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PIAA TRACK AND FIELD CHAMPIONSHIPS: Yahner headlines local qualifiers

by MIRZA ZUKIC on May 22, 2014 10:30 AM

For the past year, Gus Yahner has waited for this weekend.

Since placing sixth at the PIAA Championships 363 days ago, Yahner has counted down the days until his next shot at a state title in the pole vault. That was when he first realized winning a state title was within his grasp.

“Well, that actually hit me last year at the state meet when I realized that the two top jumps in Double-A were only 14-6, and I had one of them,” Yahner said. “I didn’t realize that until I got there.

“Ever since then, I’ve been waiting for this year.”

The Northern Cambria senior finished in a tie for sixth place in the Class AA pole vault at last year’s state meet, but his jump of 13 feet, 6 inches, was a foot below his best jump of the season, 14-6. That ended up being the winning jump a year ago, leaving Yahner to believe a state title was an attainable goal.

His wait will end this weekend when Yahner arrives at the PIAA Track and Field Championships at Shippensburg University as the top seed in the event.

Yahner headlines the 23 area individuals who qualified for the state meet. The qualifiers consist of 12 boys and 11 girls, along with five qualifying relay teams.

Indiana and United have the most individual qualifiers among area schools with four, and Homer-Center has three.

Counting relay teams, Homer-Center is taking the largest contingent of athletes. In addition to Mike Newhouse (shot put), Cody Miller (discus) and John Capitosti (high jump and long jump), the Wildcats also qualified their boys’ 1,600-meter and girls’ 3,200-meter relay teams, giving them 11 competing athletes, not counting alternates for the relays.

Saltsburg’s Kia Clayton and Ligonier Valley’s Jasmine Connor are the only local athletes to qualify in three events.

Clayton will compete in all three jumps, and she enters the triple jump seeded seventh (36-3).

Connor qualified in the 200, 400 and 300 hurdles, and she’s seeded seventh in the 300 hurdles (45.27 seconds) and eighth in the 400 (59.08).

Other area athletes competing in multiple events are Indiana freshman Jessica Stever and Penns Manor senior Sarah DaBella.

Fresh off a WPIAL Class AAA title in the high jump, Stever enters the state meet undefeated in that event in her young high school career. She also qualified in the long jump and is seeded fifth (18-4?).

DaBella qualified in the discus and the javelin, reaching the state meet in the discus for the second straight year.

On the boys’ side, John Capitosti is the lone area competitor to qualify in multiple events.

Yahner, seeded at 15 feet, 3 inches — his winning jump at the District 6 meet nine days ago — is the only pole vaulter in the Class AA field seeded higher than 14 feet. The next closest competitor is Chris Stone from Springfield (District 1), who is seeded at 14-0.

The numbers suggest the title is Yahner’s for the taking, but he understands he won’t get the gold just for showing up.

“I know I’m seeded first by a good bit, but once you get down there, somebody could have a great day, and I could have an off day, so I’ve got to make sure I get down there and do it,” he said.

Regardless of the heights he reaches and the pressure that comes with them, the hardest jump for Yahner is always the first one. After he gets that out of the way, he can take a deep breath.

“I always get a little bit nervous,” he said. “Like always, the biggest thing is to try to have a couple good warm-up jumps and clear the opening bar. After that I usually feel pretty set.”

Apollo-Ridge junior Tre Tipton, who took second in the long jump a week ago at the WPIAL Championships with a jump of 21-10?, enters the state meet seeded fourth in the Class AA field.

Indiana’s foursome of Darrious Carter, Adam Lenze, Ryan Louther and Cole Rosenberger is seeded eighth in the 3,200 relay after their dazzling time of 7:55.31 at the WPIAL Championships.

The progress the Indians’ foursome has made this season has been nothing short of impressive.

The Indians won the West Central Coaches’ Meet in Altoona on May 2 with an 8:04.03, which at the time was their best time of the season by nearly 20 seconds.

Two weeks later, they broke the eight-minute barrier for the first time in school history to win what is believed to be the school’s first WPIAL title in the boys’ 3,200 relay. The Indiana girls won the 3,200 relay in 1998.

Other than Yahner, the lone returning state medalist is United senior Kennedy Fletcher, who earned medals in the javelin and discus last year. She qualified in the discus for the second straight season.

DaBella qualified for the second straight season in the discus and first in the javelin. Penns Manor teammate Devon Bratton and Apollo-Ridge’s Reannah Martin are each making their second appearance in the pole vault; United’s Laken Pudliner is making her second straight appearance in the 100 hurdles; and Marion Center’s Hannah Fulton qualified in the 1,600 for the second straight year.

On the boys’ side, Indiana’s Corey Denlinger is making his second appearance in the javelin, and Darrious Carter is doing the same in the triple jump. Homer-Center throwers Cody Miller (discus) and Mike Newhouse (shot put) also qualified for the PIAA Championships for the second straight year.

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