Photos by Don Rich, Patty Morgan, Kathy Leister and Jim Spisak
Smith’s PR Best in AAA 3,200
Courtney Smith wasn’t sure how the field in the Class AAA 3,200-meter run would react, but she knew it was time to find out.
After about 2 ½ laps, the Unionville junior bolted into the lead as the pace began to slow Saturday morning, putting herself in position to respond to any and all challenges. The strategy worked as the state’s fastest distance runner eventually outkicked Pennsylvania’s No. 2 – Tessa Barrett of Abington Heights – as both posted PRs, with Smith earning gold in 10:24.06 and Barrett silver in 10:25.16.
“I felt really good, and the wind wasn’t as bad as I thought it was going to be,” Smith said. “So I just picked it up and wanted to see how people would respond and what would happen.
“If the pace was starting to slow down, I wanted to take over and push as much as I can and try to put a gap on. I was hoping it wouldn’t come down to the last bit like that, but it worked out.”
For more than half of the race, Smith powered against the wind, continuing to take the brunt of the gusts as she moved away from all in the field except Barrett.
“Certain laps were worse than others,” the winner said of the wind. “Sometimes there were a couple gusts, but it really wasn’t as bad as I had expected.”
Smith continued to lead until the final laps when Barrett moved into first.
“She’s a really tough runner,” Smith said of Barrett, who outdueled Smith to win the state indoor 3,000 title in February. “She hung with me so she was drafting off me for a while. That made me a little nervous. Once she moved, she didn’t really put too big of a gap on so I just tried to hang with her and then we both just kicked it and gave it all we had left.”
The title is Smith’s second, adding to the PIAA gold she won in the Class AAA cross country race at Hershey.
“Cross country is my favorite, so I really enjoyed that but it was a little disappointing for the team because we came in second,” she said when asked to compare her statewide triumphs. “It’s hard to compare apples and pears. It really hasn’t hit me yet for this.”
Shannon Malone of North Hills was next across the finish line in 10:32.88 as the top five all recorded lifetime bests in rewriting the 2013 rankings. Regan Rome of Dallas was fourth in 10:36.13, while early leader Veronica Eder of Central Bucks East ran 10:36.51.
“It was really exciting,” the winner said. “It was fun to run. I knew (Barrett) was a really great runner, and she was really strong. I could tell she felt good.”
Hard to believe she is a sophomore. But we have seen this before. So enjoy the show.
Brianna Schwartz hadn’t backed down from a challenge during the 2013 season, and she wasn’t going to let the big winds that blew through this year’s state championships change.
Showcasing her trademark front-running style, the Shaler Area standout broke away from the field at the gun and withstood a late challenge from another sophomore to win the Class AAA 1,600-meter run in 4:50.05.
“The wind was definitely really tough,” said Schwartz, who leads the state rankings for the 800, 1,600 and mile. “I figured I wouldn’t be able to get my best time here. My 800 goal pace was around 2:25, so my 800 was pretty good. I just wanted to finish strong, but it was really tough with the wind.”
Going alone into the teeth of unrelenting gusts that pounded Seth Grove Stadium, Schwartz clicked off an opening lap of 68.9 seconds and hit the halfway mark in 2:23. Her gap on the field grew to about 25 meters, and she appeared to be on her way to another convincing victory.
However, Penn Manor’s Greta Lindsley had followed a different game plan and was ready to give chase.
“The pace went out really fast, so I didn’t want to get caught up in the front of the pack and pushing myself for the first two laps through a pace that I didn’t want to run at and I know I couldn’t keep up with,” Lindsley said. “I kind of hung behind. On the third lap, I saw (Brianna) up front, she was way ahead of everyone, and I was like, ‘I think I can reel her in.’ I made a slight move every once in a while just trying to pick up my pace.”
Slowly Schwartz’s lead began to shrink, and heading into the final 200 meters, Lindsley was about to make it a race.
“I knew I definitely slowed down so I figured the girls would be closing the gap,” Schwartz said. “I could feel her right behind me.”
And as quickly as Lindsley pulled up behind the leader, Schwartz responded with a final sprint that lifted her clear and to victory.
“I caught her with 100 to go,” said Lindsley, who reached the finish in a PA#4 4:51.77. “I sadly used up all my kick to get up with her, so she still had some left. I am really happy I even came in contact with her. I am all smiles.”
Freshman Mady Clahane of Cumberland Valley closed for third in 4:57.43, while Governor Mifflin’s Tessa Mundell (4:57.76) and Mt. Lebanon freshman Kelsey Potts (4:58.40) also turned in sub-5 performances.
