SHIPPENSBURG – He didn’t know he could do it two years ago.
He didn’t know he could do it at the beginning of the season.
He didn’t know he could do it when he woke up.
Shoot, he didn’t know he could do it, even after he had done it.
It was one of the biggest surprises of the day, but no one was more surprised than Noah Gunderson.
On an overcast Friday at Shippensburg University’s Seth Grove Stadium, during the opening day and the Class AA portion of the competition at the 96th annual PIAA Track and Field Championships, a state medal turned out to be a pleasant surprise for Gunderson. The Annville-Cleona sophomore earned an eighth-place finish in the Class AAA high jump.
Gunderson cleared 6-2 on his first try, then missed three attempts at 6-4.
He was the only Annville-Cleona student-athlete to earn a medal during the first day of events at the state meet. The PIAA Track and Field Championships will conclude on Saturday, when the Class AAA portion of the competition is contested.
“I was shocked when they told me I was eighth,” said a beaming Gunderson. “I’m really happy. I thought I was tenth. If you would’ve told me at the beginning of the season that I was going to get a medal at states, I would’ve told you you were crazy. I wouldn’t have believed it.
“I was fine last night,” Gunderson continued. “But when I woke up this morning, I was really nervous. And on my first jump, I was really nervous. But I just started getting more comfortable with each jump, and then I realized I could do it.”
Lo Pfister of Chestnut Ridge captured the Class AA high jump event with a leap of 6-7. In finishing eighth, Gunderson matched his personal-best jump.
Last week, Gunderson finished second at the District Three Track and Field Championships with that same 6-2. Not bad for a tenth-grader who’s only been jumping for a couple of seasons.
“It means a lot,” said Gunderson. “I’m only a sophomore. Two years ago, I was jumping 5-4, and now I’m jumping ten inches higher, and we didn’t have a season last year (because of COVID-19). If I had a season last year, how much higher could I go?
“I always knew I could jump high,” continued Gunderson. “I play volleyball and I can dunk a basketball, My form has improved over the last two years. My form helps me jump higher. A lot of it is technique.”
While Gunderson was exceeding expectations, Annville-Cleona senior teammate Casey Hess was falling short of his,
Hess entered the Class AA long jump competition as the seventh seed, but did not reach the finals. Hess, who had captured championships in the event in previous weeks at the District Three and Lancaster-Lebanon League Track and Field Championships, jumped 20-5.
Officially, Hess finished 16th.
“They were my three worst jumps of the season,” said Hess. “With where I was seeded, I wanted to make the finals. I wasn’t feeling too great, so that could be some of it. It was a combination of not feeling well and not being on the board.”
Hess had jumped 22-0 at the L-L League meet on May 14, a mark which would’ve been good enough for silver at the PIAA Track and Field Championships. Last week at the District Three meet, Hess recorded a 22-10, which also would’ve produced a runner-up finish at states.
“It was fun. I wish I had done track all four years,” said Hess, who did not jump during his first three years of high school. “It was worth it, and I liked the way I handled it. I had done it (long jump) in the past, so I was OK at it. My siblings had done it, so I thought I’d be pretty good at it.
“It (his senior season) was one of the best outcomes I could’ve hoped for,” added Hess. “It was fun being at states at this time of the year. I just did my worst at the end of the year. It was unfortunate the way it ended. But I can’t be too upset because it wasn’t my main focus.”
Also competing at states for Annville-Cleona was senior Jack Tshudy, in the Class AA 3200-meter run. Tshudy finished tenth, with a time of 9:42.73.
Another Little Dutchman, junior Braetan Peters, posted a time of 11:42.11 in the girls’ Class AA 3200-meter run, good enough for a 13th-place showing.
Annville-Cleona junior Rogan Harter had qualified for the PIAA Track and Field Championships in the 200-meter dash.