Photos by Don Rich , Charles Stone and Patty Morgan
By Phil Grove
Pursuers Had Strategy, Goals in Mind
There probably wasn’t a bad seat in the house Saturday during a pair of runs at history by Homer Center’s Angel Piccirillo.
Although they weren’t ticket-buying spectators, Maria Seykora of the Academy of Notre Dame and Meghan McGovern of North Penn were closer than most, but maybe not as close as they hoped. The duo started next to Piccirillo and came home second in the mile and 3,000-meter runs, respectively.
Piccirillo assumed the lead in the mile at the break line, and quarter splits of 68 seconds and 2:23 left Seykora as the closest pursuer with a plan to carry out. Entering the meet as the state’s second-ranked miler at 4:58.00, Seykora was hoping to follow a negative split approach in reaching the line first.
“I wanted to relax the first half mile and then try to pick it up the third 400 meters and then pick it up again the last 400 meters,” she said. “But I couldn’t pick it up after the third 400. I need to keep working on that.”
Seykora closed slightly on Piccirillo after the midway point but was not able to hold the pace.
“I thought I could (close the gap),” Seykora said. “I tried.”
The end result for the Notre Dame runner was second place in 4:58.16, just off her indoor best.
“It’s good,” said Seykora, who likely will run the mile and 4x800 relay at indoor nationals.
Although Piccirillo’s record time of 4:44.20 gave her a large cushion at the end, quality performances followed. Saturday’s top five finished the mile under 5:02.2.
When the 3,000 field came to the line, the crowd that had been drawn into a frenzy by a state record was a little more subdued.
“I don’t think the crowd was as involved (in the 3,000) because it looked like we were out of contention for the record, but we weren’t,” Piccirillo said. “We were running a super fast time. And I don’t blame them, in a long race, I wasn’t really expecting the crowd to be super into it.”
Defending champion and record holder Sara Sargent of Pennsbury and Tori Gerlach of Pennridge led a tight lead pack during the early laps. With the pack going through the mile in just over 5:20, Piccirillo soon moved from the outside of the group and into the lead.
Picking up the pace about the same time they lapped a competitor, Piccirillo opened a gap on McGovern and the rest of the pursuers.
When asked if she wanted to be a pacesetter after watching Piccirillo’s record mile, McGovern said she had other thoughts in mind.
“My goal the whole time was just to try to break 10 minutes,” she said. “I didn’t really want to be the one setting the pace. I kind of was content to stay back. When Angel moved, I knew if I wanted to break 10, I would have to go with her. She ran two awesome races.”
Piccirillo’s drive for the line resulted in a 9:53.79 victory, while McGovern was next in a PA#2 9:57.10. Piccirillo was just four seconds of the 2011 all-time record set by Pennridge junior Sara Sargent. Piccirillo was only mildly disappointed in not getting the second all-time mark in one day. "I didn't hear by coach telling me to go soon enough."
“That’s a huge PR for me,” the runner-up said of the 13-second season improvement and 10-second upgrade over her lifetime best. “I’ve never had the chance to run (the 3,000) at states before because I always did the mile and then the relay here. I think having the chance to run it against so many great runners at once really helped a lot.”
Once again behind Piccirillo were some quality marks as the top eight broke 10:13.4, and the first 10 across the line posted efforts that had been matched by just five heading to the state meet.
Piccirillo Thrives on Higher Mileage, No Splits
Can you keep a secret?
It’s the shoes. Not ruby slippers, but a colorful pair of new spikes that is responsible for Angel Piccirillo’s resounding, crowd-pleasing victories at the PTFCA indoor state meet.
“It’s definitely the spikes,” the Homer Center standout said, laughing. “I love ’em.”
Actually, less of a focus on race splits and increased mileage likely played a part in Saturday’s state-record and US#1 4:44.20 clocking in the mile and a US#10 9:53.79 victory in the 3,000-meter run.
“Today, I was putting (the effort) out there,” Piccirillo said. “In the mile, I felt good while I was running, but after, I’m like, ‘Wow that was hard.’ It was worth it. It was worth all the work to get a 4:44.
“Definitely, today was the hardest meet all season. I think this was good preparation for nationals in two weeks.”
Erasing Upper Dublin legend Kim Gallagher's 1980 4:47.77 from the books was no easy feat as the Villanova recruit battled the clock alone. An energetic crowd helped ease the burden on the winner.
“In the mile, the crowd was insane,” Piccirillo said. “It was the best feeling ever. It was my favorite part of the meet by far, just having the crowd so loud. It was really awesome.”
Around 68 seconds at the quarter and 2:23 at the half, Piccirillo churned ahead for a 3:34 with two laps to go, all without a peek at the running clock hanging on the backstraight wall.
“Never, (coach Michael Gentile) said he is not responsible for his actions if I look at the clock,” Piccirillo said of the temptation that many of the multi-lap runners entertained Saturday. “I refrained. I was busy."
“I had my hands full running. I didn’t have time, but after I crossed the line, I looked right over to see what my mile time was and I was real excited.”
