It wasn’t a home meet or even their home state, but a snow-filled trek to the spacious indoor facility at Youngstown State appeared to make some western Pennsylvania track teams feel, well, right at home.
The end result was a number of top 5 performances, several statewide No. 1s and plenty of first-place finishes as the indoor season slowly began to pick up steam for those in the western half of Pennsylvania.
Confirming his place as the top shot putter in Pennsylvania, Luke Lewis of Hickory continued to excel in the infield of the 300-meter oval. Almost two weeks after pushing the 12-pound ball out 61 feet, 3.25 inches at YSU, the senior registered a 61-1.25 effort in round two to take control of the event. A 59-8 mark in round 5 also would have been good enough for the victory for the Purdue recruit.
“It’s just mental,” Lewis said of the key to his strong start in 2014. “Last year, I threw 59, almost 60 feet in indoor. And I fell off in outdoor when I shouldn’t have.
“This year I came in with a new philosophy. I just wanted to come in and not focus on numbers. Just throw and have fun. Fall in love with the sport again, and I have.”
Saturday’s field included Hempfield Area’s Max Adams, who is No. 2 in PA and a rival for Lewis.
“Having Max here is always fun,” Lewis said of Adams, who was a strong second at 58-9.5. “This week was a little bit rough in the workout. Coach tired us out a lot.
“I would say 61 again is pretty consistent. I guess I can’t complain. It all turned out pretty well.”
In the girls pole vault, another pair of friendly rivals from neighboring high schools battled for the win and eventually a share of the state lead in the event. Senior Courtney McQuaide of Greensburg Salem came out on top, with her T-PA#1 12-0 besting Bridget Guy of Hempfield Area and her 11-6 clearance.
“It feels really good,” the winner said of her PR performance. “I was a little iffy in the beginning of the meet.
“My step wasn’t too good and my plant wasn’t pretty good, but it felt awesome to get right back on it.”
McQuaide cleared on her initial attempt at 10-0 and then needed a pair of tries at 11-0 to force a deadlock for the lead with Guy, who entered at 10-6. McQuaide took the lead for good by clearing 11-6 on her opening vault, while Guy cleared the bar on her second try.
A second-attempt over at 12-0 sent the Golden Lion toward three tries at a facility record of 12-4.
“I had some really good looks at it,” McQuaide said. “I wish I would have cleared it, but I PRed this meet and that’s all that really counts.”
In the boys’ competition, Nick Anderson of Kane Area led a strong trio from Pennsylvania against a contingent of top Ohio vaulters. When the bar fell for the final time, a total of six competitors – including Anderson – bettered the senior’s facility record of 14-0 set 13 days before.
Anderson needed only a single attempt at both 13-6 and 14-1.25 as he joined Lucas Kelley of Massillon Perry and Kyle Hutchinson of Medina in the battle for the win. On his first try at 14-7, the senior was over but not clear of the bar as he brushed it off with his leg as he fell to the pit.
His third-attempt clearance of 14-7 was worth third at YSU and moved him to PA#2 on the season. Hutchinson was the winner based on misses as neither of the trio was able to clear 15-1.
Caleb Sanford of Erie McDowell was seventh at 13-6, while Zach Cartwright of Franklin Area tied for eighth at 13-0.
On the track, another pair of Keystone state standouts was almost inseparable in the 60-meter hurdles. Emily Lelis of Springdale made every stride count in her only event of the day, bettering Hempfield’s Maddie Holmberg in the first meeting of 2014 of last year’s WPIAL (District 7) hurdle champions.
“That was definitely the hardest competition I’ve had indoor so far,” Lelis said. “She really pushed me.”
With Holmberg running 8.94 seconds and Lelis credited with an 8.98 in the prelims, the stage was set for a final that lived up to any instant hype that might have developed. A senior, Lelis touched the ground first after the opening hurdle and owned a slim margin until Holmberg pulled even as the duo crested the third barrier side by side and dead even.
“Emily is a great athlete, (and) I knew that if I didn’t win that I was going to get a PR,” Holmberg said. “I’m grateful for that. She motivates me, and I will keep working harder.”
Lelis was able to regain an edge and carried it to the line, reaching in a PA#2 8.79 to Holmberg’s PA#3 8.81 as both broke Lelis’ track record of just 13 days before.
“I thought it was going to be a little faster because I had good competition,” said Lelis, who is still considering her collegiate options. “She definitely pushed me a lot.”
While Lelis was done for the day, the junior from Hempfield was just getting started. Minutes later, Holmberg was back at the far end of the straightaway for the 60 dash. She rocketed out of the blocks and was never headed in running a T-PA#8 7.85.
A short while later, Holmberg picked up another first as she anchored Hempfield’s 4x200 relay squad to victory in a facility record 1:46.78, more than making up the stride deficit she faced as Austintown Fitch entered the final exchange zone first. In the field, Holmberg also was victorious in the long jump, with her 17-8 leap besting teammate Bridget Guy and her 17-2.5.
“I do start to tire out but once I’m at the starting line or on the runway, I get a lot of adrenaline and it doesn’t affect me as much,” Holmberg said of the effects of such a busy meet schedule.
In the 800, two western Pennsylvania standouts turned in solid performances in placing first. Grace Trucilla of Villa Maria turned back 1,600 winner Alexis O’Shea of West Allegheny, posting a 2:17.60 clocking for PA#4. On the boys’ side, Dylin Wilhoite of Penn Hills went wire to wire in negative splitting a 1:59.87.
The girls’ shot put featured a pair of 40-foot performers, with senior Emily Campbell of Slippery Rock showing that she will be a force to contend with on the state level and sophomore Cailen Blaire of Hickory putting forth a breakthrough performance. With her 42-2 from another Ohio meet earlier in the winter a solid PA#3, Campbell was the class of the field, reaching out to 41-2.25 for the victory.
“I worked very hard over the summer, every day I’m putting in work, lifting and getting my throws in,” the Wake Forest commit said. “I was really happy to open at 42-2. My goal for indoor is 45. That would be amazing.”
Although Campbell was the winner, the performance of the event and possibly of the day went to Blaire, who added nearly 4 feet to her personal best in a second-place heave and PA#4 of 40-8.25.
“I work with the Hickory throwers, (and) I was pumping her up and so proud of her,” Campbell said of Blaire. “I see how hard she works. I’m glad she competed well today and had a 40.”