SHIPPENSBURG — Largely, the opening day of the PIAA Track and Field Championships could be considered a disappointment for the local boys — even the ones who had some success — but the Heritage Conference left a mark in the pole vault.
Homer-Center senior Jared Nealey and Northern Cambria junior Gus Yahner finished among the top seven in the Class AA pole vault to earn the only medals handed out to area boys Friday at Shippensburg University.
Despite earning medals, Nealey and Yahner left their first state championship meet feeling as though they could have done better.
The reigning District 6 champion, Nealey cleared the bar at 13 feet, 6 inches before bowing out to finish fifth, and Yahner finished in a tie for sixth place with a vault of 13-0.
“I wish I would have gone higher, but I guess it just wasn’t my day,” Nealey said. “It’s disappointing that I couldn’t get 13-6, because I had hit 14 in six straight meets or something like that.”
Luke Patten, from West Middlesex, took the title by clearing 14-6, a height Yahner had cleared 16 days earlier in winning the Heritage Conference title.
“It’s real good experience to get down here,” Yahner said. “I just wish I could have done a little better. I’ve jumped those heights before.”
In all, 13 area boys — nine field athletes and four track athletes — and two relays teams competed on a blustery, cold opening day of the state meet.
“Would you expect anything different from this track season?” Purchase Line coach Sean Mack said regarding the weather.
Whether it was the unseasonably cold weather, which has marred much of this season, or other circumstances, area athletes didn’t have their best.
For Yahner and Nealey, dealing with the slow pace of their event is an expected part of the competition. But Friday, the competition was stopped briefly while Patten, the eventual winner, ran a leg of West Middlesex’s 400-meter relay.
Nealey and Yahner were never the same, but neither blamed the delay for their struggles.
“No, I was just sitting around like I was doing in the beginning. I went and ate a pretzel,” Nealey said.
“I don’t know if that had anything to do with it,” Yahner said. “I just wasn’t getting good penetration, wasn’t getting deep enough (in the pit).”
No matter, the Heritage Conference still managed to place two pole vaulters among the top eight, bringing some respect to a conference not necessarily known for its prowess in the event.
“We’ve had a pretty tough conference the past couple years, that’s what I think anyway,” Yahner said. “Last year, there were three of us in the conference that probably should have made it here. But this year, for two of us to make it and medal, it’s nice.”
Mack, the veteran Purchase Line coach, saw the struggles first-hand, as Red Dragons’ senior Joe Price fell short of expectations in the shot put, the first of his two events at the weekend championships.
Through the first month of the season, Price regularly hovered near the 50-foot mark and uncorked a season-best throw of 51 feet, 7ﾾ inches at the West Central Coaches’ Meet on May 3.
A few days after that meet, he won the Heritage Conference title with a throw of 49-2ﾽ, and a week later he continued his regression with a throw of 47-8ﾽ at the District 6 Championships.
On Friday, Price finished 13th in the Class AA shot put, with a top throw of 47-7ﾽ, four feet short of his season best three weeks ago.
“It’s quite possible he peaked at the West Central meet,” Mack said. “You want to be peaking, but you don’t want to hit the ultimate peak that early. It’s possible. It’s hard to say. But that’s what it looks like. From that point on, he threw 49 at Heritage, 47 at district and basically the same today.”
Others who struggled to find their form were Penns Manor’s Cody Bytner and Ligonier Valley’s Brandon Dickert.
Coming off a District 6-winning jump of 44-2 in the triple jump two weeks earlier, Bytner scratched on two of his three attempts in the preliminaries and didn’t reach the finals. He finished 24th in the Class AA field (39-2ﾼ).
Meanwhile, Dickert mustered a throw of 46-0 to finish 17th in the shot put, the throw more than 2ﾽ feet shorter than his District 6-winning throw of 48-6ﾽ.
On the Class AAA side, Indiana’s Darrious Carter jumped 41-10ﾽ in the triple jump, far from his jump of 44-6 a week earlier at the WPIAL meet. He finished in a tie for 27th.
At least Price will have a chance to redeem himself today when he competes in the discus. And if recent history is any indication, the results could be better today.
Although the shot put is considered Price’s stronger suit, that hasn’t been the case lately. Price won the District 6 title in the discus while taking second in the shot put.
“I’m not making excuses for him, but he re-aggravated a knee injury at districts,” Mack said. “I was watching him practice here on Thursday, and I thought he looked more relaxed and smooth in the discus than the shot put. The funny thing is there’s more torque on the knee in the discus than shot.”
“But based on how he looked at practice, I really thought he could have a little better performance in the discus. If you ranked the events, it’s shot first and discus second (for Price). But I told him, ‘I really think it could be the discus you end up doing better in and (setting a personal best).’”
In addition to Price, only one other athlete qualified in two individual events, Ligonier Valley hurdler Justin Piper. He ran in the 110- (16.64) and 300-meter hurdles (42.47) but didn’t get out of the preliminary round.
Other local boys who competed in Class AA field events were: Homer-Center’s Mike Newhouse (shot put, 14th, 47-4); Northern Cambria’s Evan Ludwig (javelin, 12th, 162-8); and Saltsburg’s Mitchel Yard (javelin, 16th, 153-8).
Local boys who competed in the Class AA track events but didn’t make it out of Friday’s preliminaries were: Homer-Center’s Levi McCracken (300 hurdles, 42.44); Northern Cambria’s Derek Bearer (400, 53.10); and United’s Shawn Lichvar (800, 2:02.17).
Also, Homer-Center’s and Ligonier Valley’s 1,600 relay teams competed in the preliminaries. Homer-Center’s relay team consisted of Nealey, McCracken, Devin Zayac and John Capitosti, and Ligonier Valley’s foursome was made up of Nathan Crusan, Dylan Jackman, Jonathan Finger and Piper.