Stories from a personal point of view
about PA athletes and their performances
Welcome to TRACKside, by Don Rich – Stories and notes on athletes, teams, coaches and races to be published mid-week during the 2008 indoor and outdoor seasons.
May 12 - D.J. Hortan/Travis Hammaker | Kristin Brandt | Chloe Schmidt | April 12 - Ryan Bell's 220-7 | April 5 - Brittingham, Shirk, Phillipy | March 11 - Carly Seymour | Feb 27 - Chanelle Price | Feb 20 - Kevin Steinberg - Abington surprise | Feb 13 - Alysha Cook | Jan 26 - Dan Kwiatkowski | Jan 19 - Alycia Williams | Karen Shump | Ijeoma Ieohma
There are a few events where the athletes share a bond that is the event itself. No bond is stronger than that which is created by the shared danger and thrill of the pole vault.
So it should go without saying that school classifications don't mean anything, other than who you're competing directly against on any given day.
Kane senior D.J. Horton and Altoona senior Travis Hammaker are not just friends, they're the top two vaulters heading into this week's district action. Horton has cleared 16-00, and competes in AA in District 9. Hammaker has cleared 15-7 and competes in AAA in District 6. But at the recent West Central Coaches Meet held at Altoona's Mansion Park, they were both there for each other, and for their fellow competitors during separate competitions.
Hammaker says what makes vaulters unique is they're continually trying to help each other, making technical observations, and picking each other up after misses. "We're like brothers," he said.
At this year's Penn Relays Carnival, Horton would get the big prize, jumping 15-9 in what are some of the most unpredictable winds in PA. "If you can jump good down there, you can jump anywhere," is the phrase Horton says he heard again and again at the Franklin Field venue.
Hammaker didn't fare as well at Penn. "I went there to jump 15' but ended up 4th (14-03.25). It's not what I wanted." His season-best and PR before West Central was 15, so he was primed for a big jump.
At West Central, the roles were somewhat reversed from Penn. With AA going first, it was Horton's chance to compete. Working on a short warm-up, he and teammate Austin Anderson had a pretty good afternoon. Anderson would PR at 14-3, a 9" improvement over his previous best. Horton would come in at 14-3 and clear on his first attempt. He then cleared 14-9 for the AA meet record, and got over 15-3 on his first attempt. Being cheered on by the small, but knowledgeable crowd, Horton went for a stadium record of 15-7. He was close on his first, but on this day, 15-3 would be his max. Before clearing his PR 16-0 at Brookville after taking the ACT test that morning, 15-3 had been his PR.
Watching every jump and making observations in support of his friend during the AA competition was Hammaker. As Horton took to the sidelines, Hammaker was ready to compete in AAA. He had set a PR of 15-0 in April at Shippensburg, and wanted nothing more than to claim the stadium record on his home turf. He had trouble during his beginning jumps, and was not sure of his night. But at 14-9 he "went huge," and was back on track.
Going for the stadium record and a school record by an inch at 15-7, Hammaker said he was not feeling good on his run-up. But his experience told him that it's not over until you've made the attempt. "I hit the block and got my hands up, and I felt it clicking, so I just went with it. It was the most amazing feeling."
The 15-7 record was his. The mark was also a big PR, by 7". Two of his three attempts at 16-0 came up short. The last one he just missed.
This week, Horton competes on Wednesday in District 6 AA at Brookville, site of his PR. Hammaker takes his shot at a District 6 AAA title on Thursday on his home track.
Then, if all goes as planned, it's off to states, and another chance to compete and to support each other in one of the most challenging, yet uniting, events in track & field.
Noteworthy: A now-retired wrester who was 2nd team all-state as a free safety in football, Horton is still looking for a college to call home.
Kristin Brandt has it all figured out. All she has to do now is get the right day, good competition, great speed, a steady but evenly building run, and just the right amount of height. Then, and only then, will it be the perfect jump. She can see it clearly. In fact, she's done it, only they've all been fouls.
But Brandt knows the perfect jump is out there, and that it's in her. And the perfect jump will put her at her ultimate goal for her senior year, and that's over 40 feet in the triple jump. If recent meet history holds, that should also give her a AAA state title in her signature event.
The Colgate-bound Central Mountain senior has been to states in the event for three straight years. She was 16th as a freshman, and earned a 7th place medal as a sophomore and a 5th place medal as a junior. But she'd really like to go out on top.
Brandt is one of the event's top three competitors statewide heading into Districts week. Only 2.5" separate the three. Her meet is this Thursday, May 15 at Mansion Park, Altoona.
In what is considered one of the more technical events, you have to be smart to figure it all out.
It's easy to say you don't want too much height to hurt your momentum. Or that you don't want to be so low you lose distance. It's all in the steps. And it's in those steps that Brandt has found her calling.
"This event has a beat to it. Yes, it's technical, but it has a rhythm, and when you get it right, it works."
Brandt has a PR in the event of 38-10.75... a mark she set at the District 6 AAA meet in 2007.
This year she was coming off a great indoor season in which she captured her first state title in the event. She PRed in the long jump. And she got off her 2nd best triple jump ever - indoor or out.
The season was calling. But just two days before her first outdoor meet, she sprained her ankle.
It was onto crutches for what seemed like a never-ending three weeks.
There's not a lot you can do to keep your speed when you're hobbling around on crutches. But Brandt kept her focus. She did physical therapy every day before school. She tried to maintain some strength with workouts. And she did her best to be patient.
When the crutches were thrown aside, Brandt was back at practice. She had earned a trip to the Penn Relays, but it was too soon after her injury to perform to her best, and she would finish 10th.
Her coach added another event to her rehab – the 100 meter dash.. "I don't like the 100, but I like how it's helping my speed," she says.
And help her it did. While her speed may not have been back for Penn, at the May 2 West Central Coaches Meet she looked like the confident, powerful and fearless jumper of indoor. Her first jump was a 38-footer. A great start. She finished the opening flight with a 38-3 and a 37-high.
Brandt's finals would be even better. An opening 37-11 was followed by a 38-9 and then her season-best, and a jump just a quarter-of-an-inch off her PR, at 38-10.50.
"That was my best series ever," she said immediately after the competition. "I'm getting my speed back, a little bit of my strength, and I'm getting my steps down, adjusting to get faster at the end."
