HIGH ACHIEVERS: Stay-Safe Edition
Keeping Local Sport Spirit High During the Pandemic
By Martin Cleary
If you were to ask Preston Schwarz to name the sport which best defines him as an athlete, he would make his choice from baseball, track and field and basketball.
The Grade 9 Ashbury College student-athlete would select baseball as he’s entering his third season with the Ottawa-Nepean Canadians organization with dedicated focus and commitment.
But if you were to see Schwarz sprinting and jumping on Thursday at the OFSAA East Regional high school track and field championships, you might define him as an all-around athletics competitor.
On the opening day of the two-day meet at the Terry Fox Athletic Facility, Schwarz won the boys’ novice 200 metres and the high jump to qualify for his first OFSAA championships, which are June 2-4 in Toronto.
The top four athletes in each event will advance to the provincial high school championships at York University.
After winning the first heat of the 200 metres in 23.60 seconds, Schwarz stepped it up a notch in the final by charging through lane three in 23.38. He edged rival and top-ranked Will Batley of West Carleton, who placed second in 23.54. Ibrahim Domiati of Louis-Riel was third in 23.83.
At last week’s National Capital Secondary School Athletic Association championships, Batley defeated Schwarz in the 200-metre final – 23.78 to 24.06.
Schwarz also led a national capital medal sweep in the boys’ novice high jump by clearing 1.70 metres, while Kai Gibson of Longfields-Davidson Heights was second at the same height. Mason Brennan of Colonel By finished third at 1.65.
While Schwarz and Gibson were successful at 1.70 metres, the former had fewer misses throughout the competition than the latter to earn the win.
Quite a duo performance by Schwarz, who entered the track and field season “kind of last second” because of his extended Ashbury basketball season.
“Baseball is my main sport,” Schwarz said in an interview. “Speed is probably the best part of my game in baseball, so track is mostly just for helping to improve that.
“Just about every weekend from now until next school year, I’ll be away travelling for baseball. And then we have three practices a week, plus extra stuff I do on my own time and then I’m trying to fit track on top of that, too.
“It has been working out OK and (track) doesn’t really feed into the weekend too much, so it has been fitting in well so far.”
While Schwarz competes in other sports, attending a good university and playing baseball are his primary goals.
“That’s kind of what I wake up every morning thinking, ‘How can I get closer to that?’ And preferably at the best academic school I can because school is really important to me, too,” he added.
Schwarz hasn’t competed in track and field for three years, since he was in Grade 6. But the COVID-19 pandemic allowed him more time to train and build himself as an athlete.
“COVID was pretty sad, when it happened. But it opened up a lot of time for me to work out a lot more. I got a lot stronger over COVID and had a lot of time for just training,” he explained.
“Then, once it finally started slowing down and I got back into games, I felt like I improved a lot.”
Schwarz had company as a double NCSSAA champion at the East Regional meet.
Luca Nicoletti of Paul-Desmarais put in commanding efforts to win the boys’ senior 200 metres in a wind-aided 22.31 and the 400-metre hurdles in 55.18.
Nicoletti knows the intermediate hurdles race is tough, but he’s learning to manage it well.
“At first, that race was gut-wrenching for me,” said Nicoletti, who plans to study engineering at McGill University for the 2022-23 academic year. “It’s long, right? A 400 is long and then a 400 with obstacles, it’s a whole other race.
“But, honestly, in terms of the mental game, it’s almost easier because with 10 hurdles, you get 10 checkpoints to go through. It’s sort of like mini battles instead of one big 400. It’s definitely an exciting race though and I’d say one of the hardest.”
Thomas Kukla-Colby of Nepean was second in the 400-metre hurdles in 58.94 and Andile Mabaleka of Ashbury was fourth in 59.39.
After the first day of the East Regionals, 46 NCSSAA athletes have qualified for the OFSAA championships by placing first through fourth in their events.
Besides the medal sweep in the boys’ novice 200 metres and high jump, NCSSAA athletes also owned the podium in the girls’ senior 400-metre hurdles.
Emily Brennan of Sacred Heart won the girls’ senior intermediate hurdles in 1:07.35 and was followed by Merivale runners Laura Cross, 1:08.65, and Audrey Goddard, 1:08.78.
Here are the other NCSSAA athletes who have qualified for the OFSAA championships, after the first day of the East Regional meet:
Sir Robert Borden
Amelia Van Brabant
Earl of March
Sir Wilfrid Laurier
Sir Wilfrid Laurier
St. Pius X
De La Salle
– with files from Dan Plouffe
Martin Cleary has written about amateur sports for 49 years. A past Canadian sportswriter of the year and Ottawa Sports Awards Lifetime Achievement in Sport Media honouree, Martin retired from full-time work at the Ottawa Citizen in 2012, but continued to write a bi-weekly “High Achievers” column for the Citizen/Sun.
When the pandemic struck, Martin created the “Stay-Safe Edition” to provide some positive news during tough times, via his Twitter account at first and now here at OttawaSportsPages.ca.
Martin can be reached by e-mail at firstname.lastname@example.org and on Twitter @martincleary.
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