BY JEFF FALK
SHIPPENSBURG – They came from almost every discipline, on the track and in the field.
They came in every size, shape and color – but mostly metallic in luster.
And they came from nearly every participating school.
But boy, did they come. In waves and in a rush.
Lebanon County student-athletes enjoyed an absolutely splendid District Three Track and Field Championships, the 93rd edition of which was contested at Shippensburg University’s Seth Grove Stadium on an overcast Saturday. And it was Annville-Cleona superstar Reagan Hess who led the local charge.
For the second consecutive year, the senior sprinter captured three District Three Class AA gold medals. On Saturday, Hess took top honors in the 100- and 200-meter dashes, in dominating fashion, to go along with the first-place she took in the long jump on Friday night.
Hess also anchored an Annville-Cleona 400-meter relay team that included Morgan Zimmerman, Timeshah Clark and Joanna Myers and finished third. Hess concluded her District Three career with eight gold medals, two slivers and a bronze, and has now earned an amazing total of 32 metallic medals from major postseason meets.
Hess’ showing represented four of the metallic medals that Lebanon County competitors won in 13 events, over the two-day meet.
“It’s kind of like a relief,” said Hess. “You have so much stress coming into these meets. That’s (being the favorite) where I think most of the pressure comes from. If you’re the top seed, you have a target on your back.
“It hasn’t set in yet,” continued Hess. “If I wasn’t doing track in college, it would be heart-breaking. I have an ability to set goals and reach them. I can set new goals there.”
Not unlike Friday in the long jump, Hess used her special talents and experience to impose her will upon the Class AA sprint competition.
In the morning, she broke well from the blocks in the 100, established a healthy lead 30 meters in and then pulled away from the field. Hess posted a 12.09 and beat runner-up Brynna Haupt of Schuylkill Valley to the finish line by .67 of a second.
After lunch, Hess also started well in the 200, gained ground on the turn and again beat Haupt to the tape, this time by a full second. Hess was clocked in 25.49.
In between, Hess’ strong kick in the 400-meter relay took the Little Dutchmen from sixth place to third.
“My time in the 100 was a surprise,” said Hess. “But they (her events) kind of unfolded the way I thought they would. The way I set my goals is more individual. I want to run faster than I did last year, or jump farther.
“It’s (Seth Grove Stadium) like home, for track,” Hess continued. “I’m comfortable running here. I’m comfortable jumping here. It’s a nice feeling.”
There is really only one thing left for Hess to accomplish, and that opportunity will present itself next weekend at the PIAA Track and Field Championships, back at Shippensburg University and Seth Grove Stadium.
“It’s been a big goal. It’s a huge goal,” said Hess of the prospect of state gold. “It’s very important. If I achieve it, it’ll be my biggest accomplishment. It’s going to be tough. But I intend to be better. Next week is going to be harder. You’ve got to put everything into it.
“That’s always a goal for an athlete, to do a PR (personal record),” added Hess. “I would be happy with running the times or jumping the distance I’m supposed to.”
Cedar Crest senior jumper Ariel Jones also enjoyed a marvelous District Three meet. Jones finished fourth or better in all four Class AAA events she competed in.
Jones captured her best event, the high jump, with a leap of 5-4. She also contributed her talents to a Falcon 400-meter relay team that also included Shayla Bonzelet, DeAsia Hollman and Destinee Holloman and that ran a surprising runner-up to champion Susquehanna Township.
Jones also came in fourth in the Class AAA long jump, a performance she had matched a day earlier in the triple jump.
“I’m happy to go to states in all four events again,” said Jones, who will compete on the same Seth Grove Stadium track in college. “In the high jump, I thought I could do better. I wanted to get at least 5-6, but I’m happy. I’ve just got to keep working on the long and triple.
“I know I have the triple jump on Friday (at states), so I can focus on that,” Jones added. “The high jump, I have that first thing in the morning on Saturday, so my legs will be good. It works out good, schedule-wise.”
Jones cleared 5-4 on her second jump in the high. Her 400-meter relay team’s time of 49.05 was .43 of a second quicker than its seeded time, and .13 of a second off the Indians’ winning effort.
“On the first one, I knew I needed to rearrange my steps because I was getting too close to the bar,” said Jones of the high jump. “That second one felt good.
“We were seeded fourth or fifth in the 400 relay,” Jones continued. “But we knew if we came out, got our hand-offs right and tried our best, we would be able to PR again.”
With supreme efforts on Saturday, the Palmyra girls’ 3200-meter relay team, Cougar senior javelin hurler Kristin West and Annville-Cleona pole vaulter Kayla Long seemingly came out of nowhere to collect gold medals.
In Saturday morning’s first event, Palmyra’s Kelsei Bixler, Jess Dembrowski, Sarah Hollen and Ellie Keck combined for a winning time of 9:22.99, one which was more than 12 seconds faster than their seed time. The Cougars seemed to be prohibitive underdogs to Hershey, but edged the Trojans by .05 of a second.
None of the four Cougars distinguished themselves in individual events.
“We weren’t ever thinking about winning. That wasn’t in the picture,” said Keck. “We wanted to get to states. All four of us wanted it. We were stunned that we were seeded second, but we were like, ‘This is anyone’s race’. Our coach was like, ‘Stay with Hershey.’ My explanation for that was excitement. When you get excited you can do amazing things. We were just ready to go.
“At the county meet, the goal was to win and get as many points as we could,” continued Keck. “That worked out. But for the postseason, we take the relays. If you want to go fast, go alone. If you want to go far, go as a team. We didn’t qualify in individual events. But we have a good team.”
Seeded third in the Class AAA javelin, West was in third place when she unleashed a final throw of 140-9. That matched her personal best, and fell just two feet short of the Palmyra High School record.
“I was definitely surprised with my last throw,” said West. “It was a shock. In the heat of the moment, I was pumped up.
“I went in with the goal of getting to states,” West added. “When I reached that goal, I set a new one. But I was surprised, shocked, happy.”
Long had a similar gold-medal experience in the Class AA pole vault.
The sophomore entered the competition with a best effort of 9-6, well off top seed Cierra Phillips of Fairfield’s best performance. But Long cleared 10-6 and edged Phillips on fewer misses.
“I was hoping to make ten feet,” said Long, an accomplished gymnast who’s in her second year of vaulting. “I did not have any clue I would get first place. I was hoping to get fourth or third. I made 9-6 twice, but I never cleared 10-feet before. I never tried 10-6 before.
“I just had no words,” Long added. “My mouth just dropped open. The thing I like about pole vaulting is flying through the air. It’s relaxing to me.”
Also striking gold for Annville-Cleona yesterday was junior sprinter Stanley Miller. But it was part of an up-and-down day for Miller.
After finishing fifth in Friday’s long jump, Miller looked strong in winning the Class AA 100-meter dash, in 11.19. Miller didn’t break particularly well, but turned on the burners about halfway through the race and nipped Bill Williams of Camp Hill by .12 of a second at the finish line.
But later, Miller appeared to pull up while running the 400-meter relay. He was seen limping around the infield, before being scratched from the 200-meter final.
Meanwhile, Palmyra junior Camryn Simpson grabbed a bronze medal in the Class AAA long jump. Lebanon senior Derin Klick finished a close third in a Class AAA 800-meter run in which he was seeded second. And Cedar Crest 12th-grader Jesse Cruise came in third in the Class AAA 1600-meter run.
In addition, Annville-Cleona’s Eriley Torres was third in the AA girls shot put.
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