Brandt then gets more technical, talking about arm and leg placement. But it's all good. The adjustments are apparently minor ones.
Yep, Brandt has it all figured out.
Now all she has to do is go out with the same mindset she took into her best series ever – "I just went for it because I had nothing to lose."
State College freshman Chloe Schmidt probably would not think of telling people she is the top freshman runner in the state. But there she is in the rankings. #1 in the mile at 5:00.79 (4:59.05c 1600); #1 in the 800 at 2:16.41, and probably most surprisingly, #2 in the 400 at 57.34. No, the deceptively diminutive and slightly shy 9th grader at State College High School doesn't look at the world that way. You see... comparisons to fellow freshmen just don't seem to be in her nature.
Click here for the PA girls' leaderlist for the class of 2011
If she were to make comparisons, they'd be to the entire state of Pennsylvania. And in that category, her rankings heading into her first year of District and State championships are even more impressive. She is 10th in the state in the 400. She is 12th in the 800. And she is 4th in the 1600/mile.
Not the least bit intimidated by the rising level of competition, Schmidt goes out of her way to find a challenge.
An honor student who moved to the state in 5th grade, Schmidt has been competing as a runner since she was a sub-bantam reeling off meet records in Kansas in 2002 and 2003. At seven, she ran a 2:57.10 800. At eight, she lowered that to 2:49.87 and added a 5:34.89 1500.
In her first year of track racing against high schoolers, she ventured onto the indoor oval at Penn State University and took home two medals – a 3rd place of 5:04.99 in the mile, and a 5th place of 2:15.59 in the 800.
She parlayed that performance into a spot in the Penn Relays Invitational Mile, where she was seeded last among some of the best in the country. "I didn't feel any pressure because I was seeded last," Schmidt shared. But as you listen to this emerging star, you know that the seeding didn't matter. She was in the race, and it takes a fast race to get a PR. "I was going for the experience, a PR and to get ready for states," Schmidt says.
She was happy she had some fast 400's in the bank going into the race, because the group went through the 400 in 70 seconds, and Schmidt was last. "It felt pretty easy," she said. Showing the experience of a seasoned racer, Schmidt relaxed for the next 400, and then tried to work the third lap, gearing her race for a PR.
Her 5:00.79 gave her 8th place and a mile PR by over four seconds.
Schmidt impressed fans even more at the recent West Central Coaches Meet at Altoona on May 2nd. Opening with a 2:13 split for her 4x800, she came back with a win in the open 400 and a PR of 57.34, and then closed the meet with a 58 second split in the 4x400.
She credits the open 400's she has run this season (a 58.9 in a dual meet, and a 57 split in an invitational) with helping her 800 and her mile. She even ran a 200, going 26.9.
Schmidt sees herself at her best in anything from the 400 to the mile, who will bump up to the 2-mile if necessary. And even though she likes track better than cross country – "I like the speed of track" – she seems to be looking ahead to this coming fall and a big improvement on her 60th place finish in the state meet. "It'll be better this year." Schmidt promises.
But first, it's on to a great finish to her first outdoor campaign, where she's hoping to medal and PR in the 1600, and maybe the 800.
She's just concerned with her race... and is perfectly content to leave the rankings, and the comparisons to others.
J.R. McFarland is in his 31st year of coaching at Wilmington Area HS in New Wilmington, a small town about as far west as you can go in the Keystone State. One of the events McFarland coaches is the javelin... an event contested at the high school level in only a handful of states. But in those states, few schools have the reputation for the throws – and the javelin in particular – than Wilmington.
Two of McFarland's former standouts, Serene Ross and Inge Jorgensen, went on to achieve incredible success in the event following all-state level performances in high school. Both competed in two Olympic Trials each, and both earned multiple all-American honors while in college; Ross, a 2002 graduate of Purdue University, and Jorgensen, a 2005 graduate of the University of Virginia. Ross even held the American record in the javelin during 2002, when she threw 195-8, and then upped the mark to 197 in winning the USATF title.
So McFarland knows something about the jav.
Now the school's reputation has grown by about 50' with the throw of one of his athletes earlier this week in a tri-meet at Mercer HS.
And the one thing McFarland is quite sure of is that what he witnessed on Tuesday afternoon at Mercer on a clear, wind-free 'no excuses' kind of day, is something he has never seen before.
Ryan Bell is a senior who is now in his 4th year of the javelin. When he first came out for the track team as a freshman on a suggestion, McFarland says Bell didn't catch anybody's eye. But one thing McFarland did recognize in Bell is a love for the event. And that's a coaches dream – dedicated and coachable athletes. Bell was both.
Bell's first two years were nothing remarkable with PR's in the 110' in 9th grade and 134-6 in 10th. "I didn't have good form until this year," admits Bell.
But he remained focused on improving, spending time every summer at Bill Ross' camp at Allegheny College. Bell says that he didn't really get better until a few weeks after each camp, when the things he learned would start to click. So he kept going back.
In 2007, Bell threw his PR of 168-9 at the McDowell Invitational. But at the District 10 AA Championships, he slipped to a 6th place finish with a throw of 161-3. The state qualifer is 176-0 in AA, and his school record was 170'. So his junior year, while it included a PR, was short of his expectations.
But Bell had a secret weapon, says McFarland. "He is totally possessed with the javelin. He wants to improve, so we keep working on the fundamentals."
At just under six feet tall, with a thrower's frame, plus "good speed and strength", McFarland knew that Bell had some better throws ahead this season. So he set a high goal. "I set his goal at 200 feet, and he was kinda upset that I put it so high", says McFarland.
But Bell took it in stride and they went to work on the one technical part of his throw that McFarland thought was preventing the distance that he knew was there. "He wasn't getting his hip into the throw. He was holding back."
Bell's first throw on Tuesday was not a great trajectory, and it went straight up. But after landing at 188', McFarland felt that a big one was within reach.
McFarland is not sure he saw the 220, but he saw the video, and "the angle was perfect. And so were his hips."
Both Bell and McFarland went out of their way to point out that two other throwers on the team had big days as well, improving from 130's in the discus last season, to throws in the 150's on Tuesday.
Bell is at Union this week, then Hickory, McDowell (where he'll most likely face 2008 AAA state champ Justin Shirk from Central Dauphin), Baldwin, his league meet, followed by District 10 AA, and then for what he hopes is a successful trip to his first state meet.