“I wasn’t that happy with my time today, I knew the wind had a role in that,” Schwartz said. “I feel like the time would have been faster if I would have had somebody out in front with me.”
Keenan Completes Three-Peat in AAA 800
Emma Keenan realized that Saturday afternoon might be a good time to let someone else lead a race. However, she also knew that it was no time to settle for second place.
“I got a little bit nervous because (Emmaus’ Hannah Brosky) passed me after the first 200, but I actually used her to fight the wind for me,” the Gwynedd-Mercy senior said of the gusts that battered Saturday’s events at Seth Grove Stadium. “If she is going to go out in front of me, I am going to let her race the wind.”
Competing in the Class AAA 800-meter final for the fourth time, Keenan wasn’t going to stay in second for long. There was a third straight PA outdoor 800 title to win.
“I just thought this is my last high school race, I have one more lap left to go, so just do it,” the Georgetown signee said of going to the front with one lap remaining. “Give it all you’ve got.”
As she has done each year since finishing third as a freshman, Keenan crossed the line first, running 2:11.37. The victory was especially sweet since it came in a season interrupted for two weeks in April as she recovered from a hamstring injury.
“This is what I really have trained for all season,” she said of her decision to race for another state gold as the finale to her high school career. “I know what I’ve been able to do previous years. So for this year, just kind of let states be the last thing.”
Looking back on a high school career that also included two PA indoor 800 crowns and a sixth and third in the 2012 New Balance national meets, Keenan has plenty to reflect upon.
“When I was a freshman, you kind of just go out and follow what your team’s doing,” she said. “Each year you realize it’s a mental thing, and you have to believe in yourself. You have to believe you can do it.
“Each year I just told myself you’re able to do this. It’s worked out great for me. I’m very grateful.”
Brooke Mancuso can be excused for not celebrating her victory
in the Class AAA pole vault for very long.
She needed to catch up on some sleep.
Competing on only a few hours sleep after attending her prom, the North Allegheny senior claimed her first state meet medal – a gold – with a PR effort of 12 feet, 6 inches.
“I don’t know, I’ve heard both sides of the story if you have no sleep, you don’t think as much and you just do,” Mancuso said in trying to explain her victory after arriving home from her prom at 2 a.m. and then getting some sleep while her mother drove east to Shippensburg. “I think that’s what happened today.”
Lack of sleep wasn’t the only thing the Tiger vaulter had to contend with as the field of 28 was buffeted by strong winds all morning.
“Because it’s the state meet you’re super energized and on top of it with the wind, you just blow through your poles,” she said. “Staying relaxed is the hardest thing to do for today with the tailwind because you are so excited.”
Entering the competition at a higher-than-normal 11 feet, the senior positioned herself for success as nine vaulters cleared 11-6 and five of those also topped 12-0.
“I’ve always known it was there,” she said when asked about her potential for statewide success. “It’s if I could get myself to put my head down and really dig for it.”
Finishing right behind the new PA#2 performer was Lexi Masterson of Hempfield Area as three of the top four were from District 7 (WPIAL) and six of the first nine.
“They’re all amazing,” the winner said of the athletes she faced all season long. “The WPIAL is fantastic to be in. It is I think the hardest district to be in, and that competition just raises us all. We’re all friends, and we all get along. So the atmosphere that we create is perfect.”
In the fall, Mancuso will join 2012 Class AA champion Marissa Kalsey of Waynesburg Central at Division III Westminster College.
“The coach is fantastic, I absolutely love Bradi Rhodes (and) the campus is just what I want,” Mancuso said of choosing to go the non-scholarship route. “I’m not the D-I stereotypical athlete (going to a) big school. I needed something smaller, and the family I‘ve created at Westminster already through winter clinics has been amazing and helped my decision.”
Wilmington Area’s Yohman Continues Shot Put Dominance
Jon Yohman had a firm grip on the shot put world during 2013, just as he did with the big blue, 12-pound ball he used to win the Class AA title Friday at Shippensburg University.
The Wilmington Area senior ended the season the same way he dominated it, with towering heaves over 60 feet. His winning throw of 61-8.5 was the sixth time he finished a meet in 2013 with at least one mark over 60, a distance nobody else reached this season.
“Going into today’s meet, I was hoping for a 62, 63 because I was doing that in practice, but obviously you never get everything in a meet that you get in practice,” he said. “I was happy with 61-8.
“I was really happy with the progression. It makes you look better when you get better on each throw instead of having your best one first and finishing lower.”
