BY JEFF FALK
SHIPPENSBURG – It’s not always about the prey or the trophy. Sometimes its about the hunt, the pursuit.
True competitors revel in the thrill of competition, being mentioned with the best in their sports and the satisfaction of knowing they did the best they possibly could.
On a humid Saturday at Shippensburg University’s Seth Grove Stadium, during the final day of competition at the annual PIAA Track and Field Championships, Lebanon County experienced an unusually sparse medal harvest. But that’s not to say it was an unsuccessful meet for the locals.
In some ways, Palmyra senior Kirstin West and Cedar Crest freshman Gwyneth Young upheld the locale’s honor by garnering Lebanon County’s only two state medal. West popped a 134-6 to cop bronze in the Class AAA javelin, while Young finished eighth in the Class AAA 3200-meter run, in 10:55.92.
“Overall, you don’t quite have that top-level of talent,” said Cedar Crest boys’ and girls’ coach Rob Bare, who then proceeded to rattle off a who’s who of past Lebanon County T&F greats. “But to get kids to this level, it was kind of like a major accomplishment. You just want to be consistent year-in and year-out, and help the kids learn responsibility. Sometimes you’re just not right.
“When you look at some of the events, you can tell the spring was really bad this year,” continued Bare. “You have some incredible athletes. But you don’t have the depth.”
West and Young were two of ten or so Lebanon County student-athletes who qualified for the PIAA Championships. Some didn’t advance past their preliminaries and others saw their seasons and careers end in semifinal competitions.
For West, she improved her 14th-place pre-meet seeding by 11 spots to finish third. Her top throw was about two feet short of a 137 she uncorked earlier in the season.
“I’m definitely happy,” said West, the reigning Lebanon County champion in the event. “It hasn’t hit me yet what I’ve been able to accomplish in my career. I’m jut glad I improved as much as I did.
“I think it’s all about staying out of my head,” West continued. “It’s about not having jitters. It’s about trying to stay focused. Looking ahead, I’m just hoping to improve.”
West popped the 134-6 on her first throw of preliminaries. But she couldn’t improve on it the rest of the way and finished some 30 feet short of Skyler Ciccolini of Mifflin County’s gold-medal effort.
“On my first throw, it didn’t feel like it was going that far,” said West, who will compete in the javelin at an upcoming national event and collegiately at Penn. “When I ran up to it, it was like ‘Wow!’. The stress just came off my shoulders because I knew I was in the finals.
“Since I have four more years of putting more effort into it, I have time to make my technique better,” West added. “It’s all about technique, I had a friend who begged me to come out for track in my freshman year. In the beginning, I didn’t even throw. As my coach saw potential, we worked really hard on it and it grew from there. It’s kind of a gift. Thank goodness my friend suggested it, or I wouldn’t be here now.”
Young, who exploded on to the local distance running scene this season, entered the Class AAA 3200-meter run as the seventh seed. For a time in the race, she ran third and then fifth, before holding on for the final medal awarded.
“When someone passed me I counted the girls ahead of me in my head,” said Young. “I told myself, ‘I’ve got to stay here’. This was the best thing I was able to accomplish this year. It really helps my confidence and self-esteem. But I’m not satisfied.”
“The transformation Gwyneth has had has been remarkable,” said Bare. “She was running a 6:03 mile as an eighth grader. A lot of good things have happened to her this year.
“Laps five and six were tough,” added Bare. “But every tough decision she had to make was a great decision. When kids make surges, you’ve got to go with them right away. If you don’t you can lose your state medal.”
Young’s time was her second-best of the season. Marlee Starliper of Northern York hit the tape first in the 3200-meter run, in 10:32.07.
“It means the world to me,” said Young. “I wasn’t expecting to medal. But I felt good about my start. I felt good about my race. My strategy was to stay as close to number six as possible.”
“She got out and put herself in position right away,” said Bare of Young. “It was a slugfest. Everybody was going out hard.”
Annville-Cleona senior Stanley Miller certainly did enjoy the type of success he experienced a week earlier at the same Seth Grove Stadium, during the District Three Class AA Track and Field Championships. After finishing first in the 200-meter dash at districts and second in the 100-meter dash, Miller couldn’t navigate the preliminaries in the 200 at states or the semifinals of the 100.
“I’m kind of bummed,” said Miller. “I wanted to at least make it to the podium. But being at states is still pretty cool. It’s still an honor.
“All this weekend, I couldn’t get under 11.3 (in the 100), and I’m not sure why,” Miller continued. “I’ve been trying hard to get under and it just didn’t happen. I was feeling pretty good in the 200. But going into the preliminaries, my legs weren’t up for it. I tried to give it my all, but those guys are titans.”
It was a disappointing way to end what turned into one of the most prolific careers in recent memory locally. But it in no way did it take away what Miller was able to accomplish.
Miller would like to continue his track and field career at Liberty University.
“The day I left for states, I looked at all the things I accomplished,” said Miller. “Not getting a medal at states isn’t the end of the world. But it would’ve been nice to end my career with a state medal.”
Contested annually on the Friday and Saturday of Memorial Day weekend, the PIAA Track and Field Championships unofficially represent the end of the scholastic sports season for Lebanon County student-athletes, as well as the start of summer.
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