McFarland is pretty sure that he'll see some bigger throws this season. "I've never seen someone go 50 feet more in one year. He did throw 179 in late March, but I have no idea where that 220 came from."
Bell had narrowed his college choices down to one. But with his 220-7, he says he thinks he should make sure his choice is the right one by looking at all his options. In fact, within the first 24 hours after his throw, he had heard from two new schools. 220-7 will do that for a thrower, especially when they blow by the goal that their experienced, knowledgeable, and thoroughly impressed coach set for them earlier this season.
"I told him the other day," McFarland said. "I don't know who that nut was who set your goal at 200."
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Two of the three top seeds for the Bruce Dallas boys' javelin competition play football in the fall. But Saturday, they didn't need pads. They didn't need helmets. But they did need plenty of clothes to try to stay warm between throws. And of course, they did come armed with their javs and tons of intensity for the first big clash of the season.
Of the three, Central Dauphin junior Justin Shirk has the best resume to date, having earned a state title in AAA as a sophomore, and in two trips to Nike Outdoor Nationals, walking away with all-American honors both years. Plus, his PR is out there... 219-04 in July of 2007. Shirk is a Division I prospect in football, playing quarterback for Central Dauphin. But after his big year in the javelin last year, he's on the D1 track radar as well, and he's setting goals in both sports. Throwing the jav has become a major part of his future aspirations.
Eric Brittingham, Methacton PRed at 199-6 for the win
Methacton senior Eric Brittingham just missed a medal as a junior in AAA at the PIAA State T&F Championships last spring. By six inches, to be exact. Same distance he missed a goal by at this meet, only with a happier ending. Brittingham had PRed at the start of the championship part of the 2007 season, but a nagging back injury limited his progress when it really counted. A refugee from soccer (usually it's distance runners that migrate to our sport), Brittingham came into this season with a vengeance. Right out of the gate, he PRed by over six feet, and served notice that he would be in the thick of the competition all season.
Trinity (Camp Hill) junior Billy Phillipy didn't take up the javelin until last year. A jumper who was asked to join the throwers, he took to the event almost immediately. In his first season he set a new school record. "The record had only been 160, so it wasn't that special." A tight end and defensive end in football, Phillipy is no stranger to the weight room. But this season, he hit the room hard, all with the javelin in mind. He popped a 190-04 at a home meet early this season, suddenly joining the top of the chart in the state.
Defending AAA state champs Justin Shirk, Central Dauphin, threw 191-2 for 2nd.
So having three throwers of this caliber at an early meet made it one of the marquee events of the day. And they didn't disappoint.
Brittingham was the most consistent of the trio, and his early throw of 199-06 was his second six-foot PR of the season. It was also good enough to win this first showdown of the season. While he was six inches shy of his outdoor goal of 200, he realizes that his future lies well beyond that. Having narrowly missed a state medal in 2007 and finishing a disappointing 16th at last year's Penn Relays Carnival, Brittingham says he is "on a big mission this year." Having signed at Temple, he wants to earn scholarship support with his performances. "I'm throwing over 200 in practice, and it was another PR and school record, so I'm happy with it."
Brittingham is a student of the sport, using YouTube videos to study the best. But he also pays close attention to his competitors. "At last year's Penn Relays, I noticed Brian Moore (LaSalle, and 2nd place at Penn) doing something, and the next meet I threw 186, then 187 at SOL."
Billy Phillipy, Trinity, was 3rd, off his season best of 190-4.
Shirk says he a different kind of student of the sport. "I learn by getting my hands dirty. I watch YouTube, but I am a more learn as I do person." His progression from a 198-7 as a freshman to his big 219-4 as a sophomore is testament to that view. And his progress has been so good, he is determined to compete in both football and the javelin at the Division I level. And that, Shirk says, is just a stepping stone to his ultimate goals of possibly competing in the NFL and the Olympics. "I know doing both in college will take a lot of time out of my college experience, but I'm willing to do that to make my future goals come true."
While he wasn't entirely thrilled with his 2nd place effort of 191-02, he seemed resigned to accept it, especially given the cold. "I like warm. It's a different mindset going into it. And this weather makes me feel tense."
Needless to say, two schools on his early college list are in warm weather states, North Carolina and Arizona State; the latter where former Central Dauphin teammate Ryan Whiting is rewriting the collegiate record books in the shot put.
Shirk says he's aiming for JR Nationals in Ohio over the Nike Outdoor Nationals the same weekend in June. But first he has unfinished business at the Penn Relays, and the task of repeating as a state champion. His growing hands-on knowledge of the event and his confidence portend some big throws to come.
Phillipy, in his 2nd season of the jav,
observes two-time all-American and defending
state champ Shirk, and was impressed with his arm speed.
New to this level of competition, Phillipy said he was affected by the wind. But he was also well aware of his new competitors, and quite cognizant of the fact that his new PR of 190-04 had made him one of the ones to watch.
Combining the observational learning style of Brittingham, with the hands-on style of Shirk, Phillipy seems to be taking full advantage of the resources he has around him. "My coach has national experience from college, so he knows what he is talking about. Everything I've learned, I've learned from him." Asked what he saw from the two guys who finished ahead of him with the #2 and #4 throws in the country, Phillipy was quick to point out their strengths. "Shirk has a quick arm. His release is very fast. And Brittingham definitely pulls through the point really well."
While Phillipy is AA and Brittingham and Shirk are AAA, the three are sure to meet again at some point. The next time it'll probably not be as cold. And next time, it's definitely going to take over 200' to claim the win. After all, this time they were just getting warmed up.
Central Cambria senior Carly Seymour didn't come into the 2008 PTFCA Indoor State Championships with a goal of setting a new state record in the 3000 meter run.
First, there was the challenge of trying out a new racing strategy that didn't exactly lend itself to setting state records.
Secondly, there was the issue of the long layoff between cross country and indoor track.
And lastly, there was the biggest issue when it comes to setting state records – before you can set one, it helps to know what it is.
Seymour obviously overcame all three issues to run the all-time best 3000 meters by a PA girl. The record of 9:55.26 had been set by West Allegheny's Lauren Schaffer in 2001 on the very same Penn State University track.
