Photos by Timothy O'Dowd, Patty Morgan, Charles Stone, MIchael Brock, Misty O'Connor and Don Rich
Slow to Fast
There are few things that surprise Elk County Catholic senior Megan Dornish. An accomplished thrower on her track and field team, she’s been there and done that.
The University of Akron commit won the PIAA Class AA shot put in 2010 -- she was third as a sophomore -- and is favored in the PIAA Class AA event tomorrow by a good four feet.
Shot put is her game. Flat out. There were few who can stand toe-to-toe with her and honestly say they got the best of her in the throwing circle.
But entering Friday, if you were to ask Dornish if she thought she’d win the discus , she likely would have told you a different story. She’s always been good in the event -- she even took third last year -- but she had some ground to make up on Middletown’s Aubree Ray, the event’s top seed by about five feet.
Plus, Dornish had this problem with flying through her phases. She had a tendency to move too quickly. She never quite mastered the essentials before moving to the next step.
She referred to it as going “fast to faster.”
“It’s impossible to get a good discus throw when you go fast to faster,“ she said. “You have to go slow to fast. And 1-2-3 is the typical way to do it.”
On Friday, the essentials were mastered. Dornish finally put everything together in a big meet and unleashed a 141 foot, 3 inch throw to win the AA state discus title, stealing it away from Ray, who finished in second (137-2).
“I know she (Ray) was upset because she didn’t throw her best and that’s always hard when you go in and you know you can easily top the girl that won,“ Dornish said. “But I threw my personal best, so I was having an ecstatic day.”
In a lot of ways, it was about putting A, B and C together at the right time. Dornish said she had secured a few throws in the 140s during practice, but none during meets.
Plus, she said she knew she would go for a big throw in one of her three preliminary heaves. That’s when she would have the most energy and power.
“I knew I could do it, but I didn’t know physically I could actually do it,“ she said. “It made my day. I knew I could do it. My coach said ‘You easily got this.’”
A bit of a surprise for sure. Dornish now heads into Saturday as the favorite in the shot put. But she didn’t get ahead of herself.
“It was a good day,“ she said. “I’m extremely happy. Shot put tomorrow and then we’ll worry about it.”
About three houses down the street from Bloomsburg senior Mike Recla lives a former state champion. One or two houses down the same street lives another state champion.
Recla added to the neigborhood collection on Friday, grabbing the Class AA shot put title with a heave of 57-0.50.
You know who was there to watch him? You want to know the pair who coached him through it? A little hint: they live a few houses down from Recla.
Those two former champions are brothers. Joe (‘94 discus gold) and Bill McGinley (’92 discus gold), fittingly, are Recla’s Bloomsburg throwing coaches.
“It’s ironic,“ Recla said. “You never would think something like that could happen.”
Then again, it probably isn’t surprising. Recla, who was third in the same event a year ago, hit his state-winning mark on his very first throw -- he’s seeded second going into the discus tomorrow.
“I always try to get my biggest throw in my first throw,” Recla said. “I have the most energy left. I’m still trying to throw farther. But either it was coming out of my hand wrong or little things would go wrong.”
If there was any extra motivation, it might have come from Hickory junior Matt Bell, who came on strong late in the season to uproot Recla from the leader board.
“I was leading the state for most of the year and then he started beating me,“ Recla said of Bell. “So I started pushing harder at practice.”
He had recorded a personal best mark of 57-11 in February, but that was indoors. The best he could muster before Friday was 56-1.5. So the 57 foot throw -- his first in three months and just his third overall -- was a welcome addition to his resume.
“It was a lot of good things at once,“ Recla said. “Besides me being sick, everything came together at once and it’s awesome. I have no other way to say it.”
So, I’m good at this, huh?
Notre Dame Green Pond senior Monica Pechanec first pole vaulted a little over a year ago.
For many, that would be too late to the game. Pole vault is a difficult event, one that takes countless hours of tireless work on different poles and numerous runways.
Pechanec never really had the luxury of time. But she did have experience, at least when it came to contortion.
A veteran of gymnastics programs for nine years -- she performed as high as Level 7 -- the senior stepped away from the gymnastics mat and found an easy transition with pole vault.
She won the Class AA girls’ pole vault on Friday with a personal record mark of 12 feet. And in a field that was crowded toward the beginning, she distanced herself quite quickly in becoming the state champion.
