Palmerton sprinter Monty Szukics has been through some frustrating times through his high school athletic career.
Szukics saw football injuries play havoc through his junior and senior seasons, not only on the gridirion, but to his track and field career.
He needed surgery as a junior that left him run just a couple of meets before districts. This past fall, a broken collarbone ended his career as one of the Blue Bomber wide receiver threats early.
With drive and determination, he has bounced back from the latter and has made sure everyone in the Colonial League and District 11 know he's the one to beat this time around.
"Last season was a frustating one for Monty because he was injured most of the year and he really wanted to in the worst way practice," said Palmerton head track and field coach Mike Gombert. "He walked around with his arm in a sling most of the season. Fortunately, near the end of the year, he got cleared and we were able to get him into a couple of events at the end of the year."
Szukics made it into districts in the 100 and 200 and the 4x100 relay. He finished second in the 2A 200 at districts and the 4x100 relay team took a third.
"Even though it was a frustrating season, he still got a silver medal at districts," Gombert noted. "Unfortunately, the year before, the top two finishers in the 200 at districts went to states. Last year, they only took the winner, unless you beat the state qualifying time. So he would have gone to states last year if it was the previous season."
Through it all, Szukics just worked harder in the off-season to make sure this would be a year he would remember.
"To show that I did that well last year without any training or anything was just an energy booster for me," said Szukics whose goal this year, despite his times in the 100 and 200, is to qualify for states with his 4x100 relay teammates. "The training I did this off-season that I did was extremely hard because I knew if I wanted to get to states that's what I have to do.
"That season ending injury this fall also pushed me to train even harder because I knew I missed a chance of doing something good in football, I would have to put all of the nonsense aside and just got down to business and so far it is paying off."
Szukic and teammate Alex Vignone have been training down at FASST Performance in Quakertown, run by Jason Breider, a former All-American running back at Muhlenberg College. Most of the elite athletes in the Lehigh Valley can be found at FAST.
Coming into the season seeing what he could do in the 200, Monty thought that was going to be his strong point. Then when he ran so well in the 100, he changed his mind a little bit..
"I saw our 4x100 relay team, once we got our techniques down more that's been my strong point," Szukics said. "I just feel all around we have a lot of good athletes on this team so I like the 4x100 team the most. Dallas Miata, Vignone, Travis Wolfe and myself have talked for years now about our senior year in track and getting to states. And we're doing it for a special someone and so far we're doing the job right."
Szukics' personal goal is to be able to qualify for the 100, 200, 4x100 relay or maybe even the 400 or 4x400 relay.
After he graduates this fall, Szukics plans to attend either Lehigh Carbon Community College or Lackawanna Junior College. He definitely wants to continue on with his track career somewhere down the line and he plans on continuing his training at FASST.
"The fact that he was able to earn those medals last season and even though he was injured in football again, he really worked hard in the off-season," said Gombert. "He knew what he experienced last year. he knew that he would be poised to do that again or maybe even go beyond that. And certainly that's what he's shown thus far."
Right now, Szukics has to be the favorite to win districts in the 100 and 200. And the two relay teams he is on should also do quite well.
"Based on what he's been running all year, I'll be really surprised if he doesn't go to states and win a medal," said Gombert.
SERVING FOR A TITLE ... Pleasant Valley and Stroudsburg will meet in a playoff to decide the Mountain Valley Conference tennis championship on Friday at 3:30 at Pocono Mountain West High School.
Both teams had an 11-1 record in MVC play this season. The teams split their two regular season matches with Stroudsburg posting a 4-3 victory over April 2 and Pleasant Valley answering back with a 4-3 win on April 27.
DISTRICT DOUBLES ... District 11 will hold its tennis doubles tournament over the next several days.
Class AAA will play its first two rounds today starting at 1 p.m.
Representing the TIMES NEWS area will be a pair of Pleasant Valley teams. The Bears' Vince Voulo and Jon White earned the No. 5 seed in the 32-team tournament. Teammates Brandon Desilva and Luis Gomes also qualified.
On Friday at 1 p.m. the opeing rounds of the Class AA tournament will be held.
Six teams from the area qualified for the tournament. Palmerton placed a pair of teams Kevin Dayton/Ty Green and Spencer Shigo/Tyler Snyder. Other area teams are Joe Binder/Christian Gardiner of Tamaqua; Nick Mantz/Jim Sverchek of Lehighton; Curtis Lingenfelter/Scott Senin of Northwestern; and Dalton Becker/Shane Bleicher of Jim Thorpe. None of the area AA teams are seeded.
Both classes will hold quarterfinal and semifinal round action on Saturday. The finals and consolation matches in both classes will be played on Monday afternoon.
All the action will take place at the Westend Racquet Swim and Fitness Club in Allentown.
HEATING UP ... After a slow start, the Weatherly baseball team has been playing good ball over the last couple of weeks.
The Wreckers started the season with a 1-7 record, but have gone 5-3 since then.
A huge reason for that success has been the hitting of sophomore catcher Brian Maiello. Maiello has 16 hits in the Wreckers' last seven games.
LEAGUE TRACK ... The Mountain Valley Conference, the Colonial League, and the Schuylkill League have announced dates, times and locations for their Track and Field Championships.
The MVC will hold its championships on Monday, May 7 at the East Stroudsburg South High School Stadium. The meet is scheduled to begin at 12:30 p.m. The raindate is Thursday, May 10.
The Colonial League championships will take place on Tuesday, May 8 and Wednesday May 9 at Whitehall High School. Events will begin at 3 p.m. both days. This year, for the first time, the Colonial League and Lehigh Valley Conference will be holding their league meets together. They will run the meet using the format that District 11 uses for its two-day championship where it alternates events between Class AA and AAA schools.
The Schuylkill League championships will take place on Wednesday, May 9 at Blue Mountain High School.
SCORING AT WILL ... Pleasant Valley girls' soccer player Dianna Connor has been on a scoring tear as of late.
The Bears' junior scored four goals versus Liberty over the weekend to push her season total to 22. It was her third hat-trick of the season.
Connor finally failed to score a goal against Lehighton on Monday. Prior to then she had scored at least one goal in eight straight games. She has scored in 12 of 16 games so far this year.
GONE STREAKIN' ... Palmerton and Pleasant Valley's softball teams have put together some impressive win streaks over the last few weeks.
After knocking off Bangor 10-2 on Monday, the Lady Bombers have pushed their winning streak to eight games. They have outscored their opponents by a combined score of 93-20 in those eight wins. Furthermore, they have scored more than 10 runs in six of those contests.
The Lady Bears have been on quite a roll as well. The Bears have won 10 of their last 11 games with their only loss coming to Easton 5-2. They have scored more than 10 runs in seven of their wins, but have plated a few more runs than Palmerton. In their 10 most recent wins, Pleasant Valley has outscored the opposition by a staggering 119-24.
POWER SURGE ... In a softball game this past Saturday, Pleasant Valley's Diane Klapatch hit two home runs during a 7-0 victory over Allen.
Klapatch joins Northwestern baseball player Payton Bachman and Palmerton softball player Janel Tracy as the only area athletes to hit one more than one homer in a game this season.
Lehighton's Jacen Nalesnik, meanwhile, just completed a stretch where he hit homers in three consecutive games. Nalesnik leads area baseball players with four bombs this season. The softball leaders are Klapatch and Northwestern's Horner, who also have gone deep four times.
As for team longballs, Palmerton's softball squad is easily ahead of the pack. The Lady Bombers have had eight different players hit home runs this season and have a total of 15. Northwestern's softball team is next with 10.