When one of the state’s top distance runners began his track and field career, his introduction to the sport didn’t come on the track but rather in the field.

Hampton’s Dale Hall competed in the shot put and discus his seventh grade season, this after injuries prevented him from competing in the running events. Rather than sit on the sidelines, Hall decided to add some heavy metal to his personal playlist.

The experiment was short-lived.

“I finished dead last every time,” Hall remembered.

Fast forward five years, and Hall is now typically the front-runner. And if he has his way, he will close out his senior year by running to a WPIAL title and maybe even another state title later this month.

Another chapter to “Dale’s tale” was penned last Friday when Hall claimed three gold medals — all courtesy of meet records — at the Pine-Richland Invitational, an achievement this Liberty recruit called “a huge blessing.” Hall won individual titles in the 800- and 1,600-meter runs while also running a leg on Hampton’s winning 3,200 relay team. Hall ran the 800 in 1 minute, 52.92 seconds and the 1,600 in a season-best 4:14.21. The relay team, which also included AJ Prodente, Chris Belch and Jacob Bonnar, finished in 8:07.48.

Hall’s gold medal haul was highlighted by his win in the 800, as he was pushed in the event by North Hills junior Kayden Lightner. Lightner, the runner-up, finished in 1:53.00, just 0.08 behind Hall.

“That was a tight finish,” Hall said. “I kind of peeked to my side and saw him there with about 80 meters left. I just knew I had to hold him off. I felt pretty good about it, but it’s still pretty scary. Kayden is really fast and has better top-end speed than me.”

A week earlier, Hall ran a personal-record time of 1:52.28 in the 800 to win the South Fayette Invitational. The only runner in the state with a faster time this season is Butler senior Drew Griffith, who set a PR after running a 1:52.05 at last week’s WPIAL Class 3A team semifinals. 

But it was Hall who upstaged Griffith by winning the 1,600 at last year’s PIAA Class 3A championships. After placing third in the event at the WPIAL championships, Hall shaved more than seven seconds off his previous PR and overtook Griffith with about 150 meters left before leaning across the finish line to claim the win. Hall finished in 4:08.52 and Griffith in 4:08.59. Ringgold’s Ryan Pajak was right behind them in third (4:09.64).

With Griffith, Pajak and Hall as the headliners, the distance races at the upcoming postseason meets will be must-see events. Hall has been focusing on the 800 and 1,600 this season after his top events last season were the 1,600 and 3,200. Griffith (3:59.81) has run the fastest 1,600 time in the country this spring. He and Pajak are Notre Dame recruits.

“It’s certainly going to be really tough,” said Hall, the runner-up to Pajak at last year’s WPIAL Class 2A cross country championships. “Looking at it, I like to think that I’m pretty good, but Drew and Ryan are on a whole other level. With those two guys, it’s not hard to say that the WPIAL is the best district [for distance runners] in the nation.”

So, despite being a defending PIAA champion, Hall might not be viewed as a favorite in his races in the postseason. But that’s something he said he’s OK with.

“I guess there might be a little less pressure,” said Hall, who plans on majoring in biomedical science at Liberty. “Some teams have shirts that on the back that say, ‘To be No. 1, you have to train like you’re No. 2.’ And that’s really true.”

Hall, who placed 10th in the two-mile run at Nike Indoor Nationals in March, owns school records in the 1,600, mile and 3,200, but surprisingly not the 800. Mike England, a 1978 Hampton graduate, has held that record (1:51.60) for more than four decades. England was a two-time state champion, something Hall would like to match this season. Hall would also like to add the 800 to his list of school records while also going sub-4 in the 1,600.

Hall is the oldest of five children. Two of his sisters also run for Hampton and are hoping to qualify for the WPIAL championships. Abby is a junior and Rebecca a freshman. Rebecca placed 13th in the 800 at the Pine-Richland Invitational.

Girls hoopers shine

A trio of girls basketball standouts, all of them sophomores, produced outstanding efforts at the Baldwin Invitational. Moon’s Jaedin Griggs won the title in the triple jump (37 feet, 8½ inches), while Quaker Valley’s Mimi Thiero was second in the high jump (5-6¼) and Allderdice’s Bailey White was second in the 1,600 (5:21.42). All of those marks were personal records.

A pair of girls basketball players shined at the Pine-Richland Invitational, as well. Freedom senior Shaye Bailey was the runner-up in the 100 (12.49), and Oakland Catholic freshman Mia LeDonne placed fourth in the 400 (1:00.61). Those, too, were PR’s.

Bailey and Thiero were all-state picks in basketball this past season, while Griggs earned all-section honors and White all-City League recognition. LeDonne was one of the WPIAL’s top freshmen.

What’s impressive is that all of those athletes are also playing other sports this spring. Bailey, a Seton Hill basketball recruit, is one of the top hitters on the Freedom softball team, while the four underclassmen are also busy with AAU basketball. Griggs and Thiero are teammates on the same SLAAM team. LeDonne also plays for SLAAM and White for Team Cure.

Top marks

The state’s No. 1 girls javelin thrower added a few feet to her PR last Friday. Derry junior Sophia Mazzoni unleashed a career-best throw of 159 feet to take first place at the Altoona Mountain Lion Classic. Not only does that rank first in the state this season, but it also puts her fifth nationally. Mazzoni’s previous best came in her first meet of the season when she threw 156-10.

Canon-McMillan junior Colton Dean was one of the stars of the Baldwin Invitational, winning the 100 and 300 hurdles. Dean ran a 10.90 in the finals of the 100, but it was his PR of 10.61 in the preliminaries that was the most eye-popping. It was the top time by a WPIAL runner this season and ranks fifth in the state. Dean’s time of 38.85 in the 300 hurdles was also a PR and the top mark by a WPIAL runner this spring. Only five boys in the state have run faster.

Nicholas Humphries, a junior at North Allegheny, edged Central Catholic junior Xxavier Thomas and Dean to claim the long jump title at the Baldwin Invitational following a PR of 23-2. No WPIAL jumper has soared farther this season and the mark ranks Humphries sixth in the state. Thomas went 22-9 to take second and Dean jumped 22-4 to finish third. Thomas, a Penn State football recruit, took home the title in the triple jump.

WPIAL team championships

The WPIAL will crown its team champions Tuesday. The Class 3A boys and girls championships will be held at West Mifflin and the Class 2A boys and girls meets at Peters Township. Four schools in each class will shoot for titles, all of whom advanced by winning semifinal meets last Wednesday.

North Allegheny (Class 3A boys), Greensburg Central Catholic (Class 2A boys), North Allegheny (Class 3A girls) and Quaker Valley (Class 2A girls) are the defending champions, and all four are back in the final. The Class 3A boys meet consists of Butler, North Allegheny, Norwin and Penn-Trafford. The Class 2A boys meet includes Ellwood City, Greensburg Central Catholic, Hopewell and Quaker Valley. On the girls side, the Class 3A meet features Mt. Lebanon, North Allegheny, North Catholic and Norwin, while the Class 2A meet includes Fort Cherry, Knoch, Quaker Valley and Shenango.

North Allegheny has won a record 14 WPIAL boys team titles. The North Allegheny girls can match the boys by winning their 14th, which would tie the Tigers with Butler for most all time. Both the North Allegheny and Quaker Valley girls are two-time defending champions.

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.