Burrell sprinter Rusiewicz has sights on continuing Bucs' tradition of strong sprinters

Michael Love, The Tribune-Review, Greensburg
·4 min read

May 4—While moving through junior high, Ava Rusiewicz made sure to watch the Burrell girls sprinters closely, including the groupings on the annually successful 400-meter relay.

"Last summer, I was able to train with Nikki (Scherer) a little bit, and I really got to see how Burrell and the coaches got her to succeed," Rusiewicz said of the former Burrell sprint champion who continues to compete for the women's team at Pitt. "I learned a lot from her."

Last year was going to be Rusiewicz's turn to join that elite sprint tradition, but covid wrecked the prospects for the 2020 spring season.

Instead of wallowing in sadness over the loss of her freshman year, Rusiewicz, like many of her Bucs teammates, kept working with eyes focused on 2021.

Rusiewicz has positioned herself as one of the top sprinters in Class AA with sights set on big things at WPIALs in two weeks at Slippery Rock.

"I was so excited going into last year," she said. "I was going to be on the relay that had just won states (in 2019). It was truly disappointing when the season was canceled, but I just kept training for my chance. I was really ready."

Rusiewicz ranks second to South Park's Maddie Raymond in the Class AA 100 dash (12.4 seconds, hand-held) and is eighth in the 200 (27.01).

"I am super excited for WPIALs and just grateful that we've been able to have a track season this spring," she said.

At Saturday's Westmoreland County Coaches Association championships at Latrobe, Rusiewicz ran a 13.07 in the 100 and finished second to Norwin senior Jordyn Turcovski (12.87).

Rusiewicz also finished runner-up to Turcovski in the 100 at the Lady Spartan Invitational on April 16.

"The competition against the runners from the bigger schools pushed me to want to go faster," said Rusiewicz, who also was fourth at WCCA in the 200 (27.25).

Rusiewicz also has been an integral part of the five-time defending WPIAL Class AA champion girls 400 relay.

The relay in 2019, with seniors Madi Walsh and Jocelyn Vickers as members along with the now-graduated Allee Kuhns and Olivia Kelly, also raced to a PIAA title in a school-record time of 48.99.

Walsh feels that this year's relay — ranked sixth in Class AA — still is a work in progress.

"We felt that last year, we had a good chance of repeating again after coming off such a high from 2019," Walsh said. "This spring has been crazy, and we've had to adapt a lot with injuries and missing a few meets. But things are coming together. Hopefully, we can put ourselves in a good position for WPIALs."

Rusiewicz, Walsh, sophomore Morgan Fenoglietto and junior Anna Novak finished fourth (53.72) at the WCCA meet. Norwin, Hempfield and Latrobe finished first through third, respectively.

Sophomore Sophie Ruggieri also is in the 400 relay mix.

Vickers said she is hoping to make a comeback to competition by WPIALs. A hamstring pull during a winter workout and then a re-aggravation of the injury the second day of preseason practices has kept her from official meets. She has been practicing and is gearing up for a return.

"It's been a long healing process," said Vickers, sixth in the 100 at WPIALs in 2019. "If I overrun, it hurts. It's just a day-by-day thing. "I am proud of how everyone has stepped up. Even though I haven't been able to compete, I am happy I've been able to be there to support them."

Before individual medals, the Bucs will focus on team titles. The WPIAL team semifinals feature both Burrell teams for the first time since 2008.

For the boys, it marks the first trip to the WPIAL playoffs since 2010. The girls, the 2017 WPIAL team champs, are in the playoffs for the sixth year in a row.

Both squads are set to compete Tuesday at Shenango.

"The teams have dedicated their seasons to last year's teams, especially the seniors, who missed their opportunity to compete," said Burrell coach Steve White, who said the teams also have risen above a number of challenges, including not having lane lines yet on their newly installed track at Buccaneers Stadium.

A mix of experience and newcomers has fueled the boys team, including the 1,600 relay, which ranked second (3:34.43) to Riverside in Class AA after Saturday's runner-up finish at the Westmoreland County championships.

The relay, which features seniors Jake Guerrini, Brayden Callahan, Ryan Wurzer and Ian Smola, along with sophomore Noah Kleckner, was second to Latrobe (3:33.14) at the WCCA meet. The Bucs beat Class AAA relays from Hempfield, Norwin, Penn-Trafford and Kiski Area.

"You can't take anything for granted, even this season," White said. "After losing last season, they really embraced the opportunity and worked so hard, from the offseason to now. They've put themselves in a very good position.

"This whole boys group has dedicated themselves. We have really talented freshmen and sophomores to go with strong upperclassmen. They have all stepped up."

Michael Love is a Tribune-Review Staff Writer. You can contact Michael by email at mlove@triblive.com or via Twitter .