Seymour (right), stuck to her new strategy of a controlled early pace with fellow elites Kacey Gibson (#249) of Neshannock, and Megan Lutz (#245) Nazareth Academy.
The 2008 race started exactly as planned for Seymour. She and her coach, Randy Wilson, had been working on trying out a new race strategy in preparation for Seymour's main objective for her senior outdoor campaign – to compete well at the front of the Nike Outdoor Nationals 2-mile race in June. Known as a frontrunner by her competitors (and anyone who has seen her race), Seymour has always been comfortable going out hard and taking away any chance of a comeback by others.
But in her transition from a top competitor in Pennsylvania to a nationally elite runner with two Foot Locker all-American awards on her resume, Seymour and Wilson had noticed something that needed to be addressed. When racing against the elite in her events, Seymour didn't have the energy at the end to finish as strong as she'd like.
Approaching the mile, Seymour starts her planned push of the pace.
The new strategy was to control the pace.
That's easier said then done for a runner like Seymour, whose personal racing style is naturally more aggressive. "I'm going to have to learn different things running in college, so I might as well start now," reflected Seymour following the race.
She followed the plan to the letter. Go out with the group for seven laps and then "kick it in to make sure the rest of the field has no chance to stay with you."
But something else was on her mind as she started to race. Her conditioning.
Simply, Seymour didn't think she was in shape to go sub-10 minutes, especially utilizing a strategy of patience. After all, she had taken a full month off following cross country. "I was pretty tired," Seymour understated. "And I have learned that I do better when I recover a lot more, and come back stronger."
Not that it was easy for her. She missed running "the very first day" she was in rest mode. But she relied on her support system to get her through, as coaches, family and teammaates continually reminded her of the value of rest and recovery.
The gap rapidly widens after the 1600 in 5:12.
Seven laps into the race, Seymour was settled into the front of the pack, and comfortably cruising to what she planned to simply be a win. She came through after eight laps at 1600 meters in 5:12.
And then her plans changed. Or to be more precise, her plans were changed for her.
If there is one thing you can count on from PTFCA Indoor States announcer Bill Lott – who doubles as head girls' coach at West Chester Henderson – it is knowledgeable information in real time. And that's exactly what Seymour got.
"This guy started announcing that I was on a record-setting pace," Seymour said. "I hadn't even known what the record was. But then he kept announcing it and it got be pumped up."
With four laps to go, the sight of Seymour passing other runners and with the encouragement of Lott and an increasingly energized crowd, Seymour knew she had no choice but to go for it. "I felt really, really good. Probably because of the early pace," Seymour says. And rolling she was.
With 100 meters to go, you could see her determination, and it indeed looked like she was running all downhill on the banked track. "That last 100, I just closed my eyes and was saying 'oh man, just keep pumping... keep going because I knew I was so close to that time. I just pushed it to what my limits were."
Crossing the line, there was a second of silence. Seymour made a quick glance toward the scoreboard – AFTER crossing the line – saw the 9:54-point something, and did an entirely understated, but obvious double fist pump, knowing she had beaten the old mark.
Eyes closed, Seymour uses everything she has on the finish, setting the new state-best 3000 mark at 9:54.56, bettering the 9:55.26 by West Allegheny's Lauren Shaffer, set in 2001.
The crowd rewarded Seymour with their cheers. Her all-time state best mark would be one of three on the day.
The race ended the prep indoor career for Seymour. She says she was actually more pleased with breaking 10 minutes in the 3000 than the state record, but she'll take both.
She likes the new strategy. "It seems to work better – saving it and then having a lot at the end."
Seymour hopes her senior finish is a big one at the Nike Outdoor Nationals in June. "I'm taking it easier, unlike last year, where at the end I didn't think I could go to outdoor nationals with a strong chance. But this year, I really want to slowly lead up to that so that I peak at national time."
Sounds like Seymour won't need an announcer to tell her where she is in June.
Note: In an interesting twist, the all-time state best for the girl's indoor 3200 meter run is owned by one of this year's PTFCA Hall of Fame inductees – Lois Brommer, a 1982 grad of Mechanicsburg High School. Brommer; who was at this year's meet for the HOF ceremony, ran 10:26.9. She, like Seymour, was all-American in cross country, finishing 2nd in her senior year at the Kinney (Foot Locker) Championships.
A spent Seymour receives congratulations from fellow Foot Locker all-American Kacey Gibson, 2nd in 10:09.83. Meghan Lutz would finish 3rd in 10:14.18.
Racing against people who have achieved greater things than you have achieved can be intimidating. It's a right of passage that every athlete must endure.
Very few athletes go through their careers without a few missteps. It's part of the learning curve. Part of the growing. Part of the sport.
And it's a truth found at any level... from the fastest middle school miler entering their first high school race, to an athlete who makes an entrance onto the elite stage after dominating throughout high school.
Easton 800 meter star Chanelle Price actually sailed through her first trial by fire at the world class level, surviving two qualifying rounds at the 2007 USATF Outdoor Championships to make the final on her first try. During indoor that year she had run the 4th best prep 800 ever. She then put herself near the top of the outdoor list during those outdoor champs, closing with a 2:02.38 PR, and #5 prep all-time. "I just ran," Price says.
Price's second encounter with many of the US elites of her event didn't go nearly as well. And it certainly didn't go as planned.
The seeds of her race in the trials of the USATF Indoor Championships at Boston's Reggie Lewis Center may have been sewn in the differences between her 2007 indoor season and this year's. In 2007, she ran one indoor 800 in late December, clicking off a 2:08.76 prior a 2:07.30 in mid-January, before unleashing her breakthrough PR 2:04.96 at the PTFCA Indoor State Championships in late February. This season, Price started with a 2:08-low in late December that was nullified for a lane violation, and then reeled off six more 800's in January and February before her 12th place 2:08.39 at USATF Champs. Ironically, her best times leading up to season's end in both years had been 2:07.30's. Last year was about the mile (she competed at Millrose), and this year is about her specialty.
But Price doesn't think it was the quantity of 800's that affected her race at USATF Indoors, but more the lack of fast 800's. "That definitely hurt my confidence coming into the meet." Price says. "The 8's this year were just to win and qualify for meets." (Colgate and USATF). She came into Boston with the sole purpose of seeing where she was in training – training which she says is even ahead of last year's. "My splits in training (600's in 1:28 range) are starting to feel easier. I know I was ready physically, but mentally, I wasn't in it this week."