Piccirillo said being weaned off the almost standard lap split was not an easy thing to accomplish.
“It was definitely hard,” she said. “All last year I was splits, splits, splits. I need to hit this, I need to see the clock and I’ll know where I am."
“This year I think it’s been better for me. I’ve never really been super good at splits, so it wasn’t a huge adjustment. This year my coach says ‘Good’ or ‘Pick it up’ or ‘You need to go now.’ So I think it takes the guess work out of it and more of the I can focus on my running. If he says go, then I have to pick it up. That’s all there is to it.”
Plus, with crowd noise kicking in like it did Saturday, a runner can be at a loss when a split is missed."
“Where you can’t hear a specific time like that, it's easier to hear a ‘Go’ or ‘You’re good,’” Piccirillo said. “I think it’s been easier, and it’s just simplified everything. I’ve been able to get a clear mind and focus on my race. And besides, the announcer was kind enough to call out my splits for me.”
With an indoor schedule that included a pair of four-race meets, Piccirillo is benefiting from an increase in her weekly mileage.
“I’m really comfortable at this level now,” said Piccirillo, who will contest the mile at the New Balance Nationals next month. “In years past, I’ve run less mileage, but this year I’ve been able to stay around 35 to 40 and I felt good about it. In the summer I was higher, but I’ve backed off since then and I feel good.”
Trio Returns Hickory to Indoor Winner’s Circle
Hickory’s Matt Bell, John Mudrey and Taylor Woods had compiled plenty of success heading to Penn State, with each standout listed in the PA top three in their specialty.
Any unfinished business was taken care of in short order as the seniors dominated the boys high jump and both shot put competitions in returning the Hornets to the winner’s circle for the first time since 2005.
High Jumper Puts Troublesome Height Behind Him
6 feet, 8 inches.
Throughout the 2012 indoor season, that height had gotten the best of Mudrey and had been the reason he seemed disappointed even when he left the pit a winner.
Frowns turned to smiles Saturday afternoon, however, as the senior had the upper hand against his season-long nemesis and the field of 13 high jumpers, earning a state title with a second-attempt clearance of 6-8.
“I just wanted to focus on jumping as high as I could,” Mudrey said. “That was the only thing that was in my mind, but I’m pretty happy I got (6-8). But I still want to go higher.”
Mudrey was one of the last jumpers to enter the competition at 6-2 and was the only one with a clean slate through 6-6. After one miss, the victory and PA#T-1 6-8 was finally his.
“I like to jump against guys who are at this high of caliber,” said the winner, who is set to compete in the New Balance Nationals in March. “It really helps me. I get to watch what they do, build off what they do and watch how their form helps them or hurts them.
“I still have a bad shin and a bad ankle, but the adrenaline takes that away pretty quick.”
In his search for a school to continue his athletic career, Mudrey learned that his winning mark of 6-8 is something sought after by college coaches.
“I hope they will be pretty happy,” Mudrey said of his new PR. “Hopefully that means they’ll want to give me (a scholarship).”
According to Hickory jumps coach Preston Gibbs, it’s no mystery as to the key to Mudrey’s continued success in the event.
“Honestly if he can just hold his arch, he has the height,” Gibbs said. “He had the height even at those previous meets. It’s just a matter of holding his arch, looking at the standard to know when to snap and when to do what in the air. That’s one thing that’s going to help him tremendously.
“He is (flexible), he is. We’ve seen coaches and they say, ‘Can you arch?’ He shows them, and they’re all impressed, but he doesn’t do it over the bar. Not long enough anyway.”
Mudrey’s workouts have been limited recently but have utilized indoor track facilities at a pair of nearby universities.
“We’ve been putting in some extra time going to actual facilities (at Edinboro and Youngstown State) to practice instead of just in the high school cafeteria,” Gibbs said. “That’s definitely helped too, actually getting some technique work throughout the week.”
Big PR Throws Propel Hornet Shot Putters
Taylor Woods looked back on her humble beginnings in the shot put and marveled at how she has improved in such a short time. With three teammates competing with her, the senior added another highlight to her family’s and school’s weight event history book with a PA#1 44-2.50 victory.
“My freshman year indoors I threw 28 feet, and I never would have imagined this would be where I am today,” Taylor Woods said. “I am definitely looking forward to what I can do in outdoor season. My dad wouldn’t have that (28 footer). There had to be some way I could improve a little bit.”
As it turns out, Taylor Woods needed every bit of an outstanding series of throws as Rachel Fatherly of Williamsport Area led the field after the first three rounds. The senior hit 41-5.25 in the first round before improving to 42-8 in round 2.
Taylor Woods was No. 2 with three throws to go as she improved throughout the prelims, hitting 41-3, 41-8.75 and a new season-best 42-5. That, however, was nothing compared to her final trips to the ring.
“I definitely wouldn’t be here if it were not for any of my teammates pushing me,” said Taylor Woods, who threw 39-2 indoors in 2011. “We’ve got four girls at the state level so that’s definitely pushing you. You get pushed every meet, but we get pushed every single practice, in the weight room and our throws. It’s crazy, I love it and that’s what put me here today.”
