MARION CENTER — This track and field season has been all about the Indiana High boys’ team. At least, so goes the story the Indiana girls tell to tease their coach.
But Saturday, it was the girls’ turn to be in the spotlight.
The Indiana girls tied United for the team title at the 88th annual Indiana County Principals Track and Field Meet, easily the highlight of an otherwise trying season for the Indians.
Meanwhile, the Indiana boys ran away with the title to the surprise of few.
“They joke with me, they think I’ve been more favoring the guys this year,” Indiana coach Pat Snyder said, laughing. “So I kept saying this is for you. We’ve got to get this back and win today. It was awesome for the girls to get back and win this.”
“To me, this is all about our girls. We took third last year, and we had a slow start this year. And then we finally won a dual meet against Derry, and we talked about, this is the week of girls, beating Derry and then coming together to win the county meet.”
The Indiana girls claimed only three event victories, but they placed at least one athlete in all 18 events to accumulate enough points in other places.
Indiana and United both finished with 115.33 points, Saltsburg was third with 88 points, and defending meet champion Penns Manor was fourth.
Penns Manor senior Jenn Knezovich won the long and triple jumps for the second straight year and repeated as the Most Valuable Field Athlete of the meet. Her winning jump of 16 feet, 8 inches in the long jump was an inch shy of the meet record. She won the triple jump with a leap of 36-0ﾾ.
Homer-Center sophomore Heather Paynter won both distances races, the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs, to earn the girls’ Most Valuable Track Athlete award.
She won the 3,200 in a runaway in 12 minutes, 15.93 seconds and crossed first in the 1,600 in 5:47.11.
On the boys’ side, the Indians took first in 13 of the 18 events, and racked up 198 points. Homer-Center and Penns Manor finished in a tie for second place with 89 points, and Saltsburg was a distant fourth.
Indiana swept the MVP awards, with Ryan Louther being named the Most Valuable Track Athlete, and Darnae Clemons earning the Most Valuable Field Athlete distinction.
Clemons, a state medalist in the high jump, won that event as well as the long jump (20-2). He cleared 6-6 in the high jump, an inch short of the meet record.
Louther won the 1,600 (4:43.30) and 3,200 (10:41.75) and also ran a leg on Indiana’s first-place 4x800 relay team.
“It feels pretty good,” Louther said. “I came out today and I just wanted to win all my events, so I’m pretty happy.”
“We really have a good boys’ team this year,” Snyder said. “We’re blessed with lots of really good kids, distance runners, jumpers, throwers, a hurdler. We really have a nice boys’ team so we kind of expected that coming out here.”
What Snyder didn’t necessarily expect was for the girls to join the boys atop the podium.
Claiming first-place finishes for the Indiana girls were Aaryn Gray, who set a school record with a throw of 130 feet, 0 inches in the javelin, Noel Hartle (300 hurdles, 50.42 seconds) and Jess Hurley (400, 59.18).
“It feels so good, definitely,” said Hartle, who pulled out a thrilling win in the 300 hurdles. “We all worked really hard, and I’m glad we pulled it out.”
“Quite honestly, I didn’t know if we were going to win it or not,” Snyder said, “because we’re not a really strong team this year. For us to put this together and win the meet is really exciting for me and I hope for the girls, too. It’s been a long year for them. They’ve been disappointed. They started 0-5 in dual meets. And they came back and won one, and then, this meet was a big focus for us.”
A balanced United team kept up with the Indians.
Kennedy Fletcher won the discus (109-10) and the shot put (33-7ﾼ) for the Lions, Maggie Slawson took first in the 200 (27.65) and Laken Pudliner won the 100 hurdles (17.01).
“With the people that we have, we have a broad area of people who do different events, and no matter what events people are in, everyone gives 110 percent and you can’t ask for more,” Slawson said. “Being a teammate with all these girls, I’m proud of them. I can’t describe how proud I am of my team for coming up second against Indiana. I’m looking forward to the Heritage Conference (meet) and hopefully, we’ll be taking that title.”
“Keeping up with Indiana was a big accomplishment,” Pudliner said. “We’re just a little school.”
Pudliner was involved in one of the most exciting finishes on the track, as she and Indiana’s Hartle approached the finish line neck-and-neck in the 300 hurdles.
Pudliner appeared to have a slight edge, but Hartle lunged for the finish line, tumbled to the track and ended up winning by .01 seconds.
“I wanted the gold,” Hartle said, laughing. “I saw her strides. Her strides were longer than mine, and I took a dive. I wanted it real bad. It was really close.”
“The second place was kind of depressing because it came down to one one-hundredth of a second, but she deserved it,” Pudliner said. “It happens. It makes you work harder.”
Although Louther and Clemons claimed the MVP awards, there were plenty of other Indiana boys who had award-worthy showings.
Darrious Carter took part in four first-place finishes. He won the 400-meter dash (52.57) and the triple jump (44-6ﾼ), and he ran on Indiana’s winning 4x400 and 4x800 relay teams.
Corey Denlinger also earned four golds, taking first in the javelin (185-2) and the 200 (23.46) while running legs on the 4x100 and 4x400 relays.
“It feels great. We did so good today,” Denlinger said. “This is awesome to win the county. It was awesome.”
Indiana senior Dakota Harper won the pole vault for the third straight year, prevailing in a thrilling finish that saw three vaulters clear 13 feet, 6 inches.
Harper and Homer-Center’s Jared Nealey cleared 14-0, but Harper won with fewer misses. Indiana’s Brian Waryck cleared 13-6 to finish third.
“I’m really excited, happy,” Harper said. “This year, I thought I’d be getting around 13 (feet). But 14, that’s awesome. When I first started, I had no clue I was going to get 14.”
The lone other athlete to win multiple events on the boys’ side was Homer-Center’s Levi McCracken, who took first in the 110 and 300 hurdles. He won the 110 hurdles in 16.07 seconds and the 300 in 42.64.
“It hasn’t set in yet. I would have liked to get a better time,” McCracken said moments after winning the 300 hurdles. “It happens. It was a good race. I was close to my personal best, but I’m just looking to get better.”
McCracken said entering the meet he was confident he could win both events.
“It was definitely a realistic goal. It’s all up in your head and right here,” he said, pointing to his heart, “especially in the 300. It’s just a full-out gut race.”
Other event winners on the boys’ side were: Indiana’s Adam Lenze (800, 2:03.26); Saltsburg’s Deion Robinson (100, 11.54); Penns Manor’s Corey Brown (discus, 128-11); and Purchase Line’s Joe Price (shot put, 49-0).
Other event winners on the girls’ side were: Homer-Center’s Jill Overman (100, 13.22); Marion Center’s Camber Heinle (800, 2:29.89); Saltsburg’s Kia Clayton (high jump, 5-4); and Apollo-Ridge’s Reannah Martin (pole vault, 8-6).
Penns Manor’s foursome of Caitlyn Bence, Sarah DaBella, Mary Roach, Maddy Spiaggi took first in the 1,600 relay.
Saltsburg took first in the 400 relay, with the team of Bayli Zimmerman, Nicole Boyer, Corrine Moore and Clayton.
Marion Center won the 3,200 relay with a team consisting of Heinle, Danielle Fulmer, Hannah Fulton and Taylor Woodrow.