“I’m really happy about what happened today,” said Pechanec, who will continue her career at Brown University next year. “I couldn’t have done it without my friends here today. We all work at vertical.”
The senior entered with a mark of 11-9. Central Columbia’s Virginia LaMacchia was right on her tail at 11-7 and Hailey Kester followed at 11-6. But neither challenged Pechanec.
Riverside junior Vanessa Munley was second with a height of 11-6.
In her mind, she felt the ephemeral highs of competition, but she also sensed a tying bind between her opposing competitors. More than a handful had plied their trade at Vertical Assault, just like Pechanec had done over this past year.
“It’s a competition and it did feel like one, but they’re all my friends and it’s a friendly competition,” she said. “We push each other. It’s not like we’re rivals.”
The first bar she ever cleared was 10 feet and admitted “I started out pretty well.” But the gymnastics experience certainly helped, especially for an event that requires the body invert at a certain point.
Perhaps the biggest obstacle Pechanec faced was the runway. She has a peculiar way of approaching the bar and she says it almost looks like she’s not quite there.
“When I run, I kind of run like I’m drunk,” she said. “I wobble. I have to stand up straight and run straight. So I was focusing on that.”
The senior will continue her senior season at New Balance Nationals, which are being held in North Carolina on June 16-18.
Taking over late
Hickory junior Lauren Lubarski would not have been here had one of her teammates not been injured.
But filling in for a role that the injury created halfway through the season, Lubarski took one for the team and began to high jump.
The nearly 5-foot-9 athlete quickly transitioned.
“I owe this to all my coaches who stayed with my to practice until 8’o’clock at night with me,” said Lubarski, who won the PIAA Class AA high jump with a mark of 5 foot, 4 inches on Friday.
She hadn’t hit 5-4 once this season. In fact, she had competed in the event in just three non-dual meets, including the District 10 Championships, in which she placed third with a height of 5-2.
And yet, the junior was here. Overcoming the odds? There were no odds. Lubarski was so quick on the high jump scene, not many knew she was even this good.
“If you have a horrible attitude and you’re scared of the bar, you’re not going to clear it,” she said. “If you have a good attitude, you can definitely accomplish some things.”
Practice makes perfect in the high jump. Lubarski had given the state winning height a couple cracks in practice. She had even cleared it.
But it’s one thing to practice a jump. It’s entirely another to actually bear down on the runway in a big-time meet.
“This was definitely a (personal record” because I haven’t actually hit it in an actual meet,” she said.
She had entered the event as a low seed, so she hadn’t expected to win. Then again, she was ranked third in the AA discus and finished seventh.
Perhaps, then, anything is possible.
“I had no clue I would be high jumping for the gold,” she said. “Being in seventh place, you never know. In discus I was seeded third and I got seventh. In this, I was seeded seventh and got first.”
Consistency is key
Athens Area senior Jarred Gambrell remembers his freshman track season. It’s really the only one he sort of regrets.
Back then, he had no idea what kind of triple jumper he could be. So he wasn’t a triple jumper. Instead, he was your standard sprinter: He featured in the 100, 200 and 400-meter relay. He excelled in the long jump, too.
But by his sophomore year, he felt something missing. A coach thought his skills could transition over to the triple jump. Gambrell was interested, so he gave it a try.
By that first meet, he learned where his future laid.
“My sophomore year, my coaches told me to go out for it and see if I liked it,” Gambrell said of the triple jump. “I did and in the first meet I ended up breaking the school record of 43 feet by three feet. I just found success from it and went from it.”
That he did. He won the PIAA Class AA triple jump state title in 2009. And then in 2010. And on Friday, he completed his development, winning his third straight title with a leap of 50-1.75.
To cap everything off, it was a state record and tied for the seventh best in the nation. And better yet, he secured the same mark two separate times: first in the preliminaries and then on his last jump of finals.
Over the course of this season, Gambrell said, he has remained consistent. Much like in 2010, when he recorded several 48 foot jumps, Gambrell has stayed true in the 49 foot and 50 foot range.
“In order to do it three times in a meet, I would definitely say the consistency is a big key for me,” Gambrell said. “Last year, I was consistently a 48 foot jumper at states. This year, I was consistent a 50 foot and 49 foot jumper. I can say I’m improving tremendously and ready for nationals.”
No one can argue with the senior, who has signed with Michigan State University. He’s developed tremendously over the last three years. There’s a maturity level that is evident with every word he speaks, with every step he takes.
