HIGH SCHOOL TRACK AND FIELD: Unbeaten Rams crush field in girls' meet
ARMAGH — Kia Clayton did everything in her power to bring the conference title back to Saltsburg, but even her monster day wasn’t enough for the undermanned Trojans to match Ligonier Valley’s depth.
Coming off its second straight undefeated regular season, the Ligonier Valley girls’ track and field team avoided another stumble at the Heritage Conference Championships on Tuesday to win the team title for the first time since 2011.
Jasmine Connor won a pair of events, Stephanie Heming won another one, and the Rams capped their day by taking the 1,600 relay, giving them four event victories, the same number Clayton was responsible for herself.
Clayton swept the jumps and anchored Saltsburg’s record-setting 400-meter relay team to come away with four gold medals, but it wasn’t nearly enough for the Trojans.
Ligonier Valley piled up 153 points to claim the title, more than 40 ahead of second-place Saltsburg (111).
“We won four firsts, but our big strong point tonight was we had almost two people in every event taking places,” Ligonier Valley girls’ coach Al Fiorina said, “and that gave us the numbers even though we didn’t get a first. A good example was the shot put. We didn’t get a first, but we got 12 points. We got second and third, and boom, right away, you start getting points like that, it makes a big difference.
“We knew we had a tough road, because every one of these schools have that one or two girls that were great in their position, but we had more depth. That was our secret. It feels pretty good.”
A junior, Connor won the 300-meter hurdles with a time of 47.9 seconds, she took first in the 200 in 26.9 seconds and she ran a leg on Ligonier Valley’s 1,600 relay team, which also included Heming, Madie McLaughlin and Gina McKlveen. Heming’s individual title came in the 400.
“I’m really proud of what we all did today,” Connor said. “I really wanted to bring home some medals, and I’m glad I succeeded.”
United thrower Kennedy Fletcher and Marion Center distance runner Hannah Fulton each won a pair of conference titles. Fletcher took the shot put and discus titles for the second straight season, while Fulton won the 1,600- and 3,200-meter runs.
United hurdler Laken Pudliner defended her title in the 100 hurdles, as did Penns Manor’s Devon Bratton in the pole vault. Another Penns Manor athlete, Sarah DaBella, won the javelin.
Saltsburg sophomore Aleisha Clayton (100) and Marion Center freshman Taya Whitfield (800) won their first conference titles, and Homer-Center won the 3,200 relay to round out the winners.
A year ago, Ligonier Valley entered the conference meet in a similar position: coming off an undefeated regular season and fully expecting to win the conference title. Only the Rams didn’t.
With that disappointing second-place finish still fresh in their minds, they responded.
“Last year, we were undefeated but we didn’t win this meet,” Fiorina said. “And this year, 10-0 and we came in here, and we were bound and determined that we were leaving conference champs, and it was very, very important. That was one of our goals, was to make sure if we’re going to be undefeated, we also want to prove it here, too.”
The Rams did one better this season, sandwiching a team title at the Westmoreland County Meet between an undefeated regular season and the conference title.
“This year, we won the Westmoreland County double-A county meet, we were undefeated in the Heritage and now this championship tonight,” Fiorina said. “Those were three important things we wanted, and we did it. They went 3-for-3.”
“We try to keep the expectations high,” Heming said. “This year, I’m so grateful because we have things in every department. We have pole vaulter, we have throwers, we have runners, we have jumpers. We have it all. And you don’t get that in a team very often, so it’s kind of nice because we’re very diverse and everyone pushes each other, so it’s great.”
Kia Clayton won the long and triple jumps by wide margins, and she also captured her second conference title in the high jump.
“I wanted to do better, maybe PR, but I didn’t,” Kia Clayton said. “But it’s OK because I still won.”
Clayton, along with cousin Aleisha Clayton, Nicole Boyer and Corrine Moore, teamed up to win the 400 relay in a meet-record and season-best time of 52.5 seconds.
A senior, Penns Manor’s Bratton captured her second straight Heritage Conference title in the pole vault, doing so with a personal-best vault of 9-9. Even as the top seed entering the meet and the only vaulter in the conference approaching those heights, Bratton admitted to feeling pressure.
“I was pretty nervous for today, to be honest,” she said. “With districts being on Tuesday, the other girls there, they jump 9-6 or 10-0, so I wanted to be able to PR today so I at least knew I could at least be up there with them and have a chance of going to states again.”
Fletcher threw 33-8? to win the shot put, and her winning throw in the discus was 112-10.
Marion Center’s Fulton won the 1,600 in 5:33 and the 3,200 in 12:02.2, while Whitfield won the 800 in 2:29.1.
Pudliner won the 100 hurdles in 16.5; Aleisha Clayton won the 100 with a time of 13.1; and DaBella won the javelin with a distance of 113-1.