When Bishop Shanahan boys’ track coach Peter Uhlman, the 2018 Daily Local News Track Coach of the Year, saw Rick Zink cross the finish line first in the 4×400 to give the Eagles a share of the PIAA Class AAA Track Championships state title, he felt a kaleidoscope of emotions.
“My initial response, like most everyone else in the stadium, was more surprise than anything else,” said Uhlman. “To be truthful, and I am a bit embarrassed by it now, with 50 meters left in the race I wasn’t sure Rick was going to catch the St. Joe’s runner.
“As things started to sink in, I was a bit overwhelmed. Over four years you end up getting really close to the people in the program – the athletes, the assistant coaches and the parents. Day in and day out you ask and expect a lot from them, so it’s only natural that you want great things for them. It becomes very personal.
“One part of coaching is never quite allowing yourself to be content. But in that moment, watching the boys, the coaches and the parents celebrate and receiving the trophy – I had enough peace of mind to be content for a few moments.”
The morning of the PIAA Class 3A state finals, Uhlman drove to the Shippensburg University stadium with Zink. It was a quiet ride, but 10 minutes from the stadium, Zink, the Daily Local News Boys’ Track Athlete of the Year, broke the silence.
“Ricky turned to me and said, ‘I’m going to win the 400; I’m going to medal in the 200, we are going to win the 4×400 and we are going to win the team title.’”
Which is exactly what happened that afternoon at Shippensburg. Zink won the 400 meter run; then 20 minutes later placed fifth in the 200 meter dash. Then came the 4×400, which Shanahan needed to win to capture a share of the state title. Uhlman and long sprint coach Lou Corominas briefed the quartet of Jonah Hoey, Logan Yoquinto, Josh Hoey and Zink what was needed to win the race.
“Jonah had already delivered one huge performance for the team that day, having secured a vital second place in the 1600. Now we were asking him to take on another by leading the relay off – that’s a lot to put on a sophomore, but he handled it with tremendous maturity and kept us relevant in the race,” said Uhlman.
Then came a gutsy run by Yoquinto, who had battled back from two recent injuries.
“Logan ended his indoor season with a fracture of the navicular bone in his ankle, which are notoriously difficult fractures to rehab from; then four weeks before States he was finally pain-free and had just started back on light running when he irritated his hamstring,” said Uhlman.
“Five days before states we were still unsure if Logan would be able make it around the track. Despite Logan splitting a sub-50 second 400, we were in eighth place when Josh got the baton, and I was concerned. Fortunately, Josh was patient and deliberate, the way he always races.”
With a little more than 100 meters to go, Hoey, the U.S. indoor record-holder in the 800 meter run, put on a finishing kick that moved the Eagles into third place. Then Zink, the anchor, moved into second place in the first 50 meters, behind St. Joseph’s Prep’s renowned Miles Green.
Watching from high up in the stands to get a better view of the race, Uhlman said, “The gap [between them] wasn’t getting any smaller midway through the race; then with a little less than 100 meters to go, I noticed that Miles took a quick look over his shoulder. Ricky saw it too. He seemingly shifted his legs into a different gear and in what seemed like 8-9 steps he halved the gap. Ten more steps and he was nearly shoulder-to-shoulder with him.
“It was like a drag race. I saw Rick throw his arms up a full step before crossing the finish line. Folks all around me were in disbelief still wondering if they had really just seen that.”
The 4×400 performance was icing on the cake for a memorable 2018 Shanahan squad, coached by Uhlman.
“There may not be enough superlatives to describe this team,” said Uhlman. “Josh Hoey is probably a once-in-a-generation athlete. You could coach a long time and never repeat the kind of day that Ricky had in Shippensburg. Jonah Hoey is already one of the best mid-distance sophomore runners in the U.S. We weren’t even sure Logan would be able to race five days before the state meet, and we had to rely on Aidan Bracken, a first year track runner, to move us into the relay finals. Andrew Puz qualified for States in the pole vault, an event we don’t even have a coach for.
“Not only is this is a team of remarkably talented athletes; but they are also a group of really wonderful young men who reflect the joy and hope that are at the core of Bishop Shanahan. Exceptional athletes are pretty rare, but these are exceptional young men and they are even rarer.”
Uhlman has coached Shanahan track and cross-country since March 2013.
“Shanahan’s running program at the time had been struggling in the Ches-Mont; they hadn’t won a league meet in a number of years,” said Uhlman. “In the job interview I told the then-Principal, Sister Maureen McDermott, and President Sister Regina Plunkett that if they hired me I believed that Shanahan could win a state title within five years. A few years later, I choked up at an assembly in front of the student body while handing her the Indoor State trophy.”
But it’s not the championships that bring Uhlman the most satisfaction.
“I’m a pretty competitive person, but I probably speak for a lot of coaches when I say that it’s really not the titles and trophies that bring you absolute pride,” said Uhlman. “The way I see it, parents have entrusted us with their most precious asset – their children. They’ve asked us to partner with them to help them develop their children into young adults. When I sit back and realize how often our program and the coaches associated with it have had positive impact or influence on a young person, it is hard not to be proud.”
Uhlman also is proud of his coaching staff, which includes Corominas, who coaches hurdles as well as long sprints; and throws coach Geoff Long, who has consistently produced district and state medalists in the boys (and girls) programs during Uhlman’s tenure.
“I think Lou is one of the best long sprint guys around – I attribute so much of Rick’s performance to the work that Lou has done with him,” said Uhlman. “Beyond his great knowledge of the throws, Geoff is unflappable and brings the mellow demeanor that helps balance a bunch of pretty hardcore Type A personalities.
“In addition to our assistant coaches, on a daily basis, Josh and Jonah’s training with the team is overseen by their father, Fran, who brings tremendous experience and passion to the program. This arrangement has allowed Josh and Jonah access to individualized attention and a very specialized training regime.
“Outside of the coaching staff, we are supported by Titus Sports Academy, which implements our strength and conditioning program; and we are blessed to have an incredible athletic training staff, overseen by Jamie Hosan. Both have had a measurable impact on the success of our program.”