BY JEFF FALK
Do something well enough long enough and eventually you create excellence – and also a bit of history.
Reagen Hess’ legacy as a track and field athlete in Lebanon County is secure. The Annville-Cleona senior will author the final chapters of her illustrious career over the next two weekends at Shippensburg University’s Seth Grove Stadium, during the District Three and PIAA Track and Field Championships.
Already the most prolific goal scorer in the history of Lebanon County girls’ soccer, Hess will be applying the finishing touches to one of the most prolific careers in Lebanon County track-and-field. When Hess is remembered, she will be mentioned in the same breath of some of the all-time greats in the sport – the Jaren Hayeses, the Thomas Jordans, the Jeremy Silvermans.
And yes, even the Leslie Hummers.
“It’s different going into your freshman year, and now going into your senior year,” said Hess. “Almost every time I’ve done a track event this year, it could potentially be my last race. I’ve thought about (the end of her career), but I’m ready to go. It’s also exciting to know that I tried to do my best all four years.
“It’s satisfying and heart-breaking,” continued Hess. “It’s going to be a weird and new feeling to me. Those sentimental things don’t usually hit me until later. We’ll have to see. It’s going to be a weird feeling.”
At this Friday and Saturday’s District Three meet, Hess will compete in the Class AA 100-meter dash, the 200-meter dash, the long jump and quite possibly the 400-meter relay – depending ironically on the health of a teammate’s hamstring. Based on performance and experience, Hess is the favorite to win all three individual events.
And there’s something almost mystical about the track and runway at Seth Grove Stadium that agrees with Hess. There is no other place she would choose to end a track-and-field career.
“Honestly, I love competing at this meet,” said Hess of districts. “I don’t know what it is. It brings out my best performances. I look at it as a goal to be better than the year before. It’s kind of like a comfort track to me. I get comfort in knowing I run well there.
“Competition-wise, districts and states gets me pumped up and ready to go,” she added. “I want to do better than the year before, but not just with times. Maybe set a record or something. I want to go out with a bang.”
Despite missing her sophomore postseason to a hamstring injury, Hess has collected five district golds, two district silvers, two state silvers and a state bronze, to this point of her career. Throw in the Lebanon County Track and Field championships and the Lancaster-Lebanon League meet and Hess has captured an all-time total of 28 metallic medals – gold, silver, bronze – at the ‘Big Four’ postseason events.
It is a total in Lebanon County that is believed to have only ever been surpassed by Hummer.
Hess was also named the Outstanding Female Athlete at each and every one of the Lebanon County Track and Field Championships in which she competed.
“I have multiple things going on when things are going good,” said Hess. “I love to focus on event by event. I like to break it down in my head. I like to pray before I run. I like to get comfort in that I have been blessed with this gift. And I like to share it with everyone who’s watching.
“It’s crazy,” continued Hess. “Personally, I take it meet by meet. But I haven’t really reflected on it (her career). I focus more on times when I didn’t do as well. It’s my mentality. I see more of the flaws.”
From 1985 to 1987, Hummer, another speedster from Annville-Cleona, won an amazing six PIAA gold medals, in three different events – the 100-meter dash, the long jump and the triple jump. And some were done in state- record-breaking fashion, records that stood for many years.
But all of Hummer’s school records – except the triple jump – have been broken by Hess.
“Yes, I definitely know her name,” said Hess of Hummer. “When I think of her, the first word that comes to mind is ‘fast’. I know her as the girl who had all the records, and she ran all the events I run. I know she was very fast.
“Honestly, Iv’e never met Leslie Hummer,” Hess continued. “She must have been incredible to run against. To be mentioned with her is an honor.”
And while Hess refuses to look ahead, the only thing missing from her incredible track and field resume is a state gold medal.
“Yeah it is,” said Hess. “It has always been a goal of mine. But it’s hard to focus on that when you haven’t done districts yet. But that’s the ultimate. That’s the top of the top.”
Six months ago, Hess decided to continue her academic and athletic pursuits at Division Two Slipper Rock University. It was as much of a Slippery Rock-over-East Stroudsburg decision as it was a track-and-field-over-soccer decision.
“I made it in the early winter,” said Hess, who is the only Lebanon County girls’ soccer player to ever score more than 100 goals. “Choosing a college was hard to begin with. It was a little bit of a difficult decision. But I’m going to be running track there. I honestly thought about soccer. When it came down to it, I picked the one I thought I excelled at more. I enjoy both. I basically picked the sport I thought I’d do better at.
“After the soccer season was over, I thought, ‘I’m going to miss this team’,” added Hess. “But you don’t realize how much you’re going to miss the sport, when everything is said and done. I’m going to miss it. I’m definitely going to miss it. And if I miss it too much, you never know.”
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