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HIGH SCHOOL TRACK & FIELD: IHS, Saltsburg girls do heavy lifting

by MIRZA ZUKIC on April 27, 2014 1:39 AM

MARION CENTER — The Indiana girls’ track and field team needed a performance like this to lift the team’s spirits through a trying season.

Meanwhile, Kia Clayton, and most of the Saltsburg girls’ team, desperately needed some sleep by the end of the day.

For the second straight season, Indiana rode a balanced effort to the team title at the 89th annual Indiana County Track and Field Meet at Marion Center on Saturday. Freshman sensation Jess Stever won the high jump, Abbey Myers won the 400-meter dash, and Keaton Lauver won the 100 in the surprise of the day to lead the Indiana girls.

Indiana also claimed wins in the 1,600 and 3,200 relays.

“I think it lifts a lot of people’s spirits,” Stever said.

“It’s been kind of a unique season for the girls,” Indiana coach Pat Snyder said. “We’ve had a couple chances to win some meets. We’re still struggling with some injuries. We also had a band trip this weekend to New York City. We’re missing some kids today, so I was a little nervous coming in whether or not we could compete or do well today. But the kids really stepped up.”

Considering their circumstances, so did the Saltsburg girls.

Only hours removed from prom-night festivities when they boarded the bus early Saturday morning, the groggy Trojans overcame fatigue and lack of sleep to stay on Indiana’s heels all day and earn the runner-up trophy. Marion Center and United tied for third.

One of three athletes to win multiple events, Clayton won the triple jump and long jump titles and took home the Most Valuable Field Athlete award.

Corrine Moore won the shot put, and the Trojans’ 400 relay team also took first.

“I tell our girls every single time they come to a track meet, they can always come out ahead in first place,” Saltsburg coach Melissa Milanak said. “If they give everything they have 100 percent of the time, the results will show, and they did today, especially considering the fact they had prom (Friday) night.”

“I wasn’t as tired as I thought I would be, but I was still pretty tired. I just knew what I had to do,” Clayton said.

Also winning a pair of events was Marion Center senior Hannah Fulton, who won the 1,600 and 3,200 runs in her last home meet and was named the Most Valuable Track Athlete along with United hurdler Laken Pudliner.

Hardly challenged in either race, Fulton posted a time of 5 minutes, 22.05 seconds in the 1,600 to shatter her school record of 5.29.94

“I was hoping to get it lowered by the end of the season, but I was really happy with that time today,” Fulton said.

Pudliner won her second straight title in the 100 hurdles and then added a win in the 300 hurdles later in the day.

Penns Manor and Homer-Center also scored a pair of event victories.

State qualifiers last season, Devon Bratton won the pole vault, and Sarah DaBella took the javelin title for Penns Manor.

For the Wildcats, Heather Paynter nipped Marion Center’s Taya Whitfield by less than a half-second at the finish line to win the 800, and Jill Overman won the 200.

United’s Kennedy Fletcher, a two-time state medalist last season, won the discus title to round out Saturday’s winners.

Like last season, when they only won three events, the Indiana girls didn’t dominate the top of the podium, but they didn’t need to because they scored points in all 18 events. And that was without some of their top athletes, such as javelin thrower Aaryn Gray, who is nursing an elbow injury.

The Indians’ 3,200 relay team consisted of Myers, Lorraine Yerger, Melanie Zolocsik and Jessica Lenze.

Teaming up to win the 1,600 relay were Megan Kester, Marissa Cunningham, Yerger and Stever.

“The girl winning the 100, Keaton Lauver, that was a surprise,” Snyder said. “The girl winning the 400, Abbey Myers, that was a surprise. And we went 2-3 in the long and triple jump. A bunch of our throwers were on the band trip, and the girls who came got sevenths and fourths and thirds. It was really a complete team effort by the girls. I’m very happy for them.”

Making her first appearance at the county meet, Stever came away with a win in the high jump, though her winning jump of 5-0 was far below her best. Stever cleared 5-8? on April 16 to set the school record, and she was one of the main attractions at Saturday’s meet.

“It was a lot of fun,” Stever said of her first county meet. “I wish I could have done better in high jump, but I tried. I’m just happy to win. I try to go for (personal records) and I thought I could get a good height, but it happens sometimes. You just don’t have good days.”

Clayton and Stever figured to challenge the meet-record mark of 5-4, but it didn’t pan out on a day wind gusts howled around Dr. John R. Mallino Stadium throughout the meet.

“I’ll be honest with you, Kia didn’t high jump all that well today,” Milanak said. “Toward the end, she said, ‘Coach I’m getting tired, going on an hour of sleep.’ She can definitely do better. I’ve seen her jump a lot better than that. … I know she was a little disappointed in herself with the way she jumped, but I’m proud of her.”

“She’s a good jumper,” Clayton said of Stever. “I can’t blame the wind for her beating me. She’s a very good jumper.”

Clayton and the Trojans have turned their focus to the Heritage Conference Championships coming up in less than two weeks, and with the showing they had Saturday, they feel good about their chances to repeat as conference champions.

“I think it helped us realize we can if we try,” Clayton said.

“I told our girls they’re right there for the Heritage Conference,” Milanak said. “Obviously, Ligonier Valley has a tough team, but our girls are just as tough. I’m hoping that when we come out of here, I really think that we have a good chance at the Heritage Conference. I’m looking at Kia and our (400 relay) team, they have a shot to do well at districts. And that’s our goal. We keep looking ahead toward districts and obviously, states. I think they have a good chance.”

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