Photos by Don Rich , Patty Morgan, Megan Zeller, Charles Stone, David Beyerle, Gayle Rich
By Phil Grove
FLAT OR BANKED?
It didn’t matter much to Swenson’s Niager Mathis. Penn State’s Ashenfelter Indoor Track served as the perfect launching pad for a sprint double.
The senior was fast early and often Saturday, posting indoor PRs and top times in capturing both events.
"I just wanted to use my 60 start to get me right for my 200 start," Mathis said of his state meet plan. "I was more focused on my 60 start to prepare me to run the 200 today, so my 200 start can be perfect."
In the 60, the 2012 runner-up was nearly perfect, posting the second-best clocking in the prelims at 6.96 before improving to 6.93 to lead the way in the semifinals. He stopped the clock at a PA#2 (top FAT) 6.89 in the final, with Cody Minnig of Neshaminy next in a T-PA#3 6.91 as the first five were under 7 seconds.
Over a full lap, Mathis also improved on his fifth-place showing in the 2012 indoor state finale. Running out of lane 3, he was credited with a PA#1 21.95.
"I actually like the bank because the curves push me off onto the straightaway," the winner said. "That usually helps me, that helps me out a lot."
The next stop for Mathis is the New Balance Indoor Nationals at The Armory in New York City, where he said he will move up to the longer sprints in attempting a 200-400 double.
CLEARING NATIONAL HEIGHTS AS A SOPHOMORE.
Numerous equations can be used to analyze athletic performances, especially in the field events.
Boiling down Cyre Virgo’s effort in winning Saturday’s high jump state title might yield something as simple as:
Confident + Comfortable = Tied for U.S. #1.
The Fleetwood Area sophomore raised the bar on going high, moving the state indoor lead to 5 feet, 10 inches in one of the more dominant performances at Penn State.
“It was overwhelming at first, I was a little nervous, but I have confidence in myself from previous meets,” Virgo said of her first impression of the state meet venue.
Although she entered the competition as the highest jumper in the state after clearing 5-9 on February 6, Virgo started her day at the opening height of 4-10. On her coach’s recommendation, she took a hiatus and didn’t jump again until the bar was at 5-4.
“Everything was working fine,” Virgo said of her championship technique. “My approach was good, so I didn’t have any worries.”
Doubling as a standout on the Tiger basketball team, Virgo does very little if any training outside of meets. Saturday’s competition didn’t offer much in the lines of repetition as she had first-attempt clearances throughout, including at the top height jumped in the U.S. this indoor season.
“I felt confident because everyone was saying how I was so far over 5-8 so I thought that I could be able to do it,” she said of climbing into a four-way tie for the national lead at 5-10. “When I made it over the first time, I was really happy.”
Up next were unsuccessful attempts at matching one of the oldest indoor state meet records, the 6-0 by two-time Heptathlon Olympian Hyleas Fountain in 1999.
“I was nervous,” she said of her first-ever tries at the height. “I was actually really nervous, but I just went for it.”
Defending champion Megan McCloskey of Germantown Academy was second at 5-6, while India McCoy of Ambridge Area also cleared 5-6 for third. The top 11 all made it over 5-2.
FAVORITE MOSES CLEARS HIS WAY TO FIRST STATE TITLE.
Tim Moses was arguably the biggest pre-meet favorite for the state indoor championships, and the Palmyra senior did not disappoint by grabbing state gold in the pole vault at 15 feet, 6 inches.
“A state championship means everything for me today,” said Moses, who leads the yearly list at 16-2 and has three other clearances of 16-0. “I just came off (winning) the Millrose Games, and that felt really good, but this is so, so important to me to win this. I wanted this one so bad.”
The last into the competition at 14 feet, Moses had first-attempt clearances at his opener and 14-6 to keep pace with Chambersburg’s Zeb Yoder as the field of 15 was whittled to just two.
“I try to just sit and keep my game face on,” Moses said of what he does while waiting for his starting height. “I don’t really watch many other people vault too much. I get intimidated, to be honest, watching other people vaulting. I just sit there and think about what I need to do, and when I come in, do the best that I can.”
Both vaulters used all three tries at 15-0, with Moses clearing and Yoder settling for second. After clearing 15-6 on his second try, the winner’s day came to a stop at 15-9.
“I had height and height to spare, but I just couldn’t get the penetration,” Moses said in analyzing his final vaults. “What I need to work on is speed.”
In all, seven competitors cleared at least 14-0.
NEGATIVE IS THE POSITIVE IN THE MILES.