The eventual winner opened at 56-4.5, trailing the initial effort of 58-9.5 by Jason Coon of Schuylkill Valley. Yohman took the lead in round 2 at 59-4.5 before Coon grabbed it back with a PA#2 heave of 59-10.
However, Yohman wasn’t in second for long, as seconds later, he closed out the prelims with a put of 61-1 to take the lead for good.
“Being here, they are great throwers,” Yohman said of competition he faced from the Schuylkill Valley duo of Coon and Evan Arnott and Luke Lewis of Hickory. “It helped push me in the end.”
The finals were not without excitement, however, as Yohman upped the day’s best mark to 61-8.5 in round 5 and then answered Arnott’s PA#3 blast of 59-5 to move into third with yet another 60-plus put of 2013 – 61-4.5.
“It’s bittersweet in a way,” Yohman said of achieving his goal of being a champion in his final meet as a prep. “That’s the last time I will ever throw the shot in high school, the last time I will have my coach, Brandon Phillian, coach me. He’s my best friend really. He’s a great coach. He’ll put in the hours for you.”
Timing Error Sends Sad Message to Uniontown Runner
When a race ends at Seth Grove Stadium during the PIAA championships, all eyes turn toward the scoreboard at the north end of the facility for the updating list of times and places of each finisher.
Julie Friend of Uniontown was watching after she finished the Class AAA 3,200-meter run, walking toward a staging tent with the other top placers. For minutes, she was listed in eighth place and the final medalist.
Her time of 10:52.78, a season best and PR by about 13 seconds, appeared to be worth another PIAA medal for the California University of Pennsylvania recruit as the results stopped updating. Unfortunately for Friend, there was one name that did not show on the scoreboard – Shannon Malone of North Hills, who also had PRed in crossing third in 10:32.88.
“I was so excited and then I realized I didn’t (finish eighth and medal),” Friend said. “I was still kind of questioning it while we were over there. It was kind of sad, but I PRed so it made up for it.”
The 3,200 wasn’t the only event for Friend, who won the WPIAL Class AA cross country title and finished seventh at Hershey in the fall. Several hours later, she would toe the line in the 1,600, battling windy conditions and fatigue from the 3,200.
The result – another finish agonizingly close to a medal. The Red Raider reached the end ninth again in 5:06.14, less than a second out of a medal.
“I was pretty tired honestly,” she said.
Martin Keeps Pace, Wins AAA 3,200
The stopwatches don’t lie. Ethan Martin of Fox Chapel Area is a miler in two-miler’s clothing.
Closing with a 60.4-second final lap, the junior finished the race that he helped make, winning the boys Class AAA 3,200-meter run with a miler’s kick in a PA#7 9:10.74.
“It was very tough,” he said of the final 400. “Seeing seven guys right there, I just couldn’t settle for a seventh place possibility. I just needed to find anything in me to make sure I came out in front of the pack.”
After a 68-second opening lap, the pack of 33 slowed markedly on the backstraight. Looking to keep the pace moving, Ethan and his twin brother Colin moved into the lead.
“If it came down to the last quarter, it could have been anybody’s race,” the winner said. “And I wasn’t up for that. I decided to push the pace a little bit, a pace I was comfortable with. Still it was tough, so everybody was working, making it an honest race. I wasn’t happy with the slowdown so I just needed to find a way to pick it back up.”
With the Martins on the point, the field went through the midpoint in about 4:41. Any chance of challenging the meet record of 8:58.9 was gone with the windy conditions.
“I talked to a few of the guys before the race, everybody was really up for breaking 9,” Ethan Martin said. “It hasn’t been done in so long. We thought it was great weather, just the wind is going to affect us a ton. We had high expectations, high hopes, but I think quickly everybody realized with this wind, it wasn’t going to happen today.”
With about 1,000 to go, Council Rock North’s Ross Wilson challenged Martin at the front. The new leaders were not alone, however, as a large pack was still within striking distance.
Martin and Wilson closed the best, with Wilson the runner-up in 9:11.97 and Big Spring’s Vinny Todaro in third in a PA#9 9:12.02.
Colin Martin was fourth in 9:16.12, while another District 7 combatant – Kiski Area’s Brent Kennedy – was seventh in 9:20.16. The WPIAL’s three medalists was a bright spot for the winner.
“I am thrilled,” Martin said. “The East has all of the fun races, they have the Henderson invite and they are always going fast.
“I am always so jealous, having only three guys working really hard. To do this well at this level, I wasn’t expecting this. It was just awesome that we could compete this well with the East.”