So the seeds of uncertainty were there. "Before the race, I was even doubting myself." She says she was worried about advancing into the small final of six, pulled from the winners of each of three heats and the next three fastest times. The qualifying process definitely set up for strategic races. "I was thinking too much. I never worry about advancing."
Heading into a race of this caliber with even a little bit of doubt can have a huge effect. But Price also was trying a new racing strategy... one she is pretty sure she has to master if she is to compete successfully on the world stage. The strategy is to sit and then drive the final 200-250.
"This wasn't how I run the 800. I usually go out, and never usually come through over 60."
Price says she and her coaches agreed that a 61-point would be a good pace, and that the heats would probably be coming through the 400 at about that or 62. As the race unfolded early, Price found herself making the cut from lanes in an unfamiliar position – behind another runner. But she knew it was part of the plan. She adjusted and dropped in behind eventual champion Nicole Teter. The pack came through the 400 in 62.5.
But something else was happening. "I'm not good at pack running," Price admits. "But it's something I have to get used to (for the upcoming Olympic Trials in June), because I can't come through in 58-59 in every single round."
The position of following others was unfamiliar territory. And if she had come through even as planned, a 61 would have put her in the lead. "I just like to be in the lead and go... have everyone looking at my back. Unfortunately, I was looking at other people's backs."
The surging began with a little over 200 to go, and Price appeared to attempt to match the pace. But it wasn't happening. By her own account, she may have let a little panic seep in. "I wanted to go, but I didn't. I can't panic when someone pulls up on me or is ahead of me," she said. "And this really hurts because I wanted to be running today (the Sunday final). I wanted to PR. I wanted to hit as close to two minutes as possible because I know I can. Physically, I'm ready. Mentally, I just wasn't there."
Following the race, Price says her coaches explained that she just wasn't used to the strategy or the pack running. "They said it's something these girls see all the time, and that I just wasn't used to it."
Price doesn't plan to wait too long to have a great race. On Saturday March 1 at the PTFCA Indoor State Championships on the fast Penn State University track, Price will open by "putting it all out there" in the 400 against good friend and sometimes training partner Ije Iheoma of Central Bucks South. Following the boy's 400, the Hall of Fame inductions, and the finals of the 60 hurdles and dash, Price will again be on the track in the 800. "My legs may be tired, but mentally, as the day goes on, I get stronger. So I;m going to come back and go all out - especially after yesterday (USATF)." She'll then close out her Pennsylvania state indoor career by anchoring the Easton 4x400 meter relay.
But Price says that her ultimate goal for indoor is to get back into that low 2 minute territory at the National Scholastic Indoor Championships in mid-March. "Nationals is where I really want to show what I have. Before the race I don't have to worry about (advancing), so I'm just going to out there and do what I have to do. I don't know if I'll get that 2:01 record, but hopefully I can beat my indoor PR."
A silver lining in the USATF Champs experience was an unexpected boost of goodwill from her competitors. Price recognizes that this is their profession, and that she was just a high schooler coming into their world - a world where they have to perform to live. "Last year (at USATF outdoor), they didn't care who I was. But this year, they showed some respect and said 'good luck'... you're the future. Even after, they said that 'it's a race. You have time to prove yourself.' It helped to hear that."
That kind of encouragement is good for an athlete to hear. Because without it, they'll never make the next level – no matter what level that is.
Kevin Steinberg's competitors at the March 1 PTFCA Indoor Championships may want to keep an eye on him during early warmups. Sometimes you can tell how a person is feeling. And if Kevin is feeling good, he could be in for a big day, just like the one he had on Saturday February 16th at the TFCAGP Meet of Champions at Lehigh University.
Steinberg was "feeling good" that day, and proceeded to add one school record to the two he already has earned this season. On top of that, he won two individual events and one relay to make the day even sweeter.
And he's just learning the sport.
Steinberg hands off to teammate Nick DeFeao in the opening win in the 4x200. He split 22.3.
Neshaminy head coach Chuck Lumio says he has known Kevin since middle school. But like many good all-around athletes, Steinberg "got locked into football" when he entered high school. The wide receiver on the gridiron, and point guard on the basketball court says he was always the fastest kid on his team. But when Lumio approached the football coach after Steinberg's junior season and asked Kevin to give track a try, he said yes.
In his first outdoor season, Steinberg tied a school record of 10.7h in the 100, matching him with Starlord Pickett from 1987 and Kitt Anderson in 2006. He hit 11.15 FAT at Districts, making the semis in his first try at that level.
Steinberg followed up his 4x200 with a win in the 60.
"Outdoor got me hooked," says Steinberg. "I got so much faster from the beginning of the season to the end."
Football came and went, and it was decision time for the senior between another year of basketball and his first time in indoor track. "Coach Lumio told me if I'd do indoor, I'd be faster for college, and faster for football. It's really worked out."
One of his favorite aspects of the sport is the type of team he found. "Now my teammates are my best friends. I'm having a great time, but winning is always fun.
Win is what he did at the Meet of Champs. He opened the individual events with the fastest qualifier in the 60 meter dash trials and then came back in the finals to win in 6.99 seconds. A week earlier he had run 6.95 to win at the PTFCA Track Carnival, also at Lehigh. That mark broke Chase Holt's time of 7.08 as the Neshaminy school record and is currently PA#1. Early in January he had run 6.50 at the Armory in the Hispanic Games to eclipse the school's 55 meter record of 6.60, which had been held by Wayne Demore.
A short time later, Steinberg came back in the 200 and set a PR and a school record, running a 22.41 200, now PA#4. The record of 22.57 had been held by Cyrus Wesley.
Steinberg had helped open the meet, running a leg of the Neshaminy's winning 1:32.15 4x200 meter relay. Neshaminy currently is PA#4 with their Hispanic Games time of 1:31.95.
Steinberg finishes his day with a PR, school record win of 22.41 in the 200.
Steinberg looks to contribute to the team's success at the upcoming state meet. "I haven't run the (open) 200 on a banked track yet, so I can't wait for that."
Adjusting to his new sport has taken a lot of work. Coach Lumio says they're always working on the little things, from starts and form to race strategies. Steinberg says the only real adjustment for him was getting used to the "distance training." He says he wasn't conditioned enough for the 200 and that the "long 400's" were tough at first.
