When you compete in such a wide variety of events as Rose Kuchera, it’s easy to sometimes find yourself in a pickle. An example of that came Wednesday when Kuchera, a junior at Canon-McMillan, essentially ran in the finals of the hurdles, sprinted 100 meters and triple jumped, all in the matter of just minutes.
“I almost [disqualified] because right after 100 hurdles, they were calling to start the triple. I had just finished my race, so I was still on the track and I had to sprint down there before the triple,” Kuchera explained.
No worries. No matter the event she competed in, Kuchera was head and shoulders above the competition on her way to an outstanding performance that saw her win four gold medals Wednesday at the WPIAL Class 3A track and field championships at Slippery Rock University.
Kuchera ran and jumped her way to titles, a quartet of wins that included golds in the 100 hurdles, triple jump, long jump and 400 relay. That gives Kuchera five WPIAL gold medals in her career. She won the 100 hurdles and triple jump as a sophomore a year ago.
“It was a really awesome day. I mean, four golds, I feel really good right now,” she said.
Kuchera’s first gold Wednesday came in the triple jump after a winning leap of 40 feet enabled her to successfully defend her title. She’s one of only two girls in WPIAL history to reach that distance. Shortly after, Kuchera ran a time of 14.90 seconds to repeat as champion in the 100 hurdles. And then came the 400 relay, when Kuchera, Bryce Dean, Abigail Mitrik and Bennett Pidro ran a school-record 48.00. According to WPIAL historian Jim Faiella, that ranks No. 11 in WPIAL history. Finally, Kuchera used a leap of 18-9 to win the long jump. Earlier this season, Kuchera jumped 19-6 ¼, which ranks No. 4 in WPIAL history.
Kuchera was the No. 1 seed in all of those events, but she certainly didn’t do any celebrating beforehand.
“I knew I was ranked first, but anything can happen,” she said. “Doing four events is very tiring.”
Upper St. Clair speedster Dani Prunzik put herself in rare air, becoming only the second girl since 1979 to win the 100 in the largest class three consecutive years. She then came back a little later and completed her first WPIAL double by winning the 200.
“It was definitely one of my goals. I’m really thankful I’ve been able to compete all three years and win,” said Prunzik, a senior who will run in college at Penn State.
Prunzik said she was nervous heading into the meet, but it had nothing to do with feeling the pressure to three-peat. Prunzik has been concerned about a foot injury which occurred last summer that has acted up in recent weeks.
“At this point, it’s kind of just coming back, so I just toned down a little bit with the running the past week and a half, right after [the Baldwin Invitational]. So it made me a little nervous for this meet,” said Prunzik, runner-up in the 100 at the 2022 PIAA championships.
You wouldn’t know it, as Prunzik didn’t only win the 100, but also finished with a career-best time of 11.70. It’s the No. 9 time in WPIAL history, according to track historian Jim Faiella. She won the event with times of 12.33 (2021) and 12.28 (2022) the previous two years. Prunzik then ran a 24.53 in the 200 to narrowly edge Gateway freshman Monroe Law (24.54). Law also finished second to Prunzik in the 100 (11.91).
Tapper 2 for 2 again
Hempfield senior Liz Tapper said she got a little sad after finishing the shot put competition. It’s not that Tapper didn’t win, it’s that she was doing it for the final time.
“It was my last time at a WPIAL meet. Last official meet around here. It was kind of sad just moving on,” she said.
Tapper, though, will move on after winning the discus and shot put for the second year in a row. Tapper, a Michigan recruit, rolled to wins in each event. Her toss of 152-8 in the discus topped her competition by 23 feet and her heave of 46-1¾ in the shot put bested the field by more than 7 feet. Tapper is also the reigning PIAA champion in both events.
“I think this next week, if we do the right training, I think it’s going to be pretty good,” she said. “I’m just going into states with an open mind.”
Two for St. John Kletter
Mt. Lebanon junior Logan St. John Kletter hoped to compete at the 2022 WPIAL championships, but a foot injury forced her to shut down her season prematurely. St. John Kletter made it this year, though, and she made the most of it by winning two gold medals.
St. John Kletter took home titles in the 1,600 and 3,200. She was the top seed in both events. Her time of 4:47.09 in the 1,600 beat runner-up Natalie McLean of Pine-Richland (4:51.24), while her 10:34.49 in the 3,200 was better than runner-up Wren Kucler of North Allegheny (10:37.43).
“It means so much to me,” St. John Kletter said. “It took so many people to get me back here, so many different coaches, trainers, physical therapists, my parents, my teammates, my friends, everyone. It took a ton of help, so I’m just really grateful for everyone who has supported me through the ups and downs.”
St. John Kletter fought a condition called Baxter’s nerve entrapment a year ago, but since recovering, she’s been exceptional. She won her first WPIAL cross country championship in the fall before claiming a state indoor track title in the winter.
The two titles also gave St. John Kletter something else — bragging rights. Her father, Todd Kletter, was on Mt. Lebanon’s WPIAL championship-winning 3,200 relay team in 1990. Daughter now has doubled dad’s medal count.
“I have more WPIAL medals than him now, so that’s nice,” she said, smiling.
Howard soars to another title
As the defending Class 3A champion in the high jump, South Fayette senior Grace Howard knew she had a little pressure on her to repeat the feat.
“I felt like I had this thing I had to do,” Howard said. “It’s like, ‘You can’t go in and not get first again.’ That gave me a little bit of a mental block, but I was able to push through and do it again this year.”
This Grace showed a lot of grace in successfully defending her title. Howard, a Coastal Carolina recruit, used a jump of 5-5 to earn another gold. Howard’s winning jump a season earlier was 5-3. She also placed fifth Wednesday in the 100 hurdles.