With a grassroots effort providing a nationwide push, the mile is in the midst of a track and field renaissance. A couple of negatives – negative splits, that is – by Marissa Sheva and Jack Huemmler are certain to help the cause.
Although neither bettered their state-leading times, Sheva and Huemmler backed up their ranking by finishing faster than they started and capturing state gold over 8-plus laps.
By default, Pennridge’s Sheva was left in charge of the pace in the girls’ mile, taking the field through a 1:16 opening quarter and 2:34 at the half.
“I expected to go out a lot faster,” the sophomore said. “I actually didn’t expect to lead the entire thing. I expected Sara (Sargent) or Stephanie (Aldrich) to take it out hard, and then I would come back and be there for maybe the last half or a little bit more.
“I felt so comfortable through the 800. I didn’t see the time, but I could tell it was pretty slow paced. I knew I’d have it in me to put a pretty quick last lap in.”
With 440 yards to go, Sheva was in the lead at 3:49 and started to distance herself from the field. She reached the finish in 4:58.48 for victory by 4-plus seconds.
“It feels awesome,” Sheva said of being a state champion. “I’ve been waiting for a while, so I’m happy.”
In the boys’ mile, the eventual winner was not interested in helping with the pacing, just making sure he was where he needed to be when it came time to kick.
“I was just paying attention to position,” said Strath Haven’s Huemmler, who was third in the state’s indoor mile in 2012. “Obviously, I didn’t want to start my kick in last place, which has happened before. It was all about position then. I had to make a move to get back into second after I got swallowed up, but I wasn’t too concerned about the pacing until 600 meters to go.”
Huemmler briefly led the field on two occasions, once after making a wide sweeping journey out into lane 3 on the main straightaway to move from third from last after the field swept past him. A 65-second opening quarter did little to take anything out of the kicker’s legs, and Huemmler was ready to move past West Chester Henderson’s Tony Russell and into the lead for good.
Needing only 59 seconds to cover the final two laps, Huemmler finished in 4:17.95. Russell was second in 4:19.45, with Tom Coyle of LaSalle third in 4:20.10.
"It's indoors, I'm not in the best shape I'm going to be in so I just came in here wanting to win," Huemmler said. "That’s all I really went for. It's encouraging to come out and be able to run like this especially after being sick for about a week."
FINAL SPRINT TO THE MAX.
Entering Saturday’s state indoor meet, Max Norris of Harriton was No. 7 in Pennsylvania and No. 23 in the U.S. in the 3,000 meters.
It took less than 8 and a half minutes to change that around completely.
Sticking to his race plan, Norris began his drive to the finish with 300 meters, moving from the runner-up spot to a lead he never surrendered. The senior finished in a PA#1 and US#2 8:28.93 that also is second only to Craig Miller’s 8:22.65 from 2006 in the state record books.
“My workouts haven’t been going too well, I had a little bit of tendonitis and a little bit of IT band problems so I would have been happy with third place today,” Norris said. “Today was the most shocking finish of my running career.
“I was just expecting maybe run hopefully under 8:40. I couldn’t believe when I went through the mile in under 4:30. I felt like the pace was slowing up, but I guess it didn’t even slow up that much. I’m kind of shocked.”
With mile runner-up Tony Russell of West Chester Henderson in the lead, Norris settled in and stayed close, knowing that’s where he wanted to be.
“I knew this was my opportunity, it was fun just being in second place drafting behind Tony,” the winner said. “I wasn’t feeling that good during the race, but Tony probably was feeling worse because he had to run the mile earlier. It wasn’t exactly a fair fight because I’m sure his legs were filled with lactic acid.
“I exceeded my expectations by about 15 seconds.”
Ethan Martin of Fox Chapel Area hung close to Russell and Norris, and when the winner made his move with a lap and a half left, Martin did the same. He finished in a PA#2 and US#3 8:33.63, while Dan Savage of O’Hara was third in a PA#4 and US#9 8:39.64.
NO ONE WAS MORE SURPRISED THAN BARRETT.
Deep – The first 11 finishers posted season bests and PRs.
And fast – The top two broke the state indoor record, with another trio running quicker than the previous state leader. All four under the magical ten minutes.
In a nutshell, the girls’ 3,000-meter run was something special.
A furious sprint to the finish by Tessa Barrett of Abington Heights was just enough to get her past Unionville’s Courtney Smith for the victory and a state record 9 minutes, 47.73 seconds.