The senior, who has not committed yet to a college track program, took the lead for good in round 4 at 43-5 ½ and then hit the winner before closing with another 42-plus put that was good enough for the gold.
“She is such a gamer,” said the winner’s father and coach, Keith Woods. “She knew going into the last throw (that sister Emily’s school record of 44-6.5 was close). She said, “Dad, I’m going to get Emily on this last throw.” I said, ‘Go get it, go get it.’
“Every year she has improved 5 feet. From 28 feet as a freshman to 33 and then her junior year she finally made it to states. This year it’s 44 feet. The kid is a worker. Somebody that works like that, you expect them to do well.”
Teammate Jennifer Neider, who entered the state meet at the yearlong PA#1, closed the gap on the leaders during the final three throws, finishing third at 41-7.5.
Unlike his counterpart on the girls side, Bell only had a pair of measured throws Saturday. However, both were worthy of the gold medal. His winning effort of PA#2, US#7 60-10.25 was more than 3 feet farther than runner-up Kyle Long of Hempfield (3) at 57-9.75.
“Every meet I’ve been to so far I’ve been sore from lifting,” Bell noted. “I never had a rest day so finally getting two days of rest before a meet definitely helped a lot.”
One of only three throwers over 59 feet heading to State College, the Youngstown State football-track recruit had some ground to make up on PA#1 Kyle Felpel of Cocalico. The competition was only minutes old when he hit a new season-best of 60-1 on an opening toss that was good enough to win.
“I felt pretty good,” Bell said. “After last week I did a foul at 60-foot- 1, so I really wanted to come back and get it.”
Throws coach Keith Woods said the inexact science of preparing athletes to perform at their best worked in the Hornets’ favor Saturday.
“We (took the extra rest) on purpose,” Keith Woods said. “Every kids different. Some kids should have two weeks off.
“As coaches, you just try to set kids up to be as successful as they can. Sometimes you miss it. Today, it just happened to work out.”
Keith Woods said the key for Bell was “getting his weight back over his foot. Normally, he rushes everything.”
Meanwhile, Bell said the performances by Taylor Woods and Neider gave him another goal to reach.
“They definitely made it a little fun to try and pick up a win,” he said of the first of Saturday’s titles for Hickory, which last was No. 1 in a state indoor final in 2003-5 with pole vaulters Andrew Rademacher and Erik Sparks. “Taylor got first place, so I wanted to get one, too.”
Favorite in Girls 800 Strong from Start to Finish
Entering Saturday’s indoor championship meet, there was no doubt as to the class of the girls 800-meter run this winter in Pennsylvania – Emma Keenan of Gwynedd-Mercy Academy.
The junior was almost three seconds faster than the No. 2 qualifier and had a state championship from the 2011 outdoor meet at Shippensburg on her resume.
Keenan wasted no time when the gun sounded, having no challengers for the lead at the break line. She churned through four laps on the banked oval, with victory coming in a US#2 2:10.84.
“This entire year I wanted to go out and go strong from the start,” the winner said. “I wanted to take the lead as often as I could. That’s what I tried to do today as well.”
Prepping for Saturday’s final with a 2:12.26 victory last month on Yale University’s banked track, Keenan now looks ahead to the New Balance Nationals on another banked oval.
“I definitely want to break 2:10,” she said. “It was a goal to break it this indoor season, but I’m happy with a 2:10 (today). Hopefully, I will be able to break it at nationals.
“I had always run the 400, and in seventh grade I started running the 800. Gradually I think I started to understand the race, and it became my favorite. I think each time I’ve done it I’ve learned something new.”
Natalie Deacon of West Chester Henderson finished second with a season-best 2:13.41.
Big Negative (Split) Gets Willig to Finish First
Ned Willig was very positive about his negative performance in winning the boys mile at the PTFCA state indoor meet.
The long-striding Great Valley standout showed patience early and speed and drive late in a big negative split race. His winning time of 4:15.66 was less than a tenth slower than his 2012 PA best.
“I didn’t really know the pace,” Willig said. “I was just focused on moving up in the pack. I was planning to go at about 600 meters, and that’s what I did.”
With the lead bouncing back and forth between Mt. Lebanon’s Alex Moran, Grove City’s Daniel Jaskowak and LaSalle College’s Tom Coyle, Willig spent most of the early laps in the middle of the pack and in lane 2. With Moran leading at midway in 2:11, Willig set himself up to take the lead for good.
“That’s how I feel best when I run,” he said of covering the second half of his race faster than the first. “I have trouble going out hard and finishing slower. It was a great field, so I knew it would be a pretty good pace.”
Coyle’s lunge at the finish was worth the runner-up spot over Strath Haven’s Jack Huemmler, PA#2 4:16.42 to PA#3 4:16.50, as five of the first seven posted season bests and PA top 10 times.
“I think this was a good race,” Willig said. “I’m very happy just to be able to win it. Maybe if we had gone out a little faster, I could have scared the (meet) record, but I’m still very happy with how I did today.”
Willig will do the 800 at New Balance Nationals in March.