ALTOONA — Until recently, Indiana senior Jess Hurley waited until the final 100-meter straightaway of her marquee event, the 400-meter dash, before kicking it into another gear to the finish line.
But earlier this season, she decided to change things up, and it’s paying dividends.
Continuing the best season of her high school career, Hurley won the girls’ Class AAA 400 at the West Central Coaches Meet at Mansion Park on Friday, topping a competitive field with a time of 59.27 seconds.
Hurley and Indiana teammate Aaryn Gray earned individual event victories, while Penns Manor’s Jenn Knezovich and United’s Kennedy Fletcher came away with three medals apiece to highlight the area athletes at the meet.
Gray won the Class AAA javelin with a throw of 128 feet, 6 inches. Gray’s throw meets the qualifying standard for the PIAA meet later this month, but she has to hit it at the WPIAL meet to reach the state meet.
Meanwhile, Hurley posted her third time of under 60 seconds this season. She also holds the Indiana school record with a time of 58.7, and that was the time she had in her sights.
“I was hoping for a little better time because I knew the competition was going to be pretty good, but I’m still pretty happy with it,” she said. Lately, I’ve changed my race strategy. I used to kick in the last 100, but I’ve been trying to get out faster and start my kick sooner. Then I heard someone yell out 27 seconds at the 200, which wasn’t where I really wanted to be, so then I tried to give it everything I had left the last 200.”
It was enough. Hurley rallied from the middle of the pack at the halfway point of the race to win by a half-second.
“The competition is really good here,” Hurley said. “I was looking forward to running against a bunch of girls who were running sub-60s as well. It gives you more confidence for WPIAL qualifiers.”
Indiana’s Hurley and Gray were the only event winners among local competitors, but there were plenty of other strong performances.
In Class AA competition, Fletcher posted three top-four finishes. One of the top throwers in District 6 through the first month of the season, she finished second in the discus, third in the javelin and fourth in the shot put.
Knezovich, a state medalist last year in the triple jump, earned three top-five finishes. She took second in the triple and long jumps and added a fifth-place finish in the high jump.
More so than the medals, Knezovich came away from the meet feeling healthy and ready to make a run at a couple District 6 titles in two weeks and a return to the PIAA meet in Shippensburg. She recently dealt with a hip flexor injury that forced her to miss a meet, all the while battling shin injuries.
“Since it was so nice out, I had no excuses,” Knezovich said. “I just came out and worked hard coming off an injury with my hip flexor and shins. I just came out and did my best. I’m happy with where it is. I know I still have work to do for districts, but I’m pretty happy with what I did. I’m just looking forward to being healthy as much as doing well. Trying to get healthy is a big thing for me.”
United’s Maggie Slawson finished third in the long jump, one spot behind Knezovich. Slawson matched Knezovich with a jump of 16-2ﾽ in the finals, but finished third after the tiebreaker.
During the javelin, Fletcher’s last event of the day, she labored through the preliminary round, qualified for the finals and got off one throw in the final round before calling it quits.
A nagging elbow injury that acts up mostly when she throws the javelin bothered Fletcher too much and she scratched on her last two throws. Regardless, what she did in her first four throws was still enough to earn her third place.
“I was hoping to at least place in the top three in every event today, and I came pretty close to my goal,” Fletcher said.
With the Heritage Conference Championships looming on Tuesday, Fletcher said she’s not worried the injury will keep her out of the meet.
“I’ll be fine,” she said. “I feel like I’ll be good Tuesday.”
Other area girls who medaled in Class AA competition were: Marion Center’s Camber Heinle, who earned two medals. She placed fifth in the 400 (1:01.11) and eighth in the 800 (2:32.37); Marion Center’s Taylor Woodrow (seventh, 3,200, 12:24.05); Homer-Center’s Jaime Rura and Penns Manor’s Devon Bratton, who finished in a five-way tie for fifth place in the pole vault with a jump of 8-6; Northern Cambria’ Rachel Kirsch (eighth, javelin, 101-7); and Penns Manor’s Sarah DaBella (fourth, discus, 105-7). Marion Center’s 3,200 relay team took sixth.
Other area girls who medaled in Class AAA competition were: Indiana’s Abbey Karcher, who finished in a three-way tie for seventh in the high jump at 4-8; Punxsutawney’s Juliann Boddorf (seventh, 400, 1:01.10), Ala Small (sixth, 3,200, 12:34.38), Sydni Bowers (seventh, shot put, 30-11) and Alexis Minich (eighth, shot put, 30-10); Derry’s Alexis Gademsey (fourth, triple jump, 35-1ﾽ) and Trinity Malis (fifth, discus, 92-1).