“I thought going into the last lap ‘Great! I’m going to get runner-up. This is amazing,’ said Barrett, who is now US#5. “I think that energy just really fueled me.
“I got over there to 100 meters left, and I just pushed it as hard as I could. I never, never thought I’d win.”
The 3,000 was all business from the start, with the leader hitting 1:14 and 2:34. Smith made certain the race stayed serious by bolting into the lead just past 1,200 meters.
“I didn’t have a place like a certain lap where I was going to try to go,” said Smith, whose 9:48.24 is the second-best ever by a Pennsylvanian and US#6 in 2013. “I was just trying to watch the clock and make sure the pace stayed honest. We went out at a really good pace, and once it got close to the time, I just took off and tried to help the pace along and push as hard as I could.”
Smith covered the opening 1,600 in 5:12.5 before rattling off two 80-second 400s. Two more laps were covered in 79 seconds, setting the stage for the final sprint.
“I just felt comfortable,” Smith said of her pacesetting duties. “I didn’t want to get caught up with pushing and shoving. I just decided to go and give it a try and see how the other girls would react. There were so many people there, I just wanted to break it up a bit.”
With 22 in the field and the leader on record pace, the top finishers had to work their way through a host of lapped runners.
“I didn’t really notice it, to be honest,” the winner said of winding through a portion of the field for a second time. “I tried to just stay right behind (Courtney) to focus on her ponytail. We made it through the traffic. It wasn’t that bad. I thought it would be a lot worse. The runners were pretty (accommodating).”
Not far behind Barrett and Smith were Regan Rome of Dallas and Veronica Eder of Central Bucks East as four broke 10 minutes. Rome beat Eder to the line by 25 10,000ths of a second as both were credited with PA#3 9:53.59 and are now US#11 and 12 in 2013, while sophomore Brianna Schwartz of Shaler Area was fifth in a PA#5 10:01.52.
“I can’t even put it into words,” Barrett said of finishing first and breaking Sara Sargent’s record of 9:49.27 from 2011. “I’ve only been running for six weeks. I broke my femur in the fall.
“I’m speechless. I don’t even know what to say. I never thought I would be state champion.”
THE FIRST THROW DID IT.
There are PRs, and then there’s the bomb that Emily Stauffer of Cocalico unleashed on the 14 other contestants in the girls’ shot put inside Penn State’s Multi-Sport Facility.
Adding almost 2 feet to her lifetime best, the freshman leveled the field by opening the competition at a new PA#1 43-6.75. Saturday’s runner-up was almost 3 feet back.
“That’s exactly what it was,” Stauffer said of making a statement in round 1. “I was just ready to go and set the tone for everyone else.”
Entering the competition with a 2013 best of 41-7.5, Stauffer was not only aiming for a gold medal. She also wanted to be back on top of the yearly list after losing that honor a week ago.
“It was a little motivation because I wanted to use that to get myself up above (West Middlesex’s Rachel DeMaria),” Stauffer said.
Although she wasn’t able to improve on her opening mark, Stauffer had two more throws that would have won by almost 2 feet. The right-hander’s round 2 put measured 42-6.25, and her round 4 effort hit the turf at 42-4.
“It was (a good day),” the winners said. “I was more consistent than any other day.”
Although she topped 40 feet in the second week of January and was the state leader for most of the season, Stauffer still was surprised by Saturday’s victory.
“No, I never did, no,” Stauffer said when asked if she thought a state title was possible. “I’m shocked that it actually happened. I’m still in that stage of being shocked.”
Behind Stauffer’s powerful performance was a solid field with a trio of throwers also topping 40 feet. Taylor Hojnacki of Central Bucks South catapulted from sixth to the runner-up spot with a final round PA#3 40-10, while Rachel Fyalkowski of Hempfield Area upped her PR to a PA#4 40-9 ¼ and had 3 over 40. Sophia Fustos of Hickory was fourth at PR 40-2, which is now PA#5.
MARSHAY RYAN LEAVES NO DOUBT
Chambersburg’s Marshay Ryan says she wasn’t alone on the runway in Saturday’s long and triple jumps. She credits divine intervention for her double wins and a big season best that propelled her to US#1 in the triple jump.
“It was all God … to get me that far and do it,” said Ryan, whose winning effort of 40-11.5 also eclipsed the state meet record of 40-10 by Sheena Gordon in 2001. “I’m pretty tired. I just thank God for pulling me through to do all that.”
The senior knew her record effort and 2013 best by almost 3 feet was special after she touched down once in the triple jump.
