Thursday May 16, 2013 | By:Michael J. Petro | Sports
Kelsey Krawiec (right) makes up ground on an Orchard Park runner, just like her Immaculata track and field squad has done in catching many similar large schools. (Photos courtesy of Ron Larson)
Athletes from the Immaculata Academy track and field team have been playfully dubbed by their coach, “The Queens of the Monsignor Martin.” Those queens are now increasingly extending that royalty beyond just the league and throughout Western New York.
The program from the small private school in Hamburg, which looks on its way to a fourth consecutive All-Catholics title this week, has also been flexing its muscle against some of the biggest schools in the region at competitions throughout the regular season.
With what head coach Charlie Planz also calls his most well-rounded group, which includes several dynamite long and triple jumpers, the Bears finished the Monsignor Martin season in dominant fashion at 8-0 and traveled to competitions like the Fleet Feet Invite at All-High Stadium and the Rodiek Relays at Hamburg, where they nearly won overall titles in fields of 15 to 20 teams.
“Coach always tells us we’re the queens of our league, so it’s nice to also go and have someone to try to catch and beat because it pushes you that much more to be that much better and on par with girls that have been doing this longer and with better facilities,” said sophomore Katie Lukasiewicz, one of the team’s top jumpers.
Immaculata took second at both the Fleet Feet and Rodiek Relays, competing among many of the most powerful programs in WNY with not only have the reputation but also the type of facilities to back it up. At the Rodiek Relays, the Bears finished right behind large school power Lancaster and that was without a racewalker, pole vaulter, high jumper and hurdler entered in the competition.
“For the last few years, we’ve gradually come along where we’re getting closer to these big schools,” Planz said. “This year, with the balance and speed and jumping ability, we’ve been able to stay with them. Having such strong long and triple jumpers is certainly an asset to our program.”
Six years after Planz, a Long Island transplant, began coaching at the school, his girls are still running on the blacktop parking lot, which is now lined, and jumping in a pit crafted by the coaches and athletes.
Many of the larger public schools the Bears compete against have state-of-the-art facilities, which include throwing circles, jumping pits, tracks, steeples and hurdles. Immaculata only sees much of that when they show up for a meet.
“What the girls have done and in performing the way they do, not having the facilities, it means that if you want something bad enough, you just have to go after it,” Planz said. “It’s amazing that they’re running in the parking lot, jumping in basically a coach-made long and triple jump pit and we have four jumpers jumping over 31 feet and you’ve got the public schools — with all that they have, and they’re jumping 26 to 27 feet.”
The veteran coach read that day a line that couldn’t be more appropriate for his girls and the program. It was “don’t chase your dreams, run them down.”
“This is what the girls are doing,” said Planz, who’s assisted by Laura Munson, a physical education teacher at the school. “The commitment, not only in their events, but in school and education, which is the priority, is certainly a benefit to them and their family. They’re proving it’s not what you have, it’s what you make of what you have.”
Immaculata’s track athletes have made the commitment to not only make the best of every second at practice, but a number of them work to hone their skills in events by training outside of school. Many are accomplishing high marks in only their first and second years in the sport, as well.
“I think we’ve been able to do what we’ve done because we have a huge support team here,” said junior Samantha Grasso. “All the girls on the team are like your friend and family and we have two amazing coaches. Every time you go to practice, your always pushed and encouraged to work. Just working together helps us be the best we can be.”
Going into the All-Catholics Championships earlier this week at Canisius’ athletic complex in West Seneca, Immaculata already had nine athletes that made the cut for the state championship meet. Planz anticipates getting even more to qualify since event winners at All-Catholics also earn a berth.
Among them, sophomore Megan Krawiec has established herself as one of WNY’s top long and triple jumpers and leads a contingent of one of the best groups of jumpers among any local schools. Away from track and field, she also showed off her athleticism by setting a new record for girls with 13 pull-ups at a Marine expo while at the Penn Relays earlier this season.
“We like getting to be exposed to a higher level of competition, rather than just the girls at the other Catholic schools,” said Krawiec, who competed nationally at the conclusion of last year’s outdoor season. “They’re at a higher level, but we’re still able to compete with them and hold our ground. I think it’s a good experience.”
Allie Drzoda is one of a handful of talented jumpers on a deep Immaculata squad.
Like Krawiec, Lukashevitz has already qualified for state competition in both the long and triple jumps, while senior Allie Drozda will compete at states in at least the long jump.
There is a solid contingent of seniors on this team, but still so many youngsters are already making their mark or aiming to do so. Most notably, the seniors have stood out in field events like throwing.
“The upperclassmen have been helping bring the younger girls along which has made my job easier,” Planz said. “The expertise they bring has helped excel the program.”
Senior Kathryn Halloran, who also plays on the softball team in the spring, has qualified for state competition and broken the school record in the shot put. Fellow upperclassman Kelsey Krawiec has done the same in the shot put, along with qualifying in the 100 and 200 meters. She’s also helping lead a WNY Top 10 ranked 4x100 relay, which also includes her sister, Megan, Grasso and Lukasiewicz.
Sophomore first-year thrower Maggie Girard qualified for state competition in the shot put and is now close in the discuss, an event in which she holds the school record, while senior Bailey Gawley will go to states in the shot put. Freshman Isabelle Blanchard earned a state spot in both the triple and long jump. Also ranked in WNY’s Top 10 is Immaculata’s 4x400 relay, which includes standout middle and long distance runners and sisters, Claire and Grace Attea, along with Lauren Leo and Drozda.
Immaculata’s even taken a stab at competing in the steeplechase. Although they have no way to practice for that event, Planz said there’s enough quality athletes and distance runners to be able to compete when meets come around. Katie Simon has established the school’s top mark so far in the event. The Bears are now also hurdling and on a more limited basis, pole vaulting. Seems nothing is out of the realm of possibility these days.
“Mrs. Munson and coach help us strive toward being the athlete we want to be and work toward something where we can win and achieve what we want to,” Kelsey Krawiec said. “They’re teaching us not just to win first place but also win in our heart.”
The Bears clinched the Monsignor Martin regular season title and another undefeated season on May 9 with a 74-31 win over Mt. St. Mary, which was actually one of the Bears’ closer meets during this league season. That type of dominance is quite a ways from where the program started.
“Since I was a freshman, our team was pretty small, we had zero jumping program and our field events weren’t the best,” Drozda said. “And that’s the stuff I liked to do. Now, when we go to meets and go out in the field, it’s like an automatic win and that’s the coolest thing for us. We know we have the ability and are just going to tear it up out there.”
When Planz first arrived on the scene, the cross country team had eight girls — now it’s up to the high-30s, while the track team was at about 20 girls — now it consists of about 56.
“To think, in that time, to have such a team is a dream, and the dream is not going to stop here, it’s going to continue because they keep bringing their friends and others into the program,” Planz said. “The young ladies in the building see what our team is doing and want to be part of it. To be part of something like this is very rewarding.”
Planz knew his knowledge could help bring something to these girls, but he never accounted for just how hard they’ve been willing to work. That type of effort has resulted in program royalty befitting of a queen.
“I’ve never had a group of young ladies who are committed and working as hard as I’ve seen here,” said Planz, now in his 44th year coaching.