SHIPPENSBURG – The more emotionally invested athletes become, the more success they enjoy. And the more success athletes enjoy, the more emotionally invested they become.
Yesterday, the Annville-Cleona boys’ track and field squad rode that giant snowballing effect to a rare double gold-medal performance at states.
At the PIAA Track and Field Championships at Shippensburg University on Saturday, a group of middle-distance-running Little Dutchmen capped spectacular scholastic careers with ultimate prizes – state gold. Paced by seniors Ben Mason, Shawn Wolfe and Mark Bachman, Annville-Cleona took top honors in the Class AA 3200-meter relay AND the 1600-meter relay.
Saturday morning, Mason, Wolfe and Bachman were joined by sophomore Jeff Inman on the top step of the 3200 medal podium. Then in the final track event of the afternoon, Eric Bowman hooked up with ‘The Three Amigos’ in their run to glory.
While the lineups and the orders may have changed slightly, the passion to run for one another never wavered.
“There’s levels. In the four-by-eight you’re fresh,” said Mason. “But when you get to the four-by-four, it’s adrenaline. That’s what keeps you going. I think what makes us such a good team is how much Eric (Bowman has improved). He has worked so hard.”
Annville-Cleona achieved its golds in two distinctly different fashions.
In the 3200-meter relay, the Little Dutchmen ran away and hid, and no one could find them. Feeding off each preceding leg, all four members seemed to lengthen the whole’s lead.
The result was a dominating time of 8:03.25, which was more than eight seconds quicker than runner-up Wyomissing’s.
“He’s pushed me a lot,” said Mason of his relationship with Wolfe. “When I started to go out for cross country, he was the star. But he makes the workouts so much fun. He just helps the whole entire team. He’s got that physical edge, but he thinks a lot.
“He’s awesome. He’s the funniest kid I know,” Mason added. “He makes me laugh. He’s my best friend. He’s such a competitor. He and I are so competitive.”
“He’s very good at video games,” said Wolfe of Mason, in true Wolfe fashion. “He’s a really smart kid. He’s just a great guy.”
The 1600-meter championship was a totally different story.
With a strong third leg, Wolfe moved the Little Dutchmen from fourth to the lead. But after taking the baton from Wolfe, Mason got hung up in traffic behind a pair of competitors.
Mason made his move to the outside of the third turn on the final leg, and had plenty to out kick the Trinity team to the finish line. It was the same Shamrock outfit which had nudged Annville-Cleona by .01 of a second to win the title at the District Three meet a week earlier.
“I wanted to stay with the Trinity kid,” said Mason. “When I looked around, there were six teams there. I just kicked it as hard as I could. I followed the Wyomissing kid on the outside and then just passed him. I knew I couldn’t beat them on the inside.
“We definitely thought it was possible,” Mason added. “We were mad that Trinity beat us at districts. Competitive-wise, we were motivated.”
“I knew I was going to be on the team,” said Wolfe. “I had a bad 800 (individual race), to say the least. I was like ‘I’m going to try to give Ben the biggest lead I could’.”
Mason’s kick in the 1600-relay was noticeably stronger than his in the 400-meter individual race, where he finished second to Dave Bricker of Trinity and his 49.77. Last week at districts, Mason edged Bricker with a personal best of 48.98.
“The first 200 I felt like I usually do,” said Mason. “But I felt tired and the Trinity kid was moving up. If I hadn’t done so many races, I could’ve had more left at the end.”
“I false-started because I was psyched up,” explained Wolfe. “Then I was jittery so I took off and fell. I couldn’t collect myself. That was probably the toughest thing I ever did. I felt tired (for the 4-by-4), but it was more of a mental thing from the 800.”
Another sure thing that didn’t pan out for Lebanon County was favorite Tim Moses of Palmyra being upset in the Class AAA pole vault. Moses, the District Three champion who was seeded first with a 16-0, failed to clear 15-0.
But one County resident who did clear 15-0 was Northern Lebanon’s Derek DiAngelis, who took full advantage of the opportunity to come in second. The gold medal went to North Penn senior Vinny Esposito, who made 15-0 on a fewer misses.
“I love all sports. But I’m better at pole vault so I like it more,” said DiAngelis, the reigning Lebanon County and Lancaster-Lebanon League champion. “It wasn’t the greatest day weather-wise, but I can’t complain. Lebanon County is starting to dominate pole vault, even in the state.
“I don’t know what happened with Tim (Moses),” DiAngelis continued. “But I truly know he’s the greatest vaulter in Pennsylvania. I watch him to see how I can do better.”
DiAngelis’ senior teammate Joe Vedilago was also a surprise medalist. Seeded 24th in the Class AAA 200-meter dash, Vedilago finished an inspired third in the finals.