Photos by Don Rich, Megan Clugh, Lizzie Poster
Filling a Void
Methacton’s Carlton Lavong has achieved so much in his stellar high school career. He has set many meet records, owned many US leading marks, and has taken many eyes away from the track and onto the runway to cheer on the very talented and outgoing superstar. Despite all of his success, Lavong was missing one thing to complete his high school resume: a state championship.
Season after season he has entered state championships as the favorite to win the long jump and/or triple jump, only to come up short each time. This year, he was the favorite once again in both events. This time, he was ahead of the field by at least one foot. This time was his last time to get gold indoors.
When the long jump began, Lavong was being his normal self, clapping his hands high in the air to get the jammed pack Penn State facility behind him. He may have been the same Carlton to the fans, but on the runway he was struggling. His fouled his first two attempts and put himself in danger of once again not medaling. On his 3rd attempt, his only goal was to get a mark. Without the clapping echoing inside the building, he jumped way behind the board, but got a legal mark of 24-00.75, good enough to win the meet on a day where the entire field was fouling and struggling to get marks of their own.
Once he won the long jump, Lavong performed as if a huge weight was lifted from his shoulders. On his second attempt in the triple jump, Lavong approached the runway with the confidence that he had been showing all season long. He got the crowd behind him, he got his peers behind him, and had many officials watching him as he sprinted down the runway. Once he hit the sand, he celebrated knowing he hit a good mark. His peers, officials, and coaches were huddling around the board to see the mark. 49-10.50 was the mark. The Lavong of old was back and was having a good time cheering on his peers and having fun on the runway. He would go on to earn the meet record and his 2nd gold medal of the championships.
Lavong had finally filled the void left in his prestigious career and now he can continue on with his career without having to hear how he hasn’t won a state championship despite his success.
Brady Gehret was back and he brought some friends along
Brady Gehret’s MVP performance in 2009 was done while carrying many of his Altoona teammates to relay gold medals and a team championship. In 2010 he came back to his future college, Penn State, and this year he brought some of his friends along for the ride.
Just past the finish line in the stands was a big group of Altoona supporters who took up one full section and half of another. The Altoona section was all wearing white t-shirts that said “The ALT” on the front and on the back had the number 814, the area code where Altoona is located.
Many people in the audience were looking forward to seeing what Gehret was going to do to top his MVP performance from last season. What the fans did not expect to see was his teammates also have a big day of their own.
Gehret did not disappoint anyone who paid to see the future Nittany Lion. His first event was the long jump where he and many of the competitors on the runway were struggling to find the board. Once everyone got settled, Gehret jumped his way to 2nd place with a mark of 23-06.00 and eight team points. Even though many don’t acknowledge Gehret for his long jump credentials, that 2nd place was big for his team.
As the long jump concluded, Wade Endress was running the mile and earning a 3rd place finish with his time of 4:18.87 and six more team points for Altoona.
Coming into the meet, the team title conversation was centered on Cheltenham and Abington, who had been dazzling the nation with their nationally acclaimed relay performances. With Altoona scoring fourteen team points before Gehret started his two big running events, the team race was getting interesting.
Gehret entered the track for the 400 meter dash with all eyes directed on him. The question wasn’t if he was going to win, but what time was going to run. He set a blazing opening pace, running a 22.0 split for the first 200 and then he was all by himself racing against the clock. He finished with a time of 47.70, which is US#2 and is .05 off of the meet record. Ten more points for his team.
The 200 meters had arrived and Gehret returned to dazzle the crowd once again. With Cheltenham hanging in there with 12 points and more coming with two relays and the 200, Gehret blazed through the oval on his way to a meet record of 21.22 and ten more team points with one event for them to go. While Gehret was setting records, his teammate Chris Carper scored a point in the triple jump. Altoona was putting the pressure on any of their team contenders to step up and climb back into the title race.
After Cheltenham won the 4x200 with a blazing anchor leg, Cheltenham moved to within 35-28 with each team having one relay to go. With Cheltenham being the favorite to win the 4x400, it was up to Altoona’s distance medley relay to put the meet out of reach.
Gehret was the 400 meter leg on the distance medley relay and he brought his team from the middle of the pack into the top three with his 48.0 split. Going into the anchor leg, Altoona was sitting in fourth place with Wade Endress taking the baton for the mile leg. Endress made up so much ground that he was surging off the final turn looking to catch West Chester Henderson for the gold medal. Endress would miss by .03 seconds of the gold medal, but a US#10 time of 10:21.51 and eight team points clinched the championship for Altoona.
Brady Gehret might have been the big attraction, but the supporting cast he brought on the track and in the stands brought Altoona another team championship and brought Gehret more respect from his peers and from the fans that watched him run in his final indoor state championship meet.
The boys distance events the past couple years have unfolded in a way that allows both sections a legitimate chance to score some big points. After Ed Schrom of Central Dauphin ran 4:22.63 in section 1 of the mile run, the 2nd section went through the first quarter mile in 67.4, which was six seconds slower than section one, and went through the half mile in 2:11.5, four seconds slower than section one. But Tom Kehl of Father Judge made a charge with two laps to go, only to have Tom Mallon of Central Bucks South catch up to him with 200 meters to go and then overtake him in the final 30 meters to win in 4:16.21. Mallon’s final 200 split was 28.3 and his final 400 was 59.2. In the 800 meters, the top three places came from section two, as Luke Lefebure of West Chester Henderson won the event in a US#3 time of 1:53.94. In his section, they went through 200 meters in 26.7 and 400 meters in 55.1. In section three, the first 200 split was 27.5 and the 400 split was 58.1. Mallon would win the heat, but finish 4th overall. In the 3000 meters, three of the eight places came from section one, but Rad Gunzenhauser of Mount Lebanon ran his last eight laps in 4:33.6 to win the event in 8:38.01, a US#4 performance. The next five places were numbers 12-16 on the national list.
In the 60 meter hurdles, defending champion Wallace Spencer of Malvern Prep hit the first hurdle in round one and that gave another hurdler an opportunity to win a state title, which went to Liberty’s Stephen Lewis, who won the finals in a US#4 time of 7.98. In the 60 dash, Alex Kenney of State College got faster and faster with each round, and won the final in a new meet record and US#4 time of 6.80.
In relay action, West Chester Henderson withstood a strong challenge from Altoona at the finish line and won the distance medley relay by .03 seconds in a US#9 time of 10:21.48.
Abington continued its winning ways in the 4x800, taking the lead near the end of the 3rd leg and winning the event in a US#3 time of 7:50.86.
Cheltenham took home both sprint relays, winning the 4x200 with a blazing anchor leg in 1:30.27, and the 4x400 (with less drama) with a national leading time of 3:19.45.
In other field events, Kennet’s Blake Davenport threw a big personal best in winning the shot put with a mark of 56-10.75. Mick Coleman of William Tennent cleared 15 feet even to win the pole vault on misses over Strath Haven sophomore Chris Williams. High jump honors went to Marcus Blakely of Coatesville, who cleared 6-8 for the victory.