His goals for indoor included getting some school records. He'd like to improve on those and add some medals at States. And he's looking forward to adding more school records in outdoor and getting as far as he can in Districts and States.
Steinberg has visited a few Division II and III schools, and has an offer or two on the table. But with his recent success, he's hoping to attract the attention of a few Division I schools for his new sport, track. "If I couldn't do both track and football, I'd just run track," says Steinberg. He concludes... "I think I have more of a future in track."
If his progress since spring is any indication, it appears that Steinberg is just getting warmed up.
Have you ever seen an athlete refuse to give up? Of course you have. And when you do, it's one of the most incredible things to behold.
The specific race is the 800 meters – that painful cross between a sprint and a run. The meet is the DVGTCA Meet of Champions on Friday night February 15 on the flat Lehigh University track.
The match-up is between a proven star, and a soccer player-soon-to-be-lacrosse-player pulling away after just 200 meters to form a two person pack. Nearing 400 meters, a gap forms between the two.
The trailing athlete has a choice. Let the eyes drop to the track, and with it, any hope for a win.
The eyes stay focused. The mind spins. A recent missed opportunity is recalled. And instincts take over.
The gap remains the same for one more lap. Still, the gaze and the resolve remain in the trailing runner. Until... with time and space running out, the heart takes over. The gap begins to come down. Doubts dissipate. This could still be a race.
Heart pounding, two athletes round the final bend. The familiar "whoooo - whoooo" starts to echo down the homestretch as the unknown has closed to within striking distance.
Can it be? An unknown about to catch and pass one of the top 800 runners in the state in her marquis event?
The shoulders are now nearly side by side. And the expected winner – used to winning most races she enters – puts in a final surge to edge out the unknown by a few tenths of a second.
No one in the building is surprised by the winner – Shaniel Chambers of Chester. But during the race, even the announcer was calling the upstart challenger by her school – Abington.
Meet Madlyn (or Maddy), Evans. A junior with a nose for competition and a hunger for the win.
Her time of 2:18.73 was a big PR. Just .41 behind Chambers. And at PA#7, within three seconds of Chambers' spot in PA#2.
Evans' PR had been set at the December 28th Burdette Indoor Classic when she won in 2:24.66. As a freshman, she had been in the 2:24-2:35 range. As a sophomore, she was late to the season because of a knee injury sustained during her #1 sport, soccer.
Right: At the start of the final lap, Shaniel Chambers appears to have the race well in hand. But by the end, (below) it is close.
So this indoor season, in a sport she has done part-time since 7th grade, Evans was aiming for bigger things. Mostly scheduled to run a leg on the school's 4x800 relay, she was to get her first post-Burdette open 800 opportunity at the February 9th PTFCA Indoor Carnival.
Truth be told, she missed the check-in after coming in late from her warm-up.
So she set the Meet of Champs for some redemption. "I was really ready to make up for it" at MOC, Evans said.
To make it more of a challenge, she got sick two days before the meet.
But she was not to be deterred.
Evans says that at the start of the third lap, she could see Chambers start a surge. Evans held on.
"By the beginning of the fourth lap, I was saying to myself, 'you know what... I'm just going to go for it.'"
She gave it everything she had. And it turned out to be one of the most entertaining finishes of the day.
While happy with the time, Evans is focused now on the open 800 at States. "That's what I'm working for. I've never even seen a banked track... so I'm excited."
Don't expect to see any surrender in this athlete.
Sometimes the wishes of an athlete and the needs of the team converge, and life is good.
That is the short story of Alysha Cook and the Harrisburg High School Track & Field team. Here's the longer version.
Cook says she has been asking her coaches to try the hurdles since the 8th grade. "I tried it in 9th grade," she says... "but the coach kept me with the sprints."
And with good reason. As a freshman, she ran 12.47 in the 100 dash and 57.28 in the 400. As a sophomore, she PRed in the 200 in 25.21. So her future appeared to be clearly in the non-obstacle sprints.
But Harrisburg – always in search of a team title indoor and out – was looking for points for this indoor season. A top hurdler from last year, Lhayana Dallas, had graduated. Another top hurdler on last year's team, senior Tericka Clark, is playing basketball this winter. So that left Carlysha Townes, also a senior, as the sole hurdler for indoor. And she dipped below 9 seconds in the 55 hurdles in late December. That was good.
But one hurdler is not enough. So Cook got her wish. Following the January 4th meet at East Stroudsburg where Alysha won the 55 dash, her coaches told her she was going to get a shot at the hurdles.
Her first attempt in competition came a week later at Kutztown in the Maroon & Gold Invitational. It was not successful. She fell. Hard.
But coming off a sophomore season in which she struggled with a chronic hamstring injury, Cook was not to be deterred. After all, she had waited years to get the chance at the hurdles, and she wasn't going to waste the opportunity. "I'm just determined I want to run them well. I just want to prove to my coaches that I was going to do them hard."
She only had to wait six days for redemption, running a PR of 8.69 for the 55 hurdles to win from the first of four heats at Franklin & Marshall on January 18th. She edged Townes, her teammate, for the first win in the event. Two weeks later she was back at Kutztown – site of her spill. She won again, and set another PR, this time at 8.51 for 55.
Assistant coach Keith Edmonds and head coach Angel Doyle
– (photo courtesy Harrisburg T&F)
But her next race wouldn't be so easy.
Harrisburg assistant coach Keith Edmunds says they could see the evolution of a hurdler right before their eyes. "You could see how fast she was. So it was just a matter of improving her mechanics." And that is exactly what Edmunds says hurdles coach Jimmy Manning has been working on. And he has a willing student, because as Edmunds observed, "Alysha studies everything, and she really wants to do the hurdles, so she is focused."
Obviously she is a quick study, and those drills, combined with a renewed work ethic, have put her near the top in the state and nation.
And in fact, the top in the state and nation is exactly who she had to face in her 4th-ever indoor hurdles race – Ryann Krais of Methacton.
Cook didn't back down. "Coming into the day, I knew Ryann (Krais) was going to be the top competitor. So my coach said you can beat her if you run in between (hurdles). I tried, but she got first, I got second."
