BY JEFF FALK
LANDISVILLE – It’s the old ‘nature versus nurture’ argument applied to track and field. Which is more essential to an athlete’s success, talent or technique?
To excel at big meets like the Lancaster-Lebanon Track and Field Championships, athletes need both. And of course, big hearts and unwavering competitive spirits are required as well.
On Saturday at Hempfield High School, Lebanon County’s combination of ability, training and intestinal fortitude produced one of its most fruitful league meets ever.
With a solid core of seniors leading the way, the Cedar Crest boys’ squad captured the team championship of the annual L-L T& F tournament, by winning the meet’s final event – the 1600-meter relay – to edge McCaskey, 88 team points to 83. For the Falcons, it was their fourth overall Lancaster-Lebanon team title, but first since 2004.
On the girls’ side, Annville-Cleona – the smallest school in the L-L – finishing second to powerful Hempfield in the team standings was just as impressive. Backed by freshman phenom Regan Hess’ two golds, the Little Dutchmen compiled 54 team points and came in ahead of such schools as Manheim Township, Ephrata and Cedar Crest.
“You’ve got to have something to start with,” said Cedar Crest boys’ head coach Rob Bare, whose troops captured the Section One crown during the regular year. “But I want coaches coming up to me and saying, ‘You might be talented, but you’re tough and you’re competitive.’ I think we have a lot of kids who are like that.
“We tell our kids, ‘the secret to success in life is to be prepared’,” Bare continued. “‘Just go out there and execute the plan’.”
“You should be very wary of that,” said Hess, of not abandoning form during the heat of competition. “I did that on my first jump (in the long jump). But I knew what I did wrong, and then you can use that for the rest of your jumps.
“My technique could definitely improve,” added Hess. “I’m sure every jumper could say that. But I’ve been working on it.”
“A lot of it comes down to competing,” said Cedar Crest senior middle distance runner Jarrod Cruise. “Obviously you’ve got to have talent. But if you have a competitive mindset, training will aid in that.
“I was running my 800 today,” Cruise added. “I knew I had to go, so my form and technique kind of went out the window. But that’s when heart and desire take over.”
“Once we get to the league meet, everyone is talented,” said Cedar Crest senior sprinter Denzel Pierre. “So it’s the ones who focus on form and technique who are going to do well. Talent is great, but it’s only going to take you so far. Your skill set and mechanics is what’s going to make the difference.
“Coach Bare is big on technique,” continued Pierre. “With my technique, I’m pushing as hard as I possibly can for the first 20 meters (in the 100 dash). Towards the middle, you’re keeping good form. Then the last 20 meters, you’re really pushing hard, but your head is focused forward and you’re relaxed.”
Pierre could’ve easily been tabbed as the meet’s outstanding male performer had such an honor been awarded.
With exceptional closing speed, Pierre won the 100-meter dash in a 10.79 time that was a personal best and one of the fastest in District Three this season. He followed that up with a sparkling anchor leg in the 400-meter relay that propelled he and senior teammates Peter Groff, Jared Brandt and Mitchell Weaver to victory, then ran second to Hempfield’s Tory Long in the 200-meter dash.
“I felt really good today. When I woke up, my legs felt fresh,” said Pierre. “When I started out, I made sure I was ready. I worked on my block starts the most. I stretched out, took a sip of water, listened to music and got in the zone. I thought it (the 100) was going to be a tough race, and it was. It’s just a blessing in itself to be here.
“I really wanted the four-by-one bad,” Pierre continued. “I thought if I could get in the top three in the hundred, it would build my confidence for that race. I’ve got to give credit to my teammates for great hand-offs. And I felt like the four-by-one would set me up for the 200.”
Cruise competed hard for his teammates, his school, his squad, his two younger brothers and himself, in that order. Cruise won the 800-meter run in almost two seconds, and helped the Falcons sweep all three of the relay events.
In the morning, he crossed the finish line first in the 3200-meter relay, after accepting the baton from Jared Glosser, Jesse Cruise and Jordan Cruise. Then in the afternoon, Ja. Curise ran the third leg – between Glosser, Jariol Candelario and Groff – of Cedar Crest’s victorious 1600-meter relay squad.
The Falcons’ winning time of 3:24.85 was a few fractions of a click faster than the Lebanon High runner-up foursome of Jeronimo Rodriguez, Francois Omel, Derin Klick and Ethan Arnold-Paine.
“I was on two relays and those points were huge,” said Ja. Cruise. “I told my brothers, ‘We’re running for the team’. It was all for the team, and about scoring for the team. I was just trying to make all the points for the team I can.
“At the beginning of the season, I remember saying, ‘All three relay teams can make it to states,'” Ja. Cruise continued. “I won to run all three events (the 800, 1600- and 3200-meter relays) at districts, if the Lord’s willing and I don’t get injured. In the four-by-eight, I want to go in and mix it up. In the 800, I’m hoping to place. And in the four-by-four, we’re hoping to make it to states.”
“We didn’t all show up this weekend, but enough of us did,” said Bare. “We at Cedar Crest love relays. For us, sweeping relays was very gratifying.”
Hess followed up a dominating outing at the Lebanon County Championships two weeks ago with another impressive performance, against tougher competition.
She edged Hempfield senior Sarah Helgeson by a mere .01 of a second to win the 100-meter dash, then captured the long jump with a 17-10.5 effort on her second attempt, after finishing third in the 200-meter dash. Earlier, Hess anchored Annville-Cleona’s fifth-place showing in the 400-meter relay.
“No, I don’t have a favorite event,” said Hess. “If I had a least favorite event, it would probably be the 200, just because it takes the most toll on your body. It (competing in four events) definitely takes a toll on you. It’s very tiring. But I just take it one event at a time.
“It’s (17-10.5) a pretty good jump for me, but I’m usually in the 18s,” Hess added. “Our school record is 18-10, and that’s something for me to shoot for. In the 100, I didn’t think my start was that good. But I thought if I stuck with the girl from Hempfield, I’d P.R.”
Also in the field, Hess’ senior teammate Alyssa Patches turned in a runner-up performance in the javelin. On Friday afternoon, Little Dutchman Samantha Becker was second to Lebanon’s Erin Winters’ record-breaking performance of 12-8 in the pole vault, and just ahead of Cedar Jeannie Showers, who was third in the event.
For the Cedar Crest girls, junior Shanna Sweigart was the runner-up to Conestoga Valley’s Sunny Green in the shot put, after pulling off a surprising victory in the discus on Friday. Annville-Cleona senior Avree Wright, the reigning District Three Class AA champion, was third among Lancaster-Lebanon League shot putters.
Another Falcon, freshman Destinee Holloman, came in third in the triple jump.
On the boys’ side, Lebanon High junior Jeronimo Rodriguez won his specialty, the 400-meter dash, in 50.03. Cedar Crest senior Daniel Neiswender struck silver in the pole vault, as did Northern Lebanon sophomore Matt Vines in the discus.
Cedar Crest sophomore Evan Horn took home bronze in the javelin, while Northern Lebanon leaper Dominic Trader claimed third in the triple jump.