2014 PTFCA Indoor State Championship
Phil Grove's Feature Stories
Brianna Schwartz, Shaler Area (Mile champ and new AT PA Best)
Brianna Schwartz brought out the oohs and aahs from a packed house Saturday at the Ashenfelter Center. And that was just the final 10 yards of a record-breaking girls’ mile.
The Shaler Area standout battled back from a rare midrace deficit and crawled across the finish line after she stumbled and fell in the final strides of another race against the clock. Her reward – and the crowd’s – was the first of three all-time state records on the day, erasing her own Pennsylvania standard in dramatic fashion in the state meet’s first final.
“I heard the crowd roaring, I was just so excited to finish, but my legs just gave out and I just fell to the track,” Schwartz said of the memorable conclusion to her US#3 clocking of 4 minutes, 42.58 seconds. “I looked up and the finish line was right in front of my face. I think I rolled across. I don’t know what I did.
“Everyone was yelling at me to get over (the line). I was just happy to finish.”
Schwartz’s scramble to the finish was a result of the torrid early pace set by Elk County Catholic’s Kennedy Weisner and the long finishing drive to the line by Schwartz.
Running relaxed from the front, Weisner took the field of 11 through an opening 440 yards in 70 seconds, with only Schwartz and Cumberland Valley sophomore Mady Clahane able to stay close. Weisner’s lead grew to about 10 yards midway through as the Georgetown signee covered the opening 880 yards in under 2:20.
“I was feeling really good, and I was real excited because I heard 2:19 and 3:30 so I knew I was right there,” Weisner said of her splits at midrace and with two laps to go. “I was excited.”
Weisner said she had “no idea” that her lead over Schwartz had grown, adding, “I figured she was probably close, but I didn’t know.”
Breaking from her front-running style, Schwartz filled the role of chaser to the committed effort from her western Pennsylvania competitor.
“She looked really good,” the winner said of Weisner, who finished second in 4:51.87. “I was just trying to stay right with her.
“I could see myself falling back a little bit so coming up with 400 to go, I knew that’s where I felt confident that I could finish strong and go past her and not look back.”
Schwartz, who assumed the role of state meet favorite two weeks ago with a season-opening and record-breaking 4:42.10 effort in the 1,600, pulled even with Weisner with about 450 meters remaining. Taking the lead meters later, Schwartz didn’t know if Weisner was able to match her push to the front and wasn’t willing to take any chances.
“I wasn’t sure where she was,” said Schwartz, who suffered scrapes but nothing serious to her knee, hip and elbow as a result of her fall. “That’s why I kept sprinting as hard as I could. I guess a little too hard.”
Clahane held form for third in 4:54.43, while Madeleine Davison of North Allegheny moved to PA#5 with a fourth-place time of 4:55.11.
Schwartz’s dramatic victory brought out congratulations from dozens of spectators as she left the awards stand and even an extended hand from West Chester Henderson’s Tony Russell as he awaited the start of the boys’ mile.
“That was so crazy,” Russell said of Schwartz’s race and finish. “I felt kind of bad because she would have had a faster time. She still ran 4:42. That’s so crazy. She’s so good.
“She ran amazing. I had to (shake her hand) because I never have gotten to speak with her before.”
Chris Stone, Springfield Montco (HJ and PV champ)
Whether it was feet first or head first, Chris Stone had no equals at clearing the bar Saturday at the Ashenfelter Center.
The Springfield (M) junior matched personal records in claiming a pair of state indoor championships, with a clearance of 15 feet winning the pole vault and a 6-8 jump topping the high jump standings.
“Usually the pole vault and the high jump are at the same time,” Stone said of time management issues he didn’t have to contend with this weekend at Penn State. “I guess they think most people don’t do both, so this was kind of a break for me, knowing I had the pole vault in the morning. Then I had a nice break and then high jump (in the afternoon). I really had fresh legs for both and that helped a lot.”
In the pole vault, Stone and Ryan Wilkes of Valley View shared the state lead at 15-0 entering Saturday’s indoor finale. Wilkes came into the competition at 13-6, while Stone started at 14-0, with both vaulters having a clean record when the bar was raised to 14-6 for the six remaining competitors.
