BY JEFF FALK
PHOTOS BY LORI MESSERSMITH
SHIPPENSBURG – For some, it was the best they could do. For others, it was the best they could do under the circumstances.
But because it is the biggest, that’s what the PIAA Track and Field Championships is really all about – saving your best for last.
On a muggy Saturday at Shippensburg University’s Seth Grove Stadium, doing one’s best and peaking were the themes for Lebanon County student-athletes competing on the second day of the state track and field meet, one of the final major events in the 2015-16 scholastic sports year. Although the five medals taken home by local competitors weren’t really all that metallic in color, in many cases they were individual bests or personal records.
Heading the charge was emerging Cedar Crest junior jumper Ariel Jones, who set both a personal best and a new school record in finishing fourth in the Class AAA high jump. Turns out a fifth-place medal in the Class AA 100-meter dash may have been all Annville-Cleona junior Reagan Hess could muster, due to the residual effects of a hamstring injury suffered last spring.
Meanwhile, Lebanon High junior Derin Klick’s performance in the open Class AAA 800-meter run may have been more about his individual record than the sixth-place piece of hardware it earned him. And Northern Lebanon’s Dakota Leonhard and Palmyra’s Alex Hoffsmith pushed the boundaries of their throwing abilities by finishing seventh and eighth, respectively, in the Class AAA javelin competition.
“It felt great to win county and (Lancaster-Lebanon) league medals, but getting it at states makes me so happy,” said Jones, who is still figuring out how good she can be at track-and-field jumping. “It’s so fun. There are so many great athletes here. Last week at districts it really wasn’t all that enjoyable, because of the weather, we had to jump inside.
“I probably didn’t think I could get it (5-7) coming in,” continued Jones. “But when I was jumping 5-4 I felt pretty good, and I thought I might be able to go higher.”
Following a somewhat disappointing showing in the event at the District Three meet last weekend, Jones bounced back in a big way, clearing 5-7 for the first time ever, on her second attempt at the height. Valerie Przekop of Central Bucks South captured the gold medal in the event with a leap of 5-9.
Jones entered the competition seeded 17th, with a 5-2, while her previous personal best was 5-5. The old Cedar Crest long jump record was held by some retro (19)80s competitor named Stevie Falk.
“I think the best part is getting the school record,” said Jones. “I’m super excited. It was great getting the record and getting the P.R. (personal record), and even the fourth-place medal was great.
“As a freshman, my P.R. was 4-8,” Jones added. “In the first scrimmage this year, I got 5-2. From there. I just got better and better.”
Hampered by a tight hamstring, Hess was forced to make a decision as to which event she should go all out in on Saturday. She chose the 100 dash.
After failing to make the finals in the 200-meter dash, the Annville-Cleona junior seemed to run well in finishing fifth in the 100 dash. She was clocked in 12.23, just a hair off her seed time of 12.09.
But Hess was about two-thirds of a second off the winning, and new state record time of 11.58, turned in by Girard College freshman Thelma Davies.
‘That thought definitely crossed my mine when I was stretching and warming up,” said Hess, of conserving energy in one sprint event to apply it to another. “I wanted to run in the 100 finals. In the 200 (semifinal), my leg started hurting at the 100 mark. I knew if I wanted to run in the finals of the 100, I had to back it off.
“I wasn’t too happy with my time (in the 100),” Hess continued. “But everyone ran great, so I guess I’m happy. That’s (11.58) insane. I’ve never ran against anyone who’s that fast.”
After winning three gold medals at the District Three Track and Field Championships a weekend prior, Hess upped her career medal haul at the state meet to four. In addition to the silver medal she earned in the long jump on Friday afternoon, Hess also finished second in the long jump and third in the 100-meter dash as a freshman.
“I’m very happy with my season,” said Hess, who could become Lebanon County’s all-time leading goal scorer among girls’ soccer players in the fall. “At states, I could’ve done better. But it is what it is. It’s good for my comeback season. This season is done and now I’ve got to start thinking about the next one. It’s not too early to set goals for next season.
“They’re (track and field, and soccer) so different,” Hess added. “In track, there’s individual aspects I like about it. And soccer is such a team-oriented sport. I don’t really think about it (playing one or the other in college). I know I definitely need to start thinking about it. What makes it hard is having to leave one behind.”
Klick picked a great time to lay down his best time ever in the 800-meter run. His 1:53.66 was three seconds quicker than his seed time.
As has become his custom, Klick got out to a strong start and battled the front-runners for most of the race. Eventually, Joseph Espinal of Wilson Area emerged with the gold, in 1;51.09.
“If someone came up to me at the beginning of the season and told me I was going to medal at the state meet, I would’ve laughed at him,” said Klick. “It’s huge. I’m hoping to make it three years in-a-row next year (that a Lebanon High middle-distance runner has earned a state medal).
“You have to get out front,” Klick added. “If you fall back, it’s not very far. For 800 runners, this is the weather you want to run in. No one’s used to it, but everyone likes it.”
Seeded 12th and 18th, respectively, Viking Leonhard and Cougar Hoffsmith reached the finals of the Class AAA javelin competition from the first flight. Both Leonhard and Hoffsmith surpassed their previous personal bests by a remarkable ten feet. Quite a feat.
The gold medal went to Stroudsburg’s Mike Marsack and his 211-11.
Hoffsmith’s effort was a new Palmyra school record, while Leonhard’s medal made up for a somewhat disappointing showing in Friday’s shot put competition.
Saturday at states also marked the last official scholastic competition for Cedar Crest senior standout Evan Horn. Competing in the Class AAA long jump, Horn did not make it out of the preliminaries in the competition and finished 22nd overall.
It was an unceremonious conclusion to one of the finest four-year, three-sport careers in the history of Lebanon County athletics.
“It wasn’t the best,” said the ultra-competitive Horn, who earned a state medal in the javelin last season. “After my last jump, it wasn’t too good and I realized it was over.
“I first started track and field in my freshman year, just to keep me in shape,” added Horn. “As the years went on, I got more interested in the sport. It’s neat to see kids you know from other sports And then my competitive nature kind of takes over.”
At one point, Horn told this reporter that he wanted to win a District Three Class AAAA championship in basketball, qualify for the District Three postseason in football and win a state gold medal in track and field, before his career was over. Lofty goals to say the least, some of which he achieved and some of which he didn’t.
“Right now, when I look at it, I had a pretty good career,” said Horn, who has committed to play major college football at New Hampshire University. “I played in district championship games (in basketball), and got to districts (in football) for the first time in school history in quite a while. It goes on and on. It’s something I’ll never forget. I’m happy with the career I had.
“Tomorrow I start thinking about football,” concluded Horn. “I haven’t had the football mindset since the start of basketball. Now it’s my mindset.”
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