Phil's Saturday Stories: Stanley spears more records | Merckle dominates javelin showdown


Photos by Don Rich, Charlie Stone and Megan Clugh



If you want to break a big record - Leave no doubt.

Billy Stanley’s preparations for the state meet were out of the ordinary for 2012.

It seems only fitting that his performance Saturday was anything but ordinary.

The South Park javelin standout concluded a season overloaded with records by breaking the all-time state and national federation records with a US#1 heave of 246 feet, 9 inches. His opening throw in the Class AAA competition also broke the state meet record by more than 22 feet.

“I was coming here to get the first-place medal and then I was considering the (state) record,” said Stanley, who broke Justin Shirk’s all-time Pennsylvania mark by 11-6. “We never had in mind the national record especially today.

“I worked Thursday on faster crossovers so I picked my momentum up and speed. Today, everything just went right.”

Saturday’s victory concluded Stanley’s progression up the PIAA awards podium, with a third in Class AA in 2010 and second last year in AAA.

“I was just so thrilled that everything that I worked for went together,” said Stanley, who broke the national record for competitions solely for prep athletes by 2-7. “And then I couldn’t do much worse so I was just having fun the rest of the meet.”

Although he wasn’t able to duplicate his first-round magic, Stanley had more than enough on his other two measured throws of 225-1 and 216-5. Kyle Felpel of Cocalico improved to 203-0 on his final throw to claim the distant runner-up spot.

“The state record, yes, the national record, no,” coach Jeff Hufnagel said of the expectations for his javelin standout, who will return to competition at the New Balance Nationals. “That’s the cherry on top. The (sector) lines only go to 220 feet, so you don’t know anything after that. I am very proud of him.”

Throughout the 2012 season, Stanley focused on improving his strength with weight room workouts that far exceeded anything he had done previously. His preparations the day before a competition this year also had included a shoulder strength workout. That was until this week.

“He didn’t want to lift this week because he said he was tired after the WPIAL championships,” Hufnagel said. “I was concerned. Superstitious? I don’t know. Whatever he was feeling, he said I want to take this week off from lifting. He knows how he feels. He’s mature.”

Hufnagel pointed to the extra time in the weight room as the primary factor in Stanley going from 209-7 as a junior to almost 250 feet.

“Last year at this time, Billy was icing his elbow down a little bit,” Hufnagel said. “We didn’t have to do any of that this year. You have to respect your athletes. They have to be up front and honest with you and make sure they are doing what you ask of them, staying healthy, getting sleep, eating right.”

Breaking his school record in the first dual meet of 2012, Stanley never let up. He established records at every stop along the way to Shippensburg.

“He ran the whole season,” Hufnagel said. “He did exactly what the goals were – break every record that you can. He did every single one of them all year.”



Start strong. Finish stronger.

Fort Cherry’s Jessie Merckle is going to the pool this summer, so Saturday’s Class AA javelin competition was her last before heading off to college.

She didn’t waste any time or the opportunity to go out a winner. Her showdown with US#2 Christine Streisel of Tamaqua Area didn’t last a round as Merckle took the lead with her opening throw and never was headed en route to state gold.

“Today, I was just trying to have fun,” said Merckle, whose winning throw of 154 feet, 1 inch came in round 5. “It’s my last high school meet, which is totally depressing. I’m going on to college, but I wanted to make it fun. Hopefully take first, and I’m glad I did.

“It feels great. I don’t get nervous a lot, but I did here. I always get nervous here.”

Merckle, whose PR of US#4 156-8 came in winning last week’s District 7 (WPIAL) title, opened the competition with a 150-plus mark, giving her a nearly 10-foot lead and the inside track on retaining her spot as the last to throw in the field of 23.

“I wanted to make sure I was throwing last, that way it relaxes me a little more,” the Wake Forest recruit said. “I wouldn’t have to worry, ‘Oh, is she going to throw farther than me after?’ ”

The hot and humid conditions complicated matters for the field, making a solid grip on the 600-gram implement a difficult task.

“My hands were getting sweaty, and two slipped out of my hands,” said Merckle, who avenged last year’s runner-up finish to Streisel. “But on the last one I rubbed some gravel on because I don’t have chalk. At least it’s not cold and rainy.”

Streisel, who entered the meet as the state leader and US#2, improved to 143-11 in the third round. However, Merckle responded with a 153-11 throw.

“We competed over the summer,” Merckle said of Streisel. “She’s really nice, she’s a good sport, she’s a really good sport.

“She came up and shook my hand after. She’s fun to compete against, she gives me a challenge.”

Streisel closed the gap with a 149-2 throw – her best – after the field was trimmed to the nine finalists. Merckle responded with her best of the day in the penultimate round.

“It would be cool if I got 160, but I’m glad I got 150s,” the winner said.

Merckle’s personal cheering section showed its appreciation when the final throws were made.

“They’re all there, my family’s there, my friends came out, it’s awesome,” she said. “I love how much support I get.”