“A lot of people don’t think you jump in the pole vault, but you really have got to jump off the ground when you go and plant the pole,” Stone said of the similarities between the events.
Stone took a lead he would never relinquish as he cleared 14-6 on his first attempt, while Wilkes was the only other vaulter with a make on his third try. Both cleared the winning height of 15-0 on their first attempt before missing three times each at 15-6.
“Getting (the pole vault) out of the way and winning that eased my nerves a lot,” Stone said. “During the warm-ups in the pole vault, I was pretty nervous. There was more pressure. I was pretty nervous this morning.”
In the high jump, Stone was one of three in the competition with 2014 season bests of 6-8. The junior took his first jump at 6-2 and was one of only two without a miss through 6-4.
His first-try over at 6-6 put Stone in sole possession of the lead, and a 6-8 clearance on his third attempt made him the day’s most unique double winner.
“I knew I had a good chance to win both, but it’s like real now,” said Stone, who will contest both events at the New Balance Indoor Nationals in two weeks. “I won both, and I have two state championships.”
She had been there before but was never this fast.
Tessa Barrett added another record-breaking feather in her cap Saturday, defending her indoor state 3,000-meter run title with a US#2 clocking and an all-time state record.
Barrett’s time of 9 minutes, 36.45 seconds demolished her meet-record effort of 9:47.73 from a year ago and her state-record 9:45.77 in January at Susquehanna University.
“Last year was definitely a different experience,” the Abington Heights senior said. “I came in really not sure. It was my first indoor state meet. I stuck with the leaders and pulled away at the end.
“This year I know I wanted to get out fast. No one was with me so I just kept pushing the pace, trying to maintain pace. It was different.”
Starting in the outside alley, Barrett did not waste any time in taking the suspense out of the 15-lap race, having a noticeable advantage as the field broke for the inside lane after 150 meters. An opening 400 of 72.6 seconds had the Penn State signee on target for her goal pace, as six consecutive 38-second trips around the banked oval put the finishing touches on an opening metric mile of 5:04.3.
“I was feeling kind of whopped as I went through that,” Barrett said of her first 1,600. “I was like, Oh, I’ve still got seven (laps) to go. Maybe if I had taken it out a little slower but that’s how you learn. It was definitely a great learning experience.”
Continuing to eat up track and the field, Barrett slowed slightly, running together five 39-second laps before closing with a 75-second 400 and another record time.
“I really just tried to focus on my pace and my cadence as I was going through,” the winner said of pushing the pace as she built an insurmountable lead. “It’s a little tough out there on your own. I wish I could have gone a little faster, but it was a great race overall.
“It definitely helps to have the crowd roaring as you go past the home stretch. The cheering, I could hear my parents. It’s great.
Barrett began to lap the field with 1,100 meters left and had few difficult passes outside of striding out into lane 2 to pass a trio of runners with 600 meters left. By the time she reached the finish, Barrett had lapped 11 of her 15 competitors and finished more than 20 seconds ahead of runner-up Regan Rome of Dallas (PA#2 9:57.36).
“(9:30) was the goal,” Barrett said. “I fell a little off a couple of times, and I could feel it. I was training through this week with nationals coming up.
“Going from that small speed work to a little bigger for the 5K to get ready so I knew it was kind of stretching the limits a little bit. But I’m still really happy.”
Unionville’s Courtney Smith moved to PA#3 at 10:00.69, while Mary Malone of North Hills is now PA#6 after her fourth-place time of 10:06.93.
With one meet left on her indoor schedule (5,000 meters at the upcoming New Balance Nationals), Barrett can look back on a cross country national championship in California and record-breaking runs at home in the Keystone state.
“It’s been a crazy ride, it was just crazy,” Barrett said of her recent accomplishments. “After (winning) Foot Locker, I took a little break but I jumped right back into the swing of things. I’ve taken it pretty easy this winter. I’m pretty happy with where I’m at now. I excited for spring track.”
Sierra Brabham-Lawrence and Montae Nicholson were on missions Saturday.