“If I hit it in the right way, it’s basically how far can I go out toward the sand,” Ryan said of the importance of her second phase.
Behind Ryan was Brookville Area’s Lanae Newsome with a PA#2 39-7.75. Four others topped 37-0.
The Chambersburg standout opened her day with a narrow victory in the long jump. Her winning effort of 18-7.75 was just enough to take the yearly state lead and best Lydia Dennis of Mars Area and her 18-3.5.
“Once one is done, it’s done,” Ryan said of any momentum she might carry from one event to her next. “I enjoy it for the moment, and then I’ve got to get ready for the next one. It’s a whole new event and jumps.
“For me (the long jump) doesn’t help (the triple). If anything it could hinder because I’ve got to get used to going out for triple instead of going up.”
However, Ryan does believe that her successful indoor season – her first under cover – bodes well for a great 2013 outdoor campaign.
“It gets me pretty excited,” Ryan said. “To think about what I can do when I actually do get to practice, work on technique and be outside, it’s a whole different practice (routine).”
The phone book might be about the only place where Wellington Zaza will never be first.
During the state indoor championships Saturday at Penn State, first was the best place to look for the Garnet Valley standout’s name.
“With a long day like that, you don’t really know what’s going to happen,” said Zaza, who picked up three individual victories and contributed a leg on a third-place 4x200-meter relay. “All that matters is you have to stay focused. Do what you have to do and get it done, really.”
The 5-foot, 8-inch senior took matters into his own hands from the opening track event of the day – the 60-meter high hurdles. Zaza ran roughshod over the field and also the state meet record for the 39-inch barriers.
His prelim time of 7.84 seconds bettered Mike Wray’s 7.86 from 2004 and topped the next fastest by more than three-tenths of a second. The next time out, Zaza bettered his meet standard with a new PA#1 and US#2 7.79 and again led the field by more than three-tenths.
“Just determination,” Zaza said of what drives him in an event where those tall in stature sometimes have an advantage. “I have the job to win, and I want to win any way, any how. So set aside the height of the hurdle and go over it as hard as you can.”
Another 7.79 in the final netted Zaza gold over Central York’s Jay Stone (PA#3 8.04) and Neumann Goretti’s Todd Townsend (8.09).
With such a full schedule, the significance of competing early in the high hurdles is not lost on Zaza.
“Hurdling gets me really loose with the flexibility aspect of the event,” he said. “Getting my hips and everything moving, so that gets me really flexible for the jumps.”
Switching over to the field, Zaza opened at 21-9.5 and then took all the suspense out of the long jump with a new PA#1 and season best 23-3 in round 2 before passing his final jump of the prelims.
After reaching 22-2 on his first jump of the finals, Zaza extended his state-best mark to 23-9, which also is US#6. Khiry Twyman of Girard College was the runner-up at PA#7 22-8.5.
In the triple jump, Zaza had a round 1 mark of 46-11 that would prove to be enough for the victory. The next four rounds weren’t as fruitful as he fouled on each of his attempts.
“I was just a little excited from the hurdles, and I let that carry on to the triple jump,” Zaza said in explaining his red-flagged attempts. “All I had to do was control myself because I was getting a little ahead of myself. I was really excited. Once I calmed down, I finally got it.”
And what he got was a hop, step and jump measuring 48-11.5 that bumped him up to US#8.
“Two fouls, one more left,” Zaza said in summarizing his event finale. “It was all or nothing.”
FOR 380 METERS, IT WAS GREEN.
As it turns out, Caela Williams of Penn Wood had the best seat in the house in the final heat of the girls’ 400-meter dash.
Beaten to the break line, Williams needed every bit of the second lap to wrestle the lead and PA#1 from Greater Latrobe’s Hanna Green.
“(Green) was really good, she blasted right in front,” Williams said of the first lap around the 200-meter banked track. “My goal (then) was alright I didn’t get there first, but I’m going to go with her. Everything worked out really good.”
Having finished third a year ago, Williams slowly chipped away at Green’s lead late in the race and finished the fastest for a T-US#6 56.01. Green, who had the state’s best time of 2013 heading into State College at 56.17, ran another season best with a US#9 56.12.
“I was definitely really nervous, just all the pressure I guess,” said Green, who was 10th in the 2012 state indoor meet. “Knowing I was ranked first, everybody expected me to come in first. Watching the other heats go, I watched the times and knew what I had to get before I went out.
“I knew I was out fast. I definitely felt fast. I felt really good for the first 200, it wasn’t until the last part that I started to hurt, probably the last 20 meters.”