With a state championship in hand, Merckle is looking forward to some more fun and will concentrate on the javelin again … later.

“I was going to do the Junior Olympics again, but I have so many graduation parties that I just want to be with my friends,” she said. “I’m already going to college for it. Hopefully I can improve in college.”




They came east to settle it for once and for all.

In the Class AAA pole vault, they have been as inseparable as milk and honey, and bread and butter. And almost always at the top of the results sheet.

Rooted in a fierce but friendly rivalry, the bond between Hempfield Area’s Larisa Debich and Norwin’s Kasey Kemp has lifted both to new heights, with each claiming a state championship at Shippensburg.

On Saturday, Debich edged out Kemp, finishing atop a competitive field with a second-attempt clearance of 12 feet, 9 inches.

“Kasey and I have competed in gymnastics since we were 9,” Debich said of their relationship. “It’s nine years later, and we’re still competing against each other and we’re still 1 and 2.”

With both perfect through 12-6, event officials offered the duo the option to tackle 12-9 or 13-0. Kemp’s preference for a possible PR at 12-9 was selected.

“They said we could go up 3 inches but somebody could pass it,” said Kemp, who is headed to Penn State in the fall. “I think it was a good idea for us to go to 12-9 because that was a lot easier than making 13-0 would have been. I would have liked to PR, that would have been nice. But I tied my PR so I can’t really complain with it.”

Each missed on their first attempt, but Debich secured her gold medal by slipping over on her next trip down the runway.

“They definitely pushed each other to get themselves better,” Hempfield Area coach Matt Fox said of the neighboring combatants.

The high-flying tandem pulled the field along with them. Third went to Rebecca Swisher of Lancaster Catholic at a PA#8 12-0, and Grace Giampetro of Villa Maria Academy was fourth with the same clearance.

“I think the competition definitely pushes both of us,” said Kemp, who won her state title a year ago at 12-0. “I don’t think either of us would be the vaulters we are right now if we didn’t have that competition. So it’s definitely good. I’m frustrated, but I’m very happy for her.”






Shearn Surges to Distance Title

Brendan Shearn threw out everything but the kitchen sink at Rico Galassi of Holy Cross during the Class AA 3,200-meter run. 
Once the duo was clear of the rest of the field, the North Schuylkill runner laid down surge after surge, measuring the resolve and responses from Galassi.
“Rico is an amazing runner, you can’t deny that,” said Shearn, who picked up the victory in 9:22.09 to Galassi’s 9:23.84. “He’s got probably one of the best kicks in the state. I knew if he was there, I would have to really push so every time he caught up, just throw a little bit more at him, see what he can handle.
“Hes a tough kid. A different day he might have been able to crush me in that.”
One weight the entire field had to carry was the oppressive heat as it began to build at Seth Grove Stadium.
“I completely soaked myself down,” said Shearn, who was second in the 1,600 last year and won the Class AA cross country title in the fall. “I was exhausted from the heat. I was so beat.”










Futch overcomes distractions and competition.

Eric Futch didn't find out until Thursday that he'd be allowed to run in the PIAA State Championships, after the Board of Directors overturned his DQ and subsequent expulsion from the meet at District 1. PennTrackXC talked with Eric Friday after his qualifying events to get some of his take on the races he had run and what he was hoping to do on Saturday.

“I’ve been sluggish all day. I had a lot of events. I just tried to come through. I promised my (4x400 relay) team that we would win it tomorrow. I was just trying to run fast enough so we could win.

“I have been practicing all week. I didn’t let anything get to me. My coaches have been telling me, ‘Keep coming to practice, keep coming to practice. Don’t worry about it. We’ll get it straight.’
“That’s exactly what I did. I came out here, ran fast enough to make it back tomorrow. So tomorrow I will put it all out there on the track.” – Eric Futch of Penn Wood after 4x400 relay qualifying on Friday.
Futch and his Penn Wood team would finish 2nd overall in AAA to Strath Haven.
Single athlete teams have won state titles. Hickory did it on pure depth (and talent)

Talented and deep.


In a nutshell, that was the Hickory girls track team in 2012.


And it didn’t take long for the Hornets to establish themselves as a favorite for the team championship in the PIAA Class AA meet.


Sparked by an unprecedented 1-2-3 sweep in the discus, the Hornets had just enough of a first-day lead to edge Swenson Arts & Technology, 73-72, for the championship trophy. 


“People don’t realize how deep our team really was,” said Barb Dzuricsko, who shares head coaching duties with Mark Slezak. “Even though we had those top (performers), there were people that if they were at any other school, they would be winning things at that school.


“Those people just filled right in all of those places, even in our shot put. Our sophomore girl ended up being No. 3 (in the state) today, and she was always the No. 3 of our three. We always preach depth, and we’re just so excited for the kids.”


After the afternoon session of field events on Friday, Hickory had four student-athletes step up on the podium. As they have all season, seniors Lauren Lubarski, Taylor Woods and Jennifer Neider dominated the discus field in Shippensburg and got the Hornets off to a flying start. 