Knowing that he was the top seed today, he didn’t move forward with caution. Instead, it made him stronger.
“It built my confidence up knowing I had come in previous years defending my title,“ he said. “And instead of making me worried, it actually made me confident in it.”
A bet fulfilled
Hempfield Area junior Kyle Long had made a bet with his friend, javelin thrower Stephen Feister, that whomever could hit 200 feet in their events first over their seasons would win the wager.
Feister hit his 200 foot heave sooner than Long.
So all in all, the bet was lost, Long said.
“He hit it first,“ Long said, “and that’s what mattered.”
By Friday, however, Long salvaged some sort of pride in his bet.
He secured his first heave over the mark on his way to becoming the AAA discus champion with a throw of 202-10. It was a watershed moment in the junior’s career. It became US#4.
“I just came out here and decided to get down to it,“ he said. “I thought I could get the record today because it was a wonderful day out.”
He threw in the upper 190s twice before hitting his record mark.
“It felt wonderful,” Long said. “I felt like I was peaking at the right time.”
And for him, it was the payoff to a season of hard work.
“I decided to come out and I knew I would be able to win it,” Long said. “I just didn’t know how far I could throw it. So when I came out, I decided to push for that state record.
“I knew there was something big coming”
Northeast Bradford senior Rob Robbins had thrown 200 feet before.
He just hadn’t done this. Not this far.
His 221 foot, 6 inch heave, which won the Class AA javelin, was far and away one of the most impressive individual efforts on Friday during the PIAA Championships. At first glance it seemed to be a US#1, but upon further review, it was downgraded to a US#2.
“I got all this nervous energy,“ he said. “I kind of harnassed it and hung it into that one throw. I definitely put it out there.”
He absolutely crushed his competition. No other thrower reached 200 feet. The second place finisher, New Brighton’s Bryce Lemon, recorded a throw of 197-06 -- no slouch of its own.
“When I hit my plant really hard, I got a big whip action out of my arm and shoulder,“ he said. “And it just really propelled it out there. It’s definitely the best throw I’ve ever had.”
To top everything off, Robbins was a quote machine. Everything that came out of his mouth seemed to be gold.
Like this nugget: “I was standing on the runway, I knew there was something big coming. I could feel it.”
But this was a process for Robbins. His gigantic heave didn’t appear out of thin air. Instead, the senior had seen gradual, albeit big, raises in his production over the last few weeks.
“I hit 200 pretty early in the season,” he said. “That was a huge jump. It was a 30 foot jump then. Ever since then, I’ve stayed high 190s and 200s and over the past two weeks, it’s jumped eight, ten feet at a time.”
Here’s another good quote.
“I was just hoping to break 200 at least once,“ Robbins said. “I didn’t think 221 was possible.”
It sure was.
Before the season? No. Now? Of course.
Had you asked Dallastown senior Margo Britton whether she could win a state championship three months ago, she likely would have laughed.
She’s a happy-go-lucky girl, but she’s not one to overshoot her expectations.
By Friday, her mood had changed. She had set her league record mark in the shot put. And she had also won her district by more than four feet.
“I would say 50-50,” Britton said about her chances of winning. “I won districts, so I knew I had an inclination I would do well at states. All I had to do was not let the competitors get to my head and just throw.”
On her way to becoming the Class AAA shot put champion with a throw of 44-4, though, Britton had to slide past the defending champion, Hempfield Area’s Rachel Serafin -- who was also the indoor state champion.
So it wasn’t easy. She hit her state mark on her second throw of the preliminaries. That’s what made it all the more impressive.
“I am overjoyed and ecstatic,” said Britton, whose previous best was 43-11. “State champion. When I started throwing, I never thought I would be here. Coming into it, I knew I would be capable of it. I’m just glad I was able to execute my technique and find a way to get the gold.”
The senior, headed to Temple next year to continue her track and field career, had fixed things in her technique over the years, like her blocking leg. She had a tendency to foul on her throws. On Friday, everything came together.
“My coaches have been working with me and it gave me some confidence in winter and spring track,” Britton said. “This year it was about coming out and doing what I know how to do.”
The Dallastown senior wasn’t finished, though. She hopes to travel to North Carolina for the New Balance Nationals in June. There, she said, she will look to secure a throw of 45 feet.
She didn’t record that on Friday. And that, she said, was what she’s been aiming for all year.
“That is my goal,’ Britton said. “Forty-five. I will not give up on my goal.”