Kaevon Gardner earned himself a nickname last season, one that he shares with a comic book character and is pretty appropriate considering his elite speed.

“Zoom” is a supervillain in “The Flash” series who is also known as the “Reverse Flash.”

“My friend Tyler Leekins, the first time I beat him, the show ‘The Flash’ was out,” explained Gardner, a sophomore sprinter at New Castle. “His nickname is ‘Flash,’ so people starting calling me ‘Zoom.’”

This Zoom has been zooming down WPIAL tracks this season, as Gardner has used a breakout season to emerge as one of the top sprinters in the area.

Gardner has grown into a big-time talent this spring. His time of 10.72 seconds in the 100-meter dash set a school record while earning him a title at the Tri-State Track Coaches Association Championship April 15 at West Mifflin. No WPIAL runner has run a time that fast this season.

One might say “You had to be there to believe it,” but Gardner was there, and even he didn’t think it actually happened.

“Honestly, I didn’t believe it,” Gardner said of the race that saw him beat out Washington junior Ruben Gordon, who placed second with a time of 10.87.

And to think, Gardner was just a few weeks removed from not being pleased with his start to the season.

“It was kind of rough,” he recalled. “My very first meet I didn’t run very well, so I had to look at myself in the mirror. I said, ‘I’m not trying to make it to WPIALs and lose again.’ The next meet I ran a 10.9. That wasn’t good enough either, but by the time I got to West Mifflin, I ran that 10.72. That let me know I was kind of getting to where I need to be.”

Last spring, Gardner, also a starting running back and defensive back on the New Castle football team, was the only freshman or sophomore to qualify for the finals of the 100 at the WPIAL Class 3A championships. But Gardner had to settle for seventh place after running just an 11.48 in the final.

A year later, Gardner is faster and more seasoned. Gardner said his goal in the offseason was to work toward a breakout sophomore campaign. Well, mission accomplished. After claiming his title at the TSTCA Championship, Gardner ran a 10.94 last Friday to take top honors at the Butler Invitational. He also ran a 22.77 in the 200 at Butler, earning him second place, and jumped 21 feet, 5½ inches in the long jump, which was good enough for seventh.

Gardner said he also expects New Castle’s 400 relay team to be strong. Gardner is joined on that team by Leekins (a senior), and fellow sophomores Kyrell Harris and Nate McKnight.

And just because Gardner already owns a school record in the 100 doesn’t mean he’s about to stop there.

“I want to run lower than 10.7 and get to 10.6,” Gardner said. “And the big goal is to win WPIALs.”

Butler’s Megan Baggetta competes in the triple jump at the 58th annual Butler Invitational Friday, April 21, 2023 in Butler. Baggetta won the event for the second year in a row with a mark of 39-0. (Pam Panchak/Pittsburgh Union-Progress)

Butler’s Baggetta bags wins

Each time she has competed in the triple jump this season, Megan Baggetta has bagged a victory, further confirming that this Butler senior and Bucknell recruit is among the best in the state.

Baggetta added another title to her bag last Friday by finishing in first place at the Butler Invitational for the second year in a row. Her leap of 39 feet topped runner-up Kimaya Williams of Obama Academy by nearly two feet. According to PA MileSplit, Baggetta’s jump ranks second in the state this season, second only to West Chester Rustin’s Ava Alexander, a Kentucky recruit whose top mark is 40-1½. Baggetta also placed fourth in the long jump (17-7½), an event she typically does not compete in at invitationals.

The excellent performance came a week after Baggetta jumped 38-7½ to capture the triple jump title at the Tri-State Track Coaches Association Championship at West Mifflin. She also took home top honors at the Butler County Classic earlier in the month.

Baggetta holds outdoor (39-0¾) and indoor (38-2¼) school records in the triple jump. During the indoor season, Baggetta placed fourth at the PTFCA championship and 13th at New Balance Nationals in Boston. Last outdoor season, Baggetta finished third at the WPIAL Class 3A championships and fifth at the PIAA championships.

District 5 sprinter runs blazing times

A senior from a school located not far from Pittsburgh ranks not only among the top sprinters in Pennsylvania, but also one of the best in the country.

Ethan Black is a standout at Conemaugh Township, a District 5 school located near Johnstown. Two weeks ago, Black ran a blazing time of 10.22 in the 100, the fastest time in state history. Additionally, Black’s time is tied for eighth best nationally this season, according to PA MileSplit. Of the seven athletes ahead of Black, six are from Texas or Florida. Issam Asinga of Montverde Academy, Fla., ran the nation’s top time (10.06) last month.

Black, who also has the fastest 200 time in the state this season (21.18) is the defending PIAA Class 2A champion in the 100 and 200. Black appears to have a strong shot of breaking a PIAA record in the 100 this season. The Class 2A record is 10.47, set by Bloomsburg’s Jahvel Hemphill in 2017. Meadville’s Journey Brown holds the Class 3A record of 10.43 seconds. Like Brown, Black will continue his athletic career as a football player at Penn State. Black, who played wide receiver and defensive back in high school, will be a preferred walk-on for the Nittany Lions next season.

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at beverett@unionprogress.com.

Brad Everett

Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at beverett@unionprogress.com.