Krais was ahead from the first hurdle, but by the end, Cook had made up some ground. The final times were Krais, 8.61 - a meet record and just .01 off her PR, and Cook, 8.77, and tied for #6 in the country.
After the race, Cook sounded like someone who was just happy to be improving, and very pleased with her race. "...her time improved and my time improved. Competition between two people who want to win is really important."
While Cook's favorite race remains the 200, she is confident she has caught the eye of her coaches and her competitors, and is looking forward to her next meeting with Krais at states. "Maybe at Penn State, it will be a different outcome, or at least it will be a better time for both of us."
As for her future in the hurdles? "Coach (Angel Doyle) told me after what she saw at Lehigh, I could stick with the hurdles."
Look for Alysha in the 100 hurdles when the sport moves outside, as well. Just don't blink.
Every year there are athletes who emerge from the pack to take a place among the best at an event in their district or even their state. But once in a while an athlete emerges from that pack to take a place at the top of their event – nationwide.
Dan Kwiatkowski is the first PA track & field athlete to make that jump in 2008. And the jump is huge. Actually, the throw is huge.
Photo: Jan 25 2008 - five throws over 60' with one a US#1 63'
Dan is a shot putter, and now leads the MileSplit Network national rankings in the event with his recent throw of 63-00.00. That is an astounding jump of seven feet from his outdoor best in 2007.
(NOTE: His series at the 1/25 TSTCA Indoor Meet #4 at Slippery Rock University was 60-10, 61-02, 60-03, 61-09, 63-00, Foul)
VIDEO: Dan Kwiatkowski's 63' Shot Put, courtesy of Erie McDowell
The 6-foot-two, 295 lb. Kwiatkowski seems only slightly amazed by his dramatic improvement. He and his throws coach at Erie McDowell agree that the root of his "overnight success" is a lot of hard work, and a re-dedication to the sport.
"He's grown into his body," says Max Alwens, who has guided the McDowell throws program since 1989. "With a lot of kids, their quickness and coordination comes later. I could see at the start of indoor practice that he was a lot quicker."
But Alwens quickly adds that even with added quickness and reaching a comfort zone with his size can only go so far. "He's leaner than he was last year, and he's obviously a lot stronger."
Kwiatkowski smiles when he thinks about what is making the difference this year – his senior year. "Hard work definitely pays off. I'm learning that now, because I didn't work so hard in the years past."
A football player on the side in his freshman and sophomore years, Kwiatkowski left that behind last year to concentrate more on the shot. Recruited to the track team "because I looked like the right body build," Dan says he has been having fun ever since.
Coach Alwens agrees. "He loves throwing. Even as a freshman, he really enjoyed it. He takes it seriously and is a student of the event."
His progression through the distances has been steady, but certainly not as spectacular as this year. As a freshman, he threw 45', followed by a 51' best in his sophomore year, and a 56' during his junior campaign. He finished 5th with a throw of 55-08.25 in the PIAA state championships, just behind teammate Chad Noce (56-01.75). Their combined 11 points helped McDowell to win the team title. And it was that win that Alwens believes may have been one of the catalysts to Dan's dedication to preparing properly for his senior year.
Dedication is the word.
Following an unofficial visit to a western PA college, Kwiatkowski returned with some advice and a plan for getting serious about weight training. Over the summer his three days a week earned him not only a stronger presence in the ring, but a faster, leaner body (He has actually gained 20 pounds – the right kind of pounds) that could now take full advantage of his quickness and overall athletic ability. For those who must know, his bench max is now 375, he squats 550 and cleans 350.
And he's still lifting two to three days a week and training through this part of the season.
As for college, Dan is wide open. After all, until a month ago, he was known as a mid-50's shot putter. But throw over 60, and you start to get noticed.
A glider his first three years of throwing, Kwiatkowski says he'll stick with what is working until college, and then see what advice he gets about switching to the spin.
Photo: 2007 Outdoor States - 6th place for AAA team champs McDowell
Coach Alwens says he has always promoted the glide at McDowell, and is a strong advocate of the method with high schoolers. "A lot can go wrong (with the extra move) in the spin. We use the glide for consistency's sake.
Gary Aldrich, the current vice president of the National Throws Coaches Association and Associate Coach at Carnegie Mellon University in Pittsburgh, agrees. He says the glide gives a coach the opportunity to teach the athlete to be concerned with the toe board. He also sees the choice as dependent upon the athlete's makeup. "If they can't work through bad throws, stay with the glide."
Both Alwens and Aldrich think that Kwiatkowski could be a candidate for the spin in college. The glide has virtually disappeared at the Olympic level simply because the spin does hold the advantage of greater potential for distance thanks to the longer push. "If the athlete has coordination, body awareness and agility, they're a candidate for the spin, no matter what their height," concludes Aldrich.
Alwens also sees the hammer and weight in Kwiatkowski's collegiate future.
But that's in the future. And Kwiatkowski has a lot of business to tend to the remainder of his senior campaign.
He'd like nothing more than to improve a lot on his 20th place at last year's Nike Indoor Nationals.
And if Kwiatkowski has no idea about his potential for the rest of this year, he can easily be forgiven. After all, his first competitive venture over 60' came on January 11th with a throw of 61-11.50. And his January 25th series with five throws over 60 (plus one foul) was a first as well. So Kwiatkowski is cautiously optimistic. "I'd like to throw in the 65 range, but hope I can throw farther. The sky's the limit, I hope. I just don't want to put a cap on it."
His coach is equally as open-minded about Kwiatkowski's potential this year. "I knew he was going to have a good season, but I am a little surprised that his jump has been so dramatic. I thought he would be 58-59, and then maybe, if we were lucky, over 60 in outdoor season. I have been very pleasantly surprised."
Ever the coach, Alwens says he sees little things in the 63-footer that can be better. But he's not complaining. "Dan is coming really close to what we want. And he's going to get stronger.."
Alcia Williams photo by Vic Sailer, PhotoRun.net
There are many athletes who graduate from college and are left with the feeling that they didn't accomplish everything they wanted to during their collegiate careers. Most move on with their lives, content to hold on to those memories and to make their mark in their chosen profession.
But a few just can't shake the feeling that they could have accomplished more – that if given the time and circumstances – they can do some great things.
Alycia Williams is one such athlete.
