BY JEFF FALK
LANDISVILLE – Pretty sure there was some degree of cajoling, coaxing and convincing that went on. Something like: ‘Ariel, help us, help you’.
But even better than advertised, it has turned into the perfect symbiotic relationship.
On Saturday at Hempfield High School, the tale of Ariel Jones, reluctant thin-clad, took a somewhat unexpected turn when she turned in one of the top individual performances at the annual Lancaster-Lebanon League Track and Field Championships. Jones, a three-sport, junior student-athlete from Cedar Crest, collected three shiny medals at the league meet – golds in the high jump and long jump on Saturday, to go along with a silver earned in the triple jump on Friday.
But while Jones’ stellar showing helped the Falcons to a somewhat surprising runner-up finish to Manheim Township in the girls’ team standings, it wasn’t the only outstanding effort put forth by Lebanon County competitors. Also starring from the locale were a Lebanon High contingent that featured middle distance stand-out Derin Klick and senior pole vaulter Jesse Brownstein, an Elco Raider 1600-meter relay repeat winner and a 3200-meter relay team that sparked Cedar Crest to a second-place showing to McCaskey in the boys’ team standings.
But it was the soft-spoken and unassuming Jones who stole the show. The same Jones who stars on the hardwood in the winter for the Falcons. The same Jones who stars on the soccer pitch in the fall for the Falcons.
For the first time, Jones, who went out for track and field as a freshman but did not compete last season as a sophomore, enjoyed almost as much success in her new sport as she did in her more previous ones. Initially, she only saw track and field as a way to stay active and stay in shape for the others.
“There is no comparison to basketball,” said Jones, without batting an eye. “Basketball is my favorite sport. I like track because it helps me stay in shape.
“Yeah, Coach (Rob) Bare and Coach (Ann) Boyer kind of convinced me to come out,” added Jones. “They told me, ‘You can help the team’.”
“We were working on her,” said Bare. “We told her, ‘Give track and field a try again’. It’s only going to help her get better in basketball. But I love three-sport athletes. Kids should be doing three sports. That’s what high school is all about.
“She did compete as a freshman, but she wasn’t real great at it,” added Bare. “The thing that stands out about her is that she’s a lot of fun. And she’s a competitor. When people watch her on the basketball floor or on the soccer field, they can tell how good of an athlete she is.”
Jones’ Saturday morning started early, with a winning mark of 5-2 in the high jump. Although Jones captured the competition with fewer misses, she’s sure she can go even higher in the event.
“It was tiring, but it was fun,” said Jones, of the high jump competition. “I knew if I made one mistake, I could go from first to second. I was hoping for first, like I did. I didn’t want to do anything less than expected.
“I’ve gotten 5-5 already,” added Jones. “It would be great to get it again. I’d like to P.R. (personal record). And I’m only one inch away from our school record.”
Jones rode her morning momentum into the afternoon long jump competition and a personal best of 17-9.25. It was good enough to edge runner-up Sarah Stackhouse of Penn Manor by a quarter-of-an-inch.
“My P.R. before this was 16-7, so I P.R.-ed by over a foot,” said Jones. “So that’s good. We just practice a lot. We’re trying to get more speed and trying to get more height. But I think I can do better.”
Klick, a junior, repeated last year’s triumph in the 800-meter event by running away from the competition. It took him about one lap to distinguish himself from the crowd, before being clocked in 1:54.54, which was about two seconds faster than a field that also included Cedar Crest’s Matt Royer and Jesse Cruise.
“It means a lot to me,” said Klick of his repeat performance. “I’ve been working really hard. We’ve done a bunch of things to strengthen me. I’m not used to being a front-runner. But my coach taught me it’s not a race you can win from the back. I tend not to think about anything when I run, and that includes the guy behind me.
“Everyone’s just a leader on our team,” Klick added. “We’re definitely not deep, but we have talent. We all know who we are. We all know what we’re doing.”
Klick’s teammate Brownstein emerged from a friendly pole vault competition that pitted himself against Northern Lebanon’s Damian DiAngelis, who finished second, and fellow Cedar Huy Luu, who took fourth. Brownstein was the lone competitor to reach his seed height – 13-6 – but he was eyeing more.
“I’m kind of happy,” said Brownstein. “I didn’t P.R. yet, but the medal is definitely nice. I was really hoping for over 13-6, especially when I was going at 13-9. I tied my P.R., but I wanted more. But it is a pretty good feeling.”
In the final event of the day, Raiders Austin Eldridge, Ryan Rolon, Blaine Troutman and Colton Lawrence collaborated on a gold medal in the 1600-meter relay. Minus Lawrence, an outstanding athlete who’s out for track and field for the first time as a senior, the three other members won the same event last season with Chris Gilbertson.
This time they were clocked in 3:28.29.
“There’s a lot of heart in these kids,” said Elco track and field head coach Bob Miller. “They’ve come together. I think last year put a little more passion into this year. It drove them.
“Colton decided he was going to come out for track,” continued Miller. “And we were glad to have him. In our second meet, we put him in the 400. We told him to ‘go run as hard as you can for as long as you can’.”
Cedar Crest started its day off right by extending its stranglehold on the 3200-meter relay championship. The Falcons combined the talents of Bryce Vukovich, Royer, Nick Blandy and anchor Cruise to post a winning time of 8:02.84, which was two clicks faster than runner-up McCaskey.
Individually, Cruise later ran a spirited second to Red Tornado star Ethan Henderson in the 1600-meter race.
“We’re real proud of our two-mile relay team,” said Bare. “That’s our fifth straight league title in the event, and seventh out of the last nine. We wanted one for the thumb.
“It was a great day for Lebanon County track and field,” Bare added. “But there are bigger and better things ahead.”
Other local highlights from league meet included: a pair of bronze medals won by Elco sprinter Ethan Anspach, in the 100 and 200 meters; Falcon Destinee Holloman’s silver medal in the 100 dash; Cedar Crest’s Emily Peters’ runner-up finish in the 800 meters; Northern Lebanon senior Matt Vines’ third-place hardware in the discus; and Cedar Crest freshman Hannah Woelfling’s bronze in the discus.
Annville-Cleona junior superstar Reagan Hess did not compete in the Lancaster-Lebanon Track and Field Championships because of scheduling conflicts associated with a prom. Hess would’ve been the top seed in the 100 dash, the 200 dash and the long jump.
At last year’s league meet, Hess suffered a hamstring injury that ended her sophomore postseason.
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