“We always thought about the dream, just yesterday it finally came true,” said Lubarski, who led the sweep with a winning toss of PA#2 142 feet, 6 inches. “Every single track meet we’ve been to we kind of expected us to take 1-2-3. We just made it reality (at the state meet) yesterday.”


Lubarski unleased her season-best toss for the win, while Woods – the state’s longest thrower in the event – was the runner-up at 139-2 and Neider moved up to No. 7 on the state list with her third-place throw of 135-8.


“We are an extra eye,” Taylor Woods said of the teammates’ role in practice when their throws coach – and her father, Keith – is working with another athlete. “We all know how to do it and what we’re looking for in the throws. We know how to fix it so it’s nice to have each other.”


Neider, who started in the throws last year, said the trio knows what to expect out of each other and works together to get better.


“We definitely help each other out,” she said. “You have to push each other.”


Likewise, classmate Corrin Regginello gave the champions’ point total a big push by taking the high jump title, filling a potential scoring gap after Lubarski no-heighted at the district meet and could not defend her state crown. Regginello’s PR leap of 5-5 was the best of three District 10 jumpers at the top of the event standings.


Meanwhile, Neider and Woods were joined by another teammate – sophomore Sophia Fustos – in piling up 21 points in Saturday’s shot put. Neider, who finshed the season as the No. 2 putter in the state, went 45-1 for the win, and Fustos moved into the state’s top 20 with a 40-1 throw for third. Woods was fourth at 39-8.


Hickory’s haul in the field events also included Lubarski’s third in a top-notch javelin field.


“Even though he’s my dad, you have to give him props,” Taylor Woods said of her coach’s commitment to making his throwers better. “That’s constantly on his mind.”


Hickory’s excellence wasn’t limited to the activity outside of Seth Grove Stadium as distance runner Morgan Richards contributed valuable points to Hickory’s cause.


In Saturday’s first track final, Richards was timed in a PR 11:02.10 to finish third in the AA 3,200 run. About three hours later, she was back again, adding another six points with her third-place time of 5:01.43 in the 1,600.


The trophy carried proudly Saturday afternoon by the Hornets will become the second state title hardware in the school’s trophy case, joining the 1989 football state championship award.


“We will be enjoying this for some time to come,” Dzuricsko said.






Drew Magaha was obviously not himself. But he is always willing to talk track.




The owner of several of Pennsylvania’s top performances from the 2012 season, Drew Magaha of Upper Moreland appeared to be a cinch for gold in Saturday’s Class AAA 1,600-meter run.


Admittedly having walked a fine line for weeks between state-record times and being healthy enough to compete, the defending champion started with the field before slowly moving off the pace and finishing last in the field of 12.


“It’s my last race as a senior, and winning it would have been great but you have to take something more valuable from it,” an emotional Magaha said. “I learned a lesson. It was a hot day, and I’ve done pretty impossible things before but now I’ve got to just slow down and see the bigger picture to get the lesson involved.”


Diagnosed in late January with mononucleosis, Magaha missed the foundation-building weeks of a middle-distance runner’s track season. Remarkably, he still bettered the all-time state record in the 800 on April 20 at the Abington Jack Armstrong Invitational.


He covered the two laps in a blistering 1:48.82. That time would have won Saturday’s AAA two-lap race by more than three seconds.


“I think I was in the wrong race,” Magaha stated matter of factly of his focus during the run to Shippensburg. “I probably should have focused on the 8. It’s taken way too much out of me in the last few weeks. That (1,600) last week was pretty much as best as it’s probably going to get.”


Magaha was hospitalized in the weeks after his record 800 and lost 18 pounds. Despite the physical setbacks, he again made headlines on the track last week.


At the District 1 championship meet, the University of Pennsylvania recruit stormed home in the 1600, flashing across the line in 4:08.94. Hours later, he finished at the back of the 800 field in a manner similar to his four laps around the all-weather surface at Seth Grove Stadium.


“I thought that I learned it after I got mono that you can’t always fight the world, and I made the same mistake again … running that 4:08 last week and not doing as well as I wanted to in the 800,” said Magaha, who was the state’s fastest this year at 800, 1,500, 1,600 and the mile. “Today, I needed to learn it again.”


In Friday’s qualifying, Magaha ran in tandem with eventual champion Tom Coyle of La Salle as the duo separated themselves from the rest of the field. Magaha eased up before the finish line to cross a close third in 4:18.54 and earn his spot in the final.


Coyle noted afterward that Saturday’s final would be fast, alluding to Magaha’s state meet record of 4:07.32 in 2011 as proof of the ability of the pre-meet favorite.


“The heat mixed with a lot of stuff going on in my life, right now it was more important for me to take a lesson from it,” Magaha said.


Despite the struggles Saturday, Magaha said he would compete again this year, running the 800 at the New Balance Nationals in North Carolina.


“I might not win, but I’ll take another lesson from it,” he said. “And until I get healthy again, until I gain that 18 more pounds, I’m going to learn as many lessons as it takes.”