BY JEFF FALK
SHIPPENSBURG – It wasn’t because they were physically drained or emotionally exhausted. The reason Lebanon County’s elite track and field athletes slept so well last night was because it was with the knowledge that they had simply done their best.
Local athletes hauled home an over-flowing handful of hardware from Saturday’s PIAA track and field championships at Shippensburg University’s Seth Grove Stadium. Though none were of the metalic variety, just about every Lebanon County medal was the product of a supreme effort.
Annville-Cleona’s Ben Mason, Shaun Wolfe, Mark Bachman and Eric Bowman, Elco’s Drew Gerberich and Palmyra’s Shawn Mayer, Tim Moses and Connor Strynkowskie all occupied their rightful places on the award stands.
Leading the local charge was Mason. The reigning District Three Class AA champion in the 800 meters finished a gratifying fourth in his specialty.
“That’s pretty good,” said Mason, a junior who was eighth in the event at last year’s state meet. “I’m definitely happy with that. I am dead. I am just dead tired.
“Yes, I always close,” continued Mason. “When I start, I don’t feel like I’m going that fast. I always feel I’m putting myself in a hole.”
Finishing fourth required Mason’s best. His 49.44 was his personal best.
“I wanted to get a top three,” Mason said. “To do that I needed to start out faster than I have been. That’s where I think my time went down.”
Mason anchored an Annville-Cleona 1600-meter relay squad that came in seventh. Bowman played the role of lead-off man, Bachman followed in his shoes and Wolfe set the table for Mason.
Individually, Wolfe took a fullfilling sixth in the 1600-meter run. He smelled PIAA hardware coming in, and the scent never left his nostrils.
He was timed in 4:25.61.
“It went perfect for me,” said Wolfe. “I went out good. And I saw early I wasn’t going to be boxed in. I just wanted to stay in medal position.
“Yeah, I do look around (during the race),” Wolfe continued. “I know it’s a bad habit. My coach is always telling me about it.”
After the race, Wolfe dispelled rumors that he derived his running endurance from flowing locks he hasn’t cut in about seven years.
“I think the last time I had a hair cut was in fourth grade. It’s been a while,” said Wolfe. “Yeah, I did the best I could. I felt a little fatigued from the two-mile (relay). But that was my best.”
Gerberich gives his all every time out. And this time out it was in the 800-meter run.
The last runner to qualify for the 12-competitor Class AAA final, Gerberich parlayed yet another strong kick into a fourth-place medal, with a 4:25.61 effort.
“I just went out really fast,” said Gerberich. “After the first lap, I was sixth. I told myself, ‘I have one more lap left.’ I just kicked as hard as I could. I almost got third. The last 100 meters, I didn’t feel anything.
“Coming in, my qualifying time was the slowest one that made it (to the finals),” Gerberich added. “The fact that I was 12th was fitting because I always feel like I’m under-appreciated. I wanted to be 12th because it made me feel like the underdog.”
Last week, Gerberich won the Class AAA 1600-meter run at the District Three meet with the fastest local time ever. In April, Gerberich won the 3200-meter run at the Lebanon County Track and Field Championships.
“From the beginning, I always felt the 800 was my race,” said Gerberich. “At the county meet, I focused on the 3200. At the district meet I focused on the 1600. But I always felt the 800 was my best event. I know it looks weird. All my friends were confused too.
“My diet completely changed for track and field,” Gerberich added. “I used to always get a slushey before I went to school. This year, I had zero slusheys. But tomorrow, I’m having a slushey.”
Cougar senior Shawn Mayer also finished fourth, in the meet’s final event of the day, the Class AAA pole vault. Mayer was right there in the thick of competition, before being able to make any of his attempts at 16-0.
“I’m a little bit disappointed,” said Mayer. “Fourth is where I placed last year, so I wanted to do better this year. It’s a big year for jumping. All of us were juniors last year.
“Just competing, I thought it was a fun experience,” Mayer added. “It was all exciting for us to go over 15-6. (At that point) we’re all pulling stuff.”
Mayer’s official final performance was 15-6. He had gone 15-7 at an invitational meet earlier in the season.
Mayer’s Palmyra teammate Tim Moses finished fifth in the event.
“That’s the first time I ever jumped it (16-0) in competition,” said Mayer. “I had to switch poles when it went to 16-0. I came in thinking underdog-ish. Try to pop something out and surprise people.”
“All (Mayer, Moses and Northern Lebanon’s Brian Boltz) have jumped 14 feet. We’ve never had three guys from the county jump 14 feet,” said Viking vaulting coach Jim Weaver, known across the state as an expert in the discipline. “The kids have interest. They put some extra time in. A lot of schools (locally) have left their pits out all summer.”
On Saturday morning, Strynkowski came in sixth in the Class AAA 3200-meter run, in a time of 9:24.74.