HANNIBAL — Hannibal track coach Dan Pawlewicz has enjoyed going to the state meet every year since being at the helm for the past few years.
He’s managed to take a couple of athletes to states each year, but the 2019 season is different.
For the first time in his track coaching career, Pawlewicz will be taking three of his athletes to state competition — Hunter Donhauser (discus), Fenix Burger (high jump), and John Ruggio (110-meter high hurdles).
“It’s incredible,” Pawlewicz said. “Our ultimate goal at the end of the season is to get someone to big dance. To have three heading to the state meet is exciting.”
Pawlewicz also coaches cross country and indoor track for the Warriors. The last time he brought more than three athletes to states was 2012, when he the Hannibal boys cross country squad ran at states in Buffalo and finished third overall as a team.
“It’s been a while since I’ve had more than two of my athletes to states, but this year is pretty special,” he said.
Pawlewicz said he had a good feeling about Donhauser, Burger, and Ruggio at the state qualifier meet this past week. It goes back to how they’ve performed not only on the track, but also in the classroom.
“We’re producing in the classroom and we’re scholar-athletes,” Pawlewicz said. “I always tell my kids every year I’m going back to states, but the question is who is coming with me. The kids have bought into the philosophy, hard work and setting goals for themselves.”
Donhauser is now a four-time state qualifier, two of each in indoor and outdoor track.
This year’s qualification in the outdoor track state meet is unique for the Hannibal senior. He’ll be competing in discus over shot put — his usual go-to event.
“It’s definitely exciting,” he said. “It’s a little different not going for shot put, but competing in discus is good as well.”
Donhauser has had a string of injury problems while competing in athletics for the Warriors. He’s been on the football, basketball, and baseball teams — and in each he has sustained an injury.
In track, he suffered a wrist injury while throwing in shot put competition during Hannibal’s regular-season meet against Cazenovia.
“Hunter is the wounded walker,” Pawlewicz said. “He did some damage to his wrist and now he’s truing to overcome it.”
The injury forced Donhauser scrap shot put, and try to qualify in the discus event.
“In shot, taping of the wrist can only help so much,” Pawlewicz said. “He took a step back in shot, but was fortunate enough to make it in disc.”
Donhauser said, “Shot was my big thing. Disc is going to take a little more practice, but I think I’ll get the hang of it.”
Whether it’s shot put or discus, Donhauser said it’s not easy to throw either of them.
“They’re both very difficult to try and get form down,” he said. “It’s a bit of a struggle, but I take it in stride.”
Donhauser threw the discus a distance of 126’ 5” at the state qualifier, which was enough to receive his automatic bid in the event. He’s reached 130’ before, and Pawlewicz believes if Donhauser can get between 130’ and 138’, he will reach the podium at states for the first time in his career.
“He’s a veteran,” Pawlewicz said. “It’s been incredible.”
Donhauser added, “All I can do is get better and hope for the best.”
After three years of trying at the state qualifier, Burger is pleased to finally be advancing to the state meet in the high jump.
“I’m really excited (about going to states),” he said. “I’ve been trying for three years now, but it feels good to finally make it.”
Burger appeared at the state qualifier, but he didn’t have to put in the effort to qualify like other athletes had to do.
The Hannibal senior qualified for states through the New York State super standard. The super standard is 6’ 4” and Burger cleared it three times during the regular season.
Burger hit the mark at the Weedsport and Westhill invitationals, and at the Spartan Showdown at Sodus High School.
“Just knowing I hit a super standard is amazing,” he said.
Being a senior, it’s Burger’s last shot to get on the podium at states. Despite not competing at states beforehand, he’s been there in a different way.
“He’s been to the state meet (as a spectator),” Pawlewicz said. “He’s seen what it is like. This time, he gets to compete.”
It might be Burger’s first time as a competitor at states, but Pawlewicz feels good about the chances of him getting a medal.
“I expect him to be confident,” Pawlewicz said. “Clearing 6’ 4” could get him in the top eight, 6’ 5” would get him on the podium, and 6’ 6” could possibly win it.”
Burger added, “I’m always competitive and I always try my best, but knowing that I’m a senior adds more pressure. Making it to the state meet is all I really wanted to do.”
Burger has been close to hitting 6’ 6” multiple times throughout the season.
“In retrospect, instead of going from 6’ 4” to 6’ 6”, I should’ve tried for 6’ 5”,” he said. “In order to go higher, I have to have a really good day.”
Leading up to states, Burger hopes to work on his takeoff from the jump and run through.
His goal to reach perfection fuels his drive to compete at the highest level.
“The competition at states is going to be enjoyable,” he said. “I love competition.”
Much like Burger, Ruggio will be a first-time state competitor as he takes on the 110-meter high hurdles.
The only difference is that Ruggio is a junior.
In Ruggio’s mind, he believes he had some disappointing seasons in track the past few years.
“It’s definitely new (for me) and pretty nerve-wracking. It’s something I never thought I’d be able to do,” Ruggio said when he expressed his thoughts about qualifying for states.
“Before my junior year, I wasn’t really a hard worker. This year, I started to make small goals to get up to the big long-term goal. I made it to states and I’m pretty excited about it.”
To prepare for his junior season in track, Ruggio went as far as going on YouTube and looking up videos on Olympians training in hurdles.
“I would incorporate what I saw in those videos into myself,” he said. “I broke it down and used it to my advantage in practice.”
The will to compete in the best way possible and taking some influence from Olympians has turned Ruggio into an accomplished hurdler. His time of 15.15 seconds at the state qualifier was the best among athletes in Division I and Division II.
“It feels nice being at the top and being the best in your event,” he said. “I feel confident, especially with the training I’ll be doing leading up to states.”
Before getting into the thick of hurdles at states, Ruggio wants to work out the kinks on his technique.
“I want to work on my lead leg and cutting the hurdle instead of just bringing my leg up,” he said. “I want to do the same with my trail leg so I can be quicker overall.”
Pawlewicz thinks nerves might get to Ruggio with it being his first appearance at states. However, the coach said that with the right amount of practice, Ruggio can go home with a medal.
“If we shave a tenth or two-tenths of a second (off his seed time) and get him under 15 seconds, I believe John will be on the podium as well,” Pawlewicz said.
If that doesn’t happen for Ruggio at states, he knows he has his senior year to achieve that.
“I want to get the jitters out of the way and see how it is at that level,” he said.