The unexpected scratching of one of the state's top middle distance runners certainly sent shockwaves through the Multi-Sport Facility on the campus on Penn State University on Sunday.
But for Liam Conway, the fact that Josh Hoey was up in Boston chasing the national high school record in the 800 meters, didn't do much to alter his approach to the two races he was entered in at the PTFCA Indoor State Championships.
It was still all about the kick.
Conway, an Owen J. Roberts senior and Stanford recruit, knows how talented Hoey is: "Josh is an incredible competitor. He's like no other," he said. But with or without Hoey in the field, Conway also knows that these championship races usually come down to the kick.
He used his kick to run down the field to take second to state record holder Noah Affolder at last year's indoor state meet. He took third in a chaotic AAA 1,600 meters at outdoor states this past spring. So the veteran racer is no stranger to these high stakes races.
"Hearing (Hoey) wouldn't be here changed the gameplan a little bit, but not too drastically," Conway said. "For these championship meets, it's sort of a sit-and-kick type technique."
So, first came the mile. In addition to Conway, the field also included others hungry for a first state title like Noah Beveridge of Butler and Evan Addison of LaSalle. Conway hung in the pack, and with two laps to go, that trio separated themselves from the field. Beveridge made his intentions known and went for the win. But Conway stuck right on his shoulder and made his move around the final turn, powering home for the win in 4:15.26.
"Going through my head the entire race was just trusting in my kick that I have in the end," Conway said after the race. "Thankfully, it worked out today."
As he crossed the finish line, Conway's arms went in the air, a scene we've seen a few times over the past year. But there was little time for his celebration to continue. The 800 meters was waiting in a few hours.
"The mentality today was just focus one (race) at a time," he said. "After the mile, I knew I had to refocus and get out there for the eight."
So he told his coaches the same thing he said to them last year in between races: "I'll do what I can."
But through the first few laps, it might have looked like he didn't have enough gas in the tank to pull off the double. He went straight to the back of the pack and stayed there through 400 meters. Neumann Goretti's Kamil Jihad and Ephrata's Tyler Shue took the field through the midway point in 56-low after a blazing 26-mid first 200.
But then Conway noticed the pace start to slow.
He made his move towards the front and slid into third with 200 meters to go. He sat on Shue, just like he did with Beveridge in the mile earlier in the day, and then made the decisive move to the lead around the final turn. He was then home free once more.
Conway crossed first in 1:53.51 for the win---another perfectly executed race.
"I regrouped myself and got back into that pack, and at that point I think I knew deep in me that I could pull something out," Conway said of falling behind early and catching back up.
"And it worked out."
Two races, two kicks, and two wins for Conway. It was a tremendous performance and one that won't be forgotten for a long time. Conway surely won't.
"I going to remember this forever," he said.
If there's such thing as a winning formula, Conway knows all the ingredients. And on Sunday at least, he was one of the few that knew the recipe.