And whether it was restoring a little school pride or simply giving your best, their gold-medal performances showed that they definitely hit their targets.
The Harrisburg junior and the Gateway senior also walked off with lofty US rankings over 60-meter hurdle fields that were simply the finest seen in the state all season.
“I wanted to do this for myself, but I wanted to put Harrisburg back on the map where it was before,” said Brabham-Lawrence, who chopped almost two-tenths of a second off her previous PR in claiming her state title. “We used to be amazing. We fell off and I want to get us back there. I wanted to do it for my city, my school, my family as well as myself.”
To accomplish these goals, Brabham-Lawrence would need to overcome the efforts of Cheltenham’s Ciara Leonard, who was the PA leader at 8.57 seconds prior to the state meet. The pair were the fastest in qualifying, won their semifinals and were side by side in the final.
With neither able to take control, the hurdlers battled over the entire 60 meters, with Brabham-Lawrence finally getting the nod by just a hundredth of a second. Her T-US#3 time of 8.45 tied the state meet record by Leah Nugent from 2011 and just missed the all-time state best of 8.43 by Joyce Bates in 1996.
“I could really see her in my peripheral vision,” the winner said of Leonard. “The whole time I was saying, Nope, I’m not going to let her pass me. I’m not going to let her pass me. Hang in there.”
Leonard’s 8.46 performance is now US#5, while Paul Robeson’s Markeeta Thomas moved to PA#3 with an 8.66 for third and Hempfield Area’s Maddie Holmberg is PA#4 after her 8.74 in fourth.
Although he had run just one race (prelims at last week’s Tri-State Coaches meet) this season prior to arriving at Penn State, Nicholson would not let this be an excuse.
“Even though I didn’t have that much practice, when I do practice, I get in there and go to work,” the Michigan state recruit said of track practice time that was limited by his Gateway basketball schedule. “I don’t believe in slacking off in anything actually. When I set my mind to something, I gotta do it. It helps that my mom is my track coach.”
On the strength of his 7.92 clocking in the semis, Nicholson was alongside rival and former PA#1 Matthew Bernadowski of Elizabeth Forward in the final. Bernadowski had run a T-US#6 7.96 in earning his spot in the run for gold.
“Matt and I, we’re competitors, but we’re friends as well,” Nicholson said. “This rivalry has been going on since sophomore year. When we step on the track, it is a rivalry, but it’s a friendly rivalry. We don’t bash each other. We don’t do that kind of stuff.”
The final was one of the best high hurdle races this season, with Nicholson hitting the ground first after the opening barrier and pulling away for the win. His T-US#3 7.85 was just a hundredth of a second off the national lead and an easy winner over Mitch Valko of South Fayette and his US#5 7.95.
Six of the top eight times in Pennsylvania were run in the final. And all told, the eight fastest PA times were run Saturday, including four sub-8 clockings that are now part of the US top 10.
“When I run, I focus on the same thing, just focusing to try to win,” Nicholson said. “Do my best. I believe if I do my best, win or lose, I’m happy.”
Running from the front has become Kyle Francis’ calling card.
Saturday on the 200-meter banked oval at Penn State, the senior from Bensalem parlayed being in the lead into a wire-to-wire victory and an all-time state record in the nation’s fastest 800 meters this year.
“I knew Jeff Wiseman and Joey Logue are two great runners that are aggressive,” the winner said of his two primary competitors and the other top seeds. “So I had to be more aggressive than they were to execute my plan.
“I had to take it from the gun and hold the lead, which not many people like to do but I’m fine with it. I don’t know where they are. I just picture them on my shoulder and try to push through it. It worked today.”
Francis charged into the lead after the gun and never hesitated. He never gave up first and wasn’t seriously threatened in running a US#1 time of 1 minute, 50.55 seconds.
“I knew the record was on the radar and in my sights,” the Duke signee said. “I just worked toward that all week. The main goal was to win, and if I got the record, that was just icing on the cake. To come out with a win and a PA all-time indoor record is unbelievable.”
In addition to taking down records and moving to the top of the national rankings in 2013, Francis matched former teammate Brad Rivera’s feat from 2013 in winning an indoor state title.
