It goes without saying that Justley Sharp hopes to come home with two gold medals from this weekend’s PIAA Track and Field Championships.
Entering the state championship meet, she’s the odds-on favorite and the top seed in both of her events — the girls’ Class 2A discus and shot put. And she’s the first to say she expects nothing less from herself than two state titles to end her high school career.
“Of course, (the goal) is to win both. That’s what everyone wants to do. Everyone wants to win, and I’m glad to have a great shot this year,” Sharp said last week at the District 6 meet.
But the Homer-Center senior also has another more personal goal: break the rarified 150-foot barrier in girls’ discus and beat her dad in the process. With a throw over 150-0, she would land on the prestigious NFHS Honor Roll.
“Well, 152 more than 150,” Sharp said. “I mean, 150 would be great, but my dad threw 152, and I would like to forever be cemented as better in high school than him. That would be kind of cool. He knows that.”
The defending PIAA discus champion, Sharp headlines the local contingent of 20 individuals and two relay teams that qualified for the two-day state meet in Shippensburg beginning today. She’s one of three area throwers to qualify in discus and shot put, along with River Valley junior Emily Jackson and Penns Manor sophomore Alex Polenik in the Class 2A boys’ competition.
Polenik is riding high after winning District 6 titles in both events last week. He delivered a pair of personal-best performances in Altoona, an effort that earned him a top-six seeding in both events entering the state meet. The top eight finishers in each event earn state medals.
Polenik is seeded fourth in discus (158-7) and sixth in shot put (51-11¾) and peaking at the right time of the season. But that’s not to say he’s content with his season.
“It’s probably around there right now. I’d say it’s around near that peak for this year,” he said. “But I know I’ve still got a little bit more in the tank. I’ve got to get past that 51 mark now. It always keeps building up and keeps pushing you to try to get farther.”
Five other area athletes, as well as the Marion Center 3,200-meter relay team, earned a top-10 seeding.
In the girls’ Class 2A field, River Valley junior Sara McConnell is seeded fourth in the girls’ high jump (5-4), her teammate Jackson is seeded sixth in the shot put (37-2½), while Marion Center senior Reagan Ryen qualified in the 800-meter run for the third straight season and is seeded eighth (2:21.45).
Fresh off his first WPIAL title, Indiana junior Charlie Weber is seeded seventh in the boys’ Class 3A pole vault (14-6).
Weber is one of four area pole vaulters competing at the state meet, along with United’s Bridger Blankenbicker and Andrew Payne and Marion Center’s Evan Risinger, all three of whom qualified for the Class 2A boys’ competition. Blankenbicker is seeded ninth at 13-6.
The Marion Center girls’ 3,200 relay team consisting of Lydia Miller, Claire Hood, Brooke Slade and Reagan Ryen is seeded 10th (9:54.92). With their second-place finish last week at the district meet, the Stingers clinched their sixth PIAA berth in eight years.
“It’s definitely important to me, and it’s very exciting doing that,” Miller said of extending the Stingers’ prolonged run. “I’m fortunate to be with this group of girls.”
A year after becoming the first Purchase Line girls’ relay team in school history to qualify for the state meet, the Red Dragons’ 3,200 relay team did it again. The steady foursome of Alissa Phillips, Mikeayla Ryen, Alonna Phillips and Rachael Ward punched their ticket for the second straight year, and they’re seeded three spots behind Marion Center (9:58.54).
“It’s still crazy to think that we’re the only team that could do that (in school history),” Alonna Phillips said.
The defending indoor state champion in the girls’ high jump, McConnell suffered an injury at the end of the indoor season in March and endured a challenging outdoor season. Last week’s District 6 meet was just her second invitational of the outdoor season, and she won the district title nonetheless with a jump of 5-4.
Her indoor personal best is 5-6, and if she can match it this weekend, she should be in the running for the state title. Not that she’s putting that pressure on herself.
“I have to remember this is only my second big meet back,” McConnell said. “I’m just going to go out there with a good mindset, and that is what wins competitions. … Have a good mindset, and just go give it my best shot. At the state meet, you have nothing to lose. You’re there and just go do my best.”
Of the 20 local athletes to qualify in individual events, 11 did so for the first time. Purchase Line’s John Elick, who qualified in the Class 2A boys’ javelin, summarized the feelings of many of the first-timers who simply wanted to get to the state meet.
“I finally made it. I’ve done it,” a relieved Elick said after the District 6 meet. “I think I’ll be able to relax more. I’ve got states now. That’s where I can do my thing now that I think all the pressure is off me.”
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