Photo by Don Rich
If one was told after last year's PIAA State Championships that the winner of the AA Girls high jump in 2017 was going to be from Palisades, they might assume it would be Alexa Parks.
The senior finished third at the state meet in 2016, and holds a personal best of 5-9 in the event. But injury struck at the wrong time for Parks during the indoor season, and she battled a partially-torn ligament in her ankle until she was allowed to compete again in late April. The Penn State commit would recover enough to earn a fourth-place finish on Friday.
Yet despite Parks' setback, it was still the yellow and purple of Palisades standing on the top step of the podium at Shippensburg's Seth Grove Stadium, in the form of Parks' teammate, sophomore Lydia Bottelier. And it was still Parks who felt the joy of a state gold, even if it wasn't her own.
Since before Bottelier was in high school, she has looked up to Parks as a role model. When they became teammates, the two became close friends, Bottelier says, and relied on each other to improve during both practice and competition.
"We work off of each other. When she does well, I do well, and when I do well, she does well," Bottelier says about Parks. "We push each other to do our best no matter what... I critique her or tell her what she could do to clear a height, and she does the same back to me so we can perfect our jumps."
Photo by Howard Anderson
It was this team-oriented attitude, as well as work-ethic, that helped them both end their season with podium finishes. The same was the case for Hickory, who had girls--Tori McKinley, Michaela Burkhauser and Taylor Mears--take home first, seventh and eighth place finishes, respectively, in the AA Girls discus.
Both the athletes and their coach, Keith Woods, say their state medals are a result of their dedication.
"We all definitely wanted the podium," says McKinley, a senior and an Auburn commit. "We have a summer rec program that we all go to and we all work right there so that during the season we're ready to go and we don't miss anything. We don't really have that much of an offseason at all. We go from indoor to outdoor to summer and just keep going. Even in the fall we're lifting. We don't stop."
Both teams also credited their coaches' as key roles in their success, from Woods' wisdom ("He's always right," Burkhauser says) and willingness to work longer hours with the Hickory athletes to Palisades' Joshua Kline's meticulous attention to detail and high jump technique.
But the coaches in turn had nothing but praise for their athletes, who they say have put in the work they've been asked to do, and who have set an example for younger classes.
"The team spirit of just rooting for each other and encouraging each other, and not just getting down if you're not doing well--that you have a teammate that you can really count on and you can look up to," Kline said of Parks. "Hopefully [Lydia] can continue that into next year with some of the younger girls coming up."