A few hours east of where Lincoln once voiced the words “Four score and seven years ago,” four athletes from the WPIAL won national titles at Franklin Field last weekend.

It was a fruitful few days for some of the area’s top track standouts, as Butler’s Drew Griffith, Mt. Lebanon’s Logan St. John Kletter, Canon-McMillan’s Colton Dean and Derry’s Sophia Mazzoni captured titles at New Balance Nationals in Philadelphia.

“It’s crazy because it puts into perspective how good the WPIAL really is,” Dean said.

No other district in the entire country produced so many champions at the meet. Not only that, but Griffith also set a meet record in the mile while going sub-4 for the second time and St. John Kletter also set a meet record by winning the girls 2 mile. Dean claimed the title in the decathlon and Mazzoni in the girls javelin.

Griffith capped what was arguably the best year by a United States high school distance runner ever by running the mile in 3 minutes, 59 seconds. Griffith actually trailed Utah’s Zachary Hillhouse with about 100 meters left before surging in front to register the win. Hillhouse, a BYU recruit, finished in 3:59.62.

“It was a dream come true,” Griffith said. “And it was cool to see all the athletes from the WPIAL do so well.”

Another one of them also shined in the mile, as Ringgold’s Ryan Pajak, Griffith’s good friend and future Notre Dame teammate, placed sixth after running a time of 4:04.19.

Griffith also helped Butler’s distance medley relay team to an eighth-place finish. The team of Griffith, Owen Dressler, Landon Lacey and Zach Slear finished in 10:00.97.

It marked the second time this month that Griffith broke the 4-minute mark in the mile. He ran it in 3:57.89 at the HOKA Festival of Miles in St. Louis, becoming just the 22nd runner in U.S. high school history to run a sub-4-minute mile. He then followed that up by setting a meet record while winning the 2 mile at the Brooks PR in Seattle. His time of 8:31.46 was the second fastest by a high school runner in history.

“This has just been awesome,” Griffith said. “It’s been an incredible experience.”

Griffith will move into school at Notre Dame in mid-August, right around the time that St. John Kletter, his prom date, moves in at North Carolina. Like Griffith, St. John Kletter closed out her high school career as a national champion distance runner after winning the 2 mile in a personal-record 9:58.44, topping a field led by runner-up Ava Jarrell of Indiana (10:11.20).

“I wanted to break 10 minutes, which is a popular goal that girls have in the 2 mile,” St. John Kletter said. “Running two sub-5 miles back to back is not an easy feat at all, but it’s something that I’ve been trying to do for a long time, and it happened that day. I was really happy about that.”

St. John Kletter said she was not only happy but also thrilled to have such an outstanding senior year, one that also saw her win a PIAA cross country title and two PIAA track titles.

“I couldn’t imagine it going any better,” she said. “I was just super proud to get to end my high school track career as a national champion. It’s such a great feeling. And also just super proud of everyone else from the WPIAL that have been doing so well and kind of setting that standard for our district.”

Another one of those athletes is Dean, a rising senior who produced a career-best performance to win the sixth national title of his career and his second decathlon title. He had won the decathlon in the 15-16 age group at the USATF National Junior Olympics a year earlier.

Dean once again rose to the top of the list of competitors in the decathlon, using a point total of 6,961 to do it. That bettered his previous top mark of 6,456 by more than 500 points. And get this: Dean set personal bests in six of his events. He ran the 100-meter dash in 10.58 seconds and the 400 in 50.89; he soared 23 feet, 5½ inches in the long jump; he threw the javelin 171-7; and he tossed the discus 121-6.

“I just wanted to win,” Dean said. “And I wanted to get as close as I could to 7,000. My goal next year is 7,500.”

Dean isn’t the first WPIAL athlete to win a decathlon title at New Balance Nationals. Ayden Owens-Delerme claimed a gold medal in the meet following his junior year at North Allegheny in 2017. Owens-Delerme’s total of 7,009 wasn’t much higher than Dean’s 6,961. And now, seven years later, Owens-Delerme will compete in the decathlon at the Olympics.

It was also an excellent bounce-back performance for Dean, who, following a strong showing at the WPIAL championships (he won the 300 hurdles and had two other top-four finishes), struggled at the PIAA championships.

“I took about a week off after states,” Dean said. “I needed to rest completely. I hung out with my friends and got my mind back on track. I needed to get in the right mindset.”

After winning WPIAL and PIAA titles last month, Mazzoni punctuated her stellar junior season by capturing her first national title. Her top throw of 156-11 easily won her the title. In fact, Mazzoni had four throws that were better than anyone else. Lewisburg’s Teagan Osunde was the runner-up (140-11).

Mazzoni became the first WPIAL athlete to win a javelin title at New Balance Nationals since Connellsville’s Madison Wiltrout in 2017. Wiltrout won the title her senior year courtesy of a top throw of 156-3. Wiltrout collected four PIAA titles in her career. Mazzoni will aim to win her second next season.

Two other WPIAL athletes — both distance runners — also ran to top-10 finishes at New Balance Nationals. Mohawk’s Jaxon Schoedel placed sixth in the 5,000, and North Allegheny’s Jack Bertram was eighth in the 2 mile.

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.