Speed is Kaevon Gardner’s strength on the track, but as speedy as the defending WPIAL Class 3A 100-meter champion was last season, he felt like he could still become a lot faster.

So, ever since football season ended last fall, Gardner said he has spent six days a week in the weight room working diligently on improving what he perceived to be a weakness — his strength.

“I felt like after last season I wasn’t as strong as I wanted to be running-wise,” Gardner said, “so I needed to become way more explosive.”

And if his explosive numbers in the weight room are of any indication, Gardner could leave the rest of the WPIAL top sprinters in the dust this season.

Nicknamed “Zoom,” Gardner zoomed his way to a breakout sophomore season last spring. He broke the school record in the 100 a few weeks into the season and his time of 10.70 seconds in the event at the WPIAL championships won him a title and stands as his personal record.

Now a junior, Gardner believes he will be faster this spring as he now runs with a target on his back. While that’s still left to be seen, there’s no doubt that he is much bigger and stronger than he was a season ago. Gardner, who stands 5 feet 11, said he is up to 185 pounds after competing at 169 a season ago.

As for his improved strength, well, the proof is in the numbers. Gardner needed a lift in the strength department, so he dedicated himself to lifting. Over the past few months, Gardner said he has benched 295 pounds, squatted 495 and deadlifted 675. When you compare those numbers to last season when he had a top bench of 185, a top squat of 405 and a top deadlift of 455, it has been a pretty significant improvement.

In addition to his 10.70 in the 100, which stands as a school record, Gardner’s other PR’s are 21.99 in the 200 and 22 feet, 9 inches in the long jump. Gardner finished sixth in the long jump at the WPIAL championships.

“I’m definitely trying to run a 10.6 [in the 100]. That’s the goal. But my dream is a 10.5,” Gardner said. “For the 200 I want to get down to 21.7, and for the long jump I want to go 23 feet.”

Gardner, a starting running back and defensive back in football, will also run on New Castle’s 400 relay team that brings back fellow juniors Kyrell Harris and Nate McKnight.

In the 100, Gardner will try to become the first runner to win back-to-back WPIAL Class 3A titles since North Allegheny’s Brian Austin in 2008-09.

Gardner also hopes to finish the season on a much higher note after seeing last season cut short by injury. Competing at the PIAA championships for the first time, Gardner suffered a hip flexor injury in preliminaries of the 100. After limping across the finish line, Gardner placed 33rd out of the 35 competitors and did not advance after coming in with the second-fastest time. Susquehanna Township’s Lex Cyrus, now a junior like Gardner, won the event with a time of 10.67. Cyrus is also a standout wide receiver whose offers include Penn State, Oregon and Notre Dame.

Mazzoni off to a sizzling start

Derry’s Sophia Mazzoni wasted little time in showing she’s going to be a force to be reckoned with in the javelin this season. Her very first throw of the season was not only a PR and broke her own school record, but it also put her among the elite javelin throwers in WPIAL history.

Mazzoni is a junior who unleashed a throw of 156-10 last Wednesday in a home meet against Frazier and Geibel Catholic. According to WPIAL track and field historian Jim Faiella, only six girls in WPIAL history have thrown farther. Connellsville grad Madison Wiltrout had a record throw of 185-8 in 2015, but since then, Mazzoni is just the second girl to even reach 150. 

Mazzoni’s toss was also the best in the state and ranks fifth nationally this season, per PA MileSplit. Mazzoni is coming off a terrific sophomore season that saw her win the WPIAL Class 2A javelin title and finish as the PIAA runner-up.

Griffith’s plans

Butler distance phenom Drew Griffith will kick off his outdoor season Saturday, but if you want to check him out in a race locally, you’re going to have to wait a bit.

Griffith, whose fantastic senior year has seen him win national titles in cross country and indoor track, will compete in the 3,200 at the Arcadia Invitational on Saturday in Arcadia, Calif. Griffith’s friend, rival and future Notre Dame teammate, Ringgold senior Ryan Pajak, will also run in the event. This won’t be the first time the pair will be competing in California. They finished 1-2 at the Foot Locker National Cross Country Championships in San Diego last December.

Griffith said he doesn’t plan on making his local debut until April 19 when he competes in the Butler Invitational for the final time. Griffith is the defending WPIAL Class 3A champion in the 1,600 and 3,200.

South Hills Classic

The first big invitational of the season will take place Saturday when Baldwin hosts the 20th annual South Hills Classic. As of Monday afternoon, 31 schools had registered for the event, per PA MileSplit. Among the participating teams are Central Catholic, Hempfield, Pine-Richland, Upper St. Clair and Winchester Thurston. Geibel Catholic’s Emma Larkin (girls 400) is among the returning champions. Some other standouts expected to participate are Hempfield thrower Peyton Murray, Central Catholic jumper Xxavier Thomas and Winchester Thurston girls sprinter Monroe Law. Murray is a Notre Dame recruit and reigning PIAA Class 3A discus champion who owns the top throw in the state this season (176-5).

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.