year,” Figueroa said. “It feels a little awkward to compete in the national meet before we’ve had the state meet, but I’ve had a few reassuring practices now and am ready to go this weekend.
“I throw for feel and not distance and have had a lot of goals, but hitting 60 feet would mean that I have done a lot this indoor season. It’s the cherry on top of the ice cream sundae for me.”
Fitch coach T.J. Koniowsky said Figueroa has come a long way since her freshman year.
“The hammer throw or weight throw indoors is very unique in that it requires plenty of body control and awareness and is a very difficult event,” Koniowsky said. “Right from the start, Gabby [Figueroa] knew what it took to perform and knew from that very first day what to do in order be competitive.”
Figueroa, who just missed qualifying for the state outdoor meet in the shot and discus last fall, has drawn interest from several colleges, Koniowsky said.
“Tennessee, South Carolina, Pittsburgh, Iowa and TCU, just to name a few were colleges that approached me [at nationals] and made it known that they were interested in Gabby,” he added.
Fitch senior Billy Price, an Ohio State football recruit, is seeded second in the weight throw while teammate Sam Ortz is second in the 60-meter hurdles. The Falcons are also the top seed in the 4x200 relay.
Boardman junior Mark Hadley is seeded first in the 1600 thanks to running at 4:13.80 at the indoor nationals.
Meanwhile, the Zallow brothers will have a busy day but all eyes will be on the 200.
Carl Zallow (22.62) was the event’s top qualifier while Chad Zallow and Holy Name’s Andre Husain (22.63) are an eyelash back. Chad Zallow is also seeded second in the 60 hurdles.
“It will definitely be a very competitive race,” Chad Zallow said. “The finish doesn’t matter to me as long as long as we win a state championship.”
“This is just a great opportunity for our track program to clinch the indoor state title,” Carl added.
The Zallows’ father, Chuck, who also serves as a volunteer assistant coach, said he can relate to the NFL coaching Harbaugh family as he watches his sons compete against each other.
“From a father’s perspective, as I watch my two sons line up against each other at the state indoor meet I can definitely relate to what Jack Harbaugh felt when he watched his sons, John and Jim go up against each other in the last Super Bowl,” Zallow said. “I am very proud of both of them and want each to win, something that I know cannot happen. To be ranked No. 1 and No. 2 in the state going into this weekend sure is quite an honor.”
The Eagles will send six athletes to the state tournament. Four will compete in multiple events.
“I am proud of all the JFK athletes that are participating in the meet today,” head coach Rob Andrews said. “They have sacrificed their time and energies to get ahead.”
The Eagles’ participants include Morgan Rice (60 meter hurdles); Mark Fronk (4x400 meter relay); Anthony Fordeley (long jump; 4x400 meter relay); Zach Watt (400 meter dash; 4x400 relay); Carl Zallow (60 meter dash; 200 meter dash; 400 meter dash; 4x400 meter relay) and Chad Zallow (60 meter hurdles; 60 meter dash; 200 meter dash; 400 meter dash).
“I am more concerned than excited about the Zallows running against each other,” Andrews said. “My concern is that Carl may not be 100 percent and I don’t want him to push himself and miss any time during the season. I think they are both incredible athletes that will go out and do their very best. It’s been a joy working with them over the past five years, seeing them develop into excellent athletes. I see them compete daily.
“I love seeing Carl, Chad, Anthony, Mark, Morgan and Zach push each other. The spirit of competition is what makes these guys better, as well as build character in them. For them, however, it will be just another day at the track.”
On the girls side, Poland’s Sage Spotleson and LaBrae’s Megan Gunther are 1-2 in the hurdles, while Ursuline’s Lavonte is first in the 200 and second in the 400.
Girard’s 4x200 relay is seeded first, while the Indians’ 4x400 relay is seeded second.