WPIAL TRACK AND FIELD CHAMPIONSHIPS: Indiana will send five to state meet
BALDWIN — For most schools, it’s usually feast or famine at the WPIAL track and field championships.
And after a few years of leaving the meet hungry, the Indiana Indians are feeling quite satisfied after Thursday’s big day at Baldwin High School.
Five members of the team did well enough to earn a trip to the state meet, the PIAA championships, May 24 and 25 in Shippensburg. That’s the highest number of qualifiers Indiana has had since seven went to states in 2004.
“I am really excited about this,” said longtime Indiana coach Pat Snyder. “This is a tough meet. So to have five kids going is pretty neat.”
Three boys placed third in their respective events to punch their tickets to Shippensburg University: Darnae Clemons (high jump), Corey Denlinger (javelin) and Darrious Carter (triple jump).
Two Indiana girls also made it, with Jessica Hurley taking fifth in the 400 meters and Aaryn Gray placing sixth in the javelin.
Hurley’s and Gray’s finishes were not in the required top four to advance to states, but they earned a spot there by bettering the qualifying standard.
“There is a lot of pressure here,” said Clemons, who will make his third straight trip to states. “Everyone did something great to get here.”
Clemons entered the meet with lofty expectations, but he was still unsure if he belonged. Not long after lacing up his shoes, Clemons made it clear that he was one of the favorites.
He entered the competition at the 5-foot-11 mark and made that on his second try. He easily cleared 6-1 on his first try, but he missed his three tries at 6-3 to finish in third place.
“Going to states is really important to me,” said Clemons, who will follow in the footsteps of his father, Lloyd, and attend Michigan State in the fall. “When we got here, I was really, really nervous because I wasn’t sure if I’d be good enough to win or even place high enough to go to states. But I did OK, and this is my senior year, so what better way to end it than by going to states.”
Like Clemons, Carter also dealt with anxiety before the meet. And when he jumped only 43-1 in the preliminary round, he thought his chances of earning a medal were slim to none. But Carter rebounded nicely, and he entered the finals as the fifth seed.
On his first jump of the finals, Carter came up with one of his best jumps of the season, and at 44-6 he nailed the state qualifying standard on the nose. Neither of his remaining jumps was as good, and Carter finished third.
“I am very happy,” Carter said. “This is a relief.”
Carter also ran the first leg of the Indians’ 3,200-meter relay team that placed sixth. He said having to run 800 meters earlier in the day made him concerned about fatigue.
“I just wasn’t feeling 100 percent,” he said. “But at states, since I won’t be running the relay, I can focus just on the triple jump, and I’ll definitely get better.”
That attitude isn’t a surprise to Snyder.
“Darrious just loves track,” Snyder said. “I don’t know that I’ve been around that many kids who love track like he does.”
Although getting to states is an honor, it wasn’t exactly a surprise that Denlinger and Gray got in.
“Honestly, it’s what we expected,” said George Caroff, who coaches Indiana’s throwers. “They both stepped up today and did what they had to do.”
Gray was one of seven throwers to surpass the state qualifying standard in the javelin. So it hardly matters that she finished sixth, only that her throw of 122-8 was long enough by eight inches.
Denlinger placed third with a heave of 179-6, which was good enough to get him to states, but it isn’t anything to be satisfied about.
“We haven’t talked specifically about what he can do at states,” Caroff said, “but I know he hopes to break the school record (191-plus feet). That’s his ultimate goal.”
As for Hurley, there were plenty of positives to take away from the meet. Not only did she qualify for the state meet for the first time in her career, the senior also broke her school record in the 400 with a time of 58.58 seconds.
When Hurley broke the standard the first time, earlier this season, she shattered the mark set by her sister Elise, a few years back. So now, not only does she own the school mark, Hurley still owns the family record.
“It hasn’t really sunk in yet,” she said. “I had butterflies all week, non-stop. It’s such a relief to know I made it to states. I’m so happy.”
If there was one disappointment, it was that senior Dakota Harper couldn’t advance in the pole vault because of an ankle injury he suffered a few weeks ago. Harper was tied for the top seed in the event, but because he had limited power from his legs, he wasn’t able to get the speed going to make the really big jumps.
Instead, Harper waited until the bar was at 13 feet before making his first jump. He cleared the bar there, and also at 13-6, but faltered at 14 feet and bowed out of the competition in ninth place.
“I’m really proud of him,” said Steve Cochran, who coaches Indiana’s pole vaulters. “He really did give it his best shot. But I feel bad for him because he has been working hard this season and he really wanted to go to states. It’s unfortunate that he didn’t get there.”