The April 2007 graduate of Florida State University made a visit to the New Balance Armory on Saturday January 19 to compete in the Elite Women's 400 at the New Balance Games. That 400 meters was a drop in the bucket compared to her travels in prep track and college.
Currently training and running with Philadelphia United Stars coach Ken Abney, Williams has, in a way, returned to her roots. "I ran with the United Stars from the when I was 11-12 through 15-16." Her late high school career was spent at Flagler Palm Coast HS in Bunnell, Florida.
After graduating from high school in 2002, Alycia and her twin Alyce headed off to George Mason University to compete in the Colonial Athletic Association. The program was in a rebuilding stage at the time according to Alycia, and her sister was the first to leave – heading south to Florida State before the start of their junior years. Alycia followed after the first semester. Alyce competed mainly in the short sprints and long and triple jumps. Alycia – who had even run cross country to build strength for indoor while in high school ("never again," she stated emphatically) – was a 400 runner who had some success in the jumps.
With a more competitive atmosphere and tougher training, Alycia began to improve during her final year-and-a-half at Florida State. She scored in the ACC meet her final semester, and then earned an all-American certificate as the anchor of the 7th place 4x400 team at the 2007 Division I NCAA Championships. She also had qualified for NC's in the 400, but did not advance to the finals. Last March, she PRed in the 400 in 52.74.
Since graduation, she has trained in Philadelphia. And the workouts, Williams says, are exactly what she needs to begin to realize what she sees as her potential. Throughout her collegiate career, Williams says, she "didn't really get the good workouts" she is getting now. "I'm really seeing the results from it."
Coming into the race, she fought off doubts abut her progress in training, but was assured that as long as she was getting "a little but further each week," that should would be fine.
Having mostly run on the rubber track at New York's Pratt Institute and at Seton Hall, Williams was anxious to step onto the fast banked track of the Armory. "I just had to come in here and run my own race."
"Digging down deep" over the final 100 meters, Williams came away with the win, an indoor PR, and the fastest 400 meter time in the US so far this indoor season. "I'm just glad to run fairly fast this early."
The time qualifiers her for her first USATF Championships, which she will run the last weekend of February in Boston.
"It's my first," she said. "So I'm really excited."
From the moment she started heaving the shot put well over 40' as a freshman, you just knew that some day she was going to go over what is considered in the sport as one of those magic numbers associated with any event. For those tossing this particular piece of hardware, that number is 50'.
And she came close. As a 9th grader, she uncorked a 48-00.25 throw in the spring. Impressive as it was, you had a feeing that it would only improve from there.
It actually didn't.
Throughout her entire sophomore year, she never exceeded an outdoor throw of 47-06.75.
Call it a sophomore slump. But whatever it was, observers could tell that this shot put talent was far from happy with her performances. After all, throw over 48' as a freshman, and you kinda have expectations for yourself.
It was decision time.
A talented softball pitcher who had helped her Penncrest team to the state tournament her freshman and sophomore years, Shump knew that when push came to shove, that it was track and field that would be in her future in college. So she made the tough choice and quit softball – which had occupied much of each year – to concentrate on and train for the shot put.
The re-energized Shump made it pay off as a junior. She launched a new PR, indoor or out, in January at an indoor meet, going 49-04.25, her first effort over 49'. Then, twice during her junior outdoor campaign, she threw 49-00.75. But her summer ended with marks below that, and it was back to training with former Glen Mills coach Barry Swanson, here instructor several days a week.
She came out of the circle flying this indoor season, and hasn't had a final mark under 45-06.25. And that's the big step she took this year over last – consistency.
So on January 8th at the Delaware County Indoor Championships at Haverford College, she surprised even herself a little with a huge PR of 49-08.00. "I heard the '8', and those four inches were just a killer."
It was back to the hard task of training. But Shump could see the 5-0 within her reach.
She entered the regular DVGTCA Indoor Meet on Friday night January 18th feeling sore from lifting and repeated throws. But her confidence had been improving since a suggestion by her coach that helped her get back the feel of the 'snap' at the point of release. It was about to make a big difference.
On her first series of throws, she went - 45' 3.50 - 47' 1.25 - 49' 00.50.
Another 49. But this time, Shump made a decision – sore or not – "to just go after it."
Chase it she did... following up an opening 49' 7.50 in the first throw of the finals with the 50-03.25 that ended years of pursuit. She knew it was a good throw, but didn't think it was going to be 50. So she hung around the officials doing the measurement and snuck a peak at the tape. ".... and I saw 50 and all I could do was smile."
Oh, and her final throw was a 46'10.60 (series courtesy of Greg Stanczuk and the DVGTCA).
It's the top mark in the U.S. so far this indoor season.
With the goal finally reached, Shump is ready to try to improve on the mark. Her two national championships this year will be the Nike Indoor Nationals in March, and then the USATF Junior Nationals in June - before she heads off to the University of Oklahoma.
"I hope for some bigger throws," says Shump. Sooner, we're sure, than later.
No one could ever accuse Council Rock South's Ijeoma Ieohma ("everyone who knows me calls me Ije - pronounced E-J), of running from a good fight. Even when she's stacked up against two of the best runners in the world – Chanelle Price of Easton PA, and Delilah Muhammad of Cardoza HS, NY.
Given the opportunity to enter the special 500 set up for the two stars, Ije never flinched. "When my coach first suggested it, I didn't know who was running in it. But when I knew Chanelle and Dililah – two of the best in the world were going to run it, I wanted to to see where I matched up against them."
She matches up pretty nicely, thank you.
With Price and Muhammad setting the pace, and three other high quality runners in the elite field, Ije knew she had to control her own race. Told to go through the 400 in about 56 and to just hold on for the final 100, she did just that. "I tried to get out fast, because at the breaking-in point, it's really hard to get a good position there."
She did. And she finished strong in her first-ever 500, running a 1:14.05 to take 3rd behind Price's US Record 1:10.30 and Muhammad's 1:13.20.
While the two-time PA state AAA champ in the 400 didn't think the race was that much different than the 400, she
is looking forward to reclaiming her state 400 title after running a PR 54.48 in 2007, only to take 2nd to Breehana Jacobs of Laurel Highlands. Ije won the 400 as a freshman in 56.19 and as a sophomore in 54.95.
The University of Florida-bouind senior says she is better shape and stronger than last year at this time. "Hopefully, I'll get my title back.."