“I was his understudy for three years,” Francis said of Rivera, who now runs for Penn State. “I couldn’t ask for a better mentor on the track. He brought it every day to practice, and every meet he was like Superman. He could do four events and never get tired.”
Council Rock South’s Wiseman stayed close to the 53-second opening 400 by Francis but could not completely close the gap on the eventual winner. The senior had to settle for a big PR and US#2 effort of 1:51.36.
“It went out really hard,” Wiseman said of the opening pace. “Francis had a really, really great race, and kudos to him.”
The top two finishers bettered the state meet record of 1:51.73 by Wade Endress in 2011, while Francis also moved into the top spot on the PA list ahead of Ned Willig’s 1:51.25 from 2012 at Yale.
Pennridge’s Logue stayed off the quick opening laps but closed fast. He slipped into third with just over 200 meters to go but couldn’t reach the front pair before the finish as he is now US#3 at 1:52.02.
You can write this one in indelible marker – consistency pays big dividends in the long run.
Maddie Holmberg and Isaiah Brooks needed something a little less permanent Saturday, and one big jump marked down in pencil was just what the track doctor ordered for both.
Combining for more fouls than measured jumps, the juniors nevertheless wrapped up state gold in the long jump competitions at Penn State, hitting big when consistency wasn’t in the cards for them.
As happens almost every meet, Hempfield Area’s Holmberg was entered in several events, with the 60-meter hurdle prelims and long jump occurring at the same time in the morning session. Holmberg’s efforts in the hurdles eventually resulted in a PR and fourth-place finish, but the preliminary rounds left her short on preparation time for the long jump.
“It can go either way,” she said of the effect competing in multiple events can have on her performances. “Today, I think it did help because I was already warm when I was late over to the long jump so I didn’t have to worry about warming up.”
Holmberg was warmed up, but she did not have her steps down and the impact was evident immediately.
“There was so much tension, especially at the beginning because I actually didn’t get a single run-through or a pop up, and I didn’t have a mark because they pulled the tape up because I got over there late,” she said. “My first jump I was panicked because I scratched. Once I got that second jump, I knew I had a jump to hold me. After having that 18-10, it eased the anxiety a little bit.”
Her second-round leap of 18 feet, 10.75 inches was worth an indoor PR, event lead and PA#1, shifting the anxiety she felt onto her competitors.
“I wasn’t sure that I had (first place) because it was only my second attempt, but every other one I scratched,” Holmberg said of possibly being a state champion. “So knowing that I got that one jump … I’m very blessed. I was surprised, but I worked for it.”
Although she was unable to register another legal jump, Holmberg stayed in front for the remainder of the competition. Upper Darby’s Claudine Andre came the closest with her best jump covering 18-0.5.
“We have so many people here, my coaches are all over the place,” the winner said. “I walked over there, and they expected me to be upset because they didn’t see my 18-10. They thought I fouled out.
“And they said, ‘How did it go?’ I said I won … and they were ecstatic.”
Like Holmberg, Brooks also qualified for multiple events and had prelims in the 60 dash in the morning along with the long jump. While he did slightly better at finding the board, the Woodland Hills standout felt his stress level increase as a result of a logo infraction on his uniform that meet officials originally said would negate his first-round effort.
That leap measuring 23-5 was his and Pennsylvania’s second longest of 2014. Officials later corrected their ruling since Brooks was not previously warned about the logo on the waistband of his shorts and allowed the eventual winning mark to stand.
“I was just out of my game,” Brooks said of the effect of the ruling and later reversal. “My mindset wasn’t in it.”
Before he could continue to compete in the long jump, Brooks had to find another pair of shorts to wear that would pass rulebook scrutiny. His second-round leap was just 21-6, but he rebounded in the third round to 22-6 and re-earned a spot in the finals.
With his opening mark back for good, Brooks and the rest of the field had three jumps left. As he did at the Tri-State Coaches meet a week before after leaping 23-9.25, Brooks was unable to stay behind the foul line on his remaining jumps.
Although he did not hit his season goal of 24 feet, Brooks noted that the final result was something that was indeed special.
“Today was a good day for me,” he said. “I got gold.”