CANONSBURG – Ryan Pajak is performing at a level that most track runners would love to reach.
What’s most impressive is that the Ringgold runner is already there as a freshman.
Pajak’s high school running career got off to an auspicious start in the fall – well, minus having to compete amid a global pandemic. The newcomer placed second at the WPIAL Cross Country Championships. He hasn’t slowed down, literally or figuratively, in the spring. Last week, he shattered Ringgold’s school record in the 3200-meter run, held by older brother Lucas, who is currently a senior on the team, at the Tri-State Track Coaches Association Track and Field Invitational, beating his brother’s time by almost 24 seconds.
Although the Rams placed a modest 5th of 12 schools Saturday in the Washington-Greene County Coaches Track Meet held at Canon-McMillan, Pajak continued to glow individually. The freshman finished 13 seconds ahead of Waynesburg’s Gabe McConville in the 3,200 with a time of 9:31.70.
Although Pajak finished nine seconds behind the previous Saturday’s pace – it is the fastest time in the state by a freshman and the third-fastest nationally – he was still pleased, and rightfully so.
“I’ve been working my butt off, all day every day,” Pajak said. “Overall, it’s paying off. I’m really happy.”
Along with a strong work ethic, a certain level of self-confidence is required for any athlete to succeed. Nonetheless, Pajak has surprised himself with how well he’s performed as a rookie.
“I’m shocking myself, lots of other people,” he said.
What didn’t come as a shock to anybody paying attention was the collective triumph of hosts Canon-Mac. The Big Macs took first overall on both the boys and girls sides. In the boys’ 1,600-meter relay, the Big Macs set a meet record with a time of 3:24.82. The success came as no surprise to any of the four runners on the relay team – seniors Blake Lauper, Trenton Jubin and Justin Egizio, along with junior Jadon Rahman.
“Just by the seed times, we knew that we were probably going to get gold if we didn’t screw up too bad,” Jubin said. “We just wanted to really chase the record and just push it, because we know we’re going to WPIALs and states, and we want to just run for each other and keep getting better and try our best every time.”
Though not entirely unexpected, the feeling of setting a record is always a sweet one.
“It’s awesome,” Jubin said. “Especially senior year. We didn’t get a season last year, and to come out and do it. We didn’t get a season last year, and to come out and do it. We haven’t run together all season really besides the scrimmage. Anytime we all four get together, we do special things.”
The Big Macs had their share of individual glory as well. Egizio broke a record previously held by Guy Montecalvo in the 1970s in the 200-meter dash with a time of 22.27, and also won the 100 in 11.07 Rahman and Lauper took first in the 800 and 400, respectively, with times of 51.56 and 2:04.19.
In the 800, Rahman exploded at the start and never was in danger of being caught.
“I went out pretty fast,” Rahman said. “The second lap was a little too slow. I got to the backstretch (and) slowed down a little too much. But the first lap felt good.”
Rahman and his three teammates in the relay haven’t had a lot of opportunities to run together in 2021, after not having any season at all in 2020. Aside from a scrimmage, this was the first time the four members were all able to run at the same time.
“We knew we had to pace ourselves,” Rahman said. “We had to run our own race in order to get the time. We heard the county record was around 3.25, and we ran better than that before. So that’s what we aimed to do.”
Peters Township, Waynesburg, McGuffey and Ringgold rounded out the top five in the overall team standings.
After the nightmare of last spring, just getting back on the track is a joy. For the Big Macs, however, the opportunity is there to do a whole lot more than show up and compete.
“It just shows what we can accomplish in the future,” Lauper said. “This is just the beginning, I feel.”