SHIPPENSBURG — Justley Sharp’s entire season — and years of unrelenting training — came down to one throw Friday morning.
One chance to make things right. One chance to reach a goal she’s dreamed about since sixth grade.
With a little bit of divine intervention and a lot of determination, the Homer-Center junior put her slow start on the first day of the PIAA Track and Field Championships behind her and did what was widely expected of her: Win a state title.
The top seed entering the meet, Sharp won the Class 2A girls’ discus crown with a throw of 138 feet, 7 inches, to become the first girl from Indiana County to win a state championship since Angel Piccirillo in 2012.
She’s also the first state champion, boy or girl, from Indiana County since 2015.
“State champion has a very good ring to it, if I’m being honest,” a relieved Sharp said with a laugh, her gold medal hanging around her neck.
It certainly didn’t come easily.
She fouled on each of her first two throws of the preliminaries, both sailing wide right of the sector. Just like everyone in her corner, Sharp was worried. With one throw remaining in the preliminaries, she was in real danger of missing the finals.
“Of course there’s worries. There always is, especially in that situation,” Sharp said. “But I kept telling myself over and over in my head, ‘I can do this. I can do this. I can do this.’ It became a mantra in my mind. I just kept repeating it to myself, and then I did it.
“I was nervous, but I wasn’t defeated.”
Sharp proceeded to throw 138-2 on her final attempt of the preliminaries, followed by throws of 130-8, 135-4 and 138-7 in the finals. Shenango’s Emma Callahan finished a close second with a 137-0, and Riverside’s Sydney Hale was third at 129-3.
When it was all over, and the officials pronounced Sharp as the state champion to the gallery, she embraced her mom, Lori Thompson, and the two shared a tearful, emotional moment.
“She gave me a little saint medallion yesterday, so that I could carry it in my bag,” Sharp said. “Saint Sebastian (the patron saint of athletes), I believe. … She gave me that to keep in my bag, and I think all my angels were watching me today and helped me put that last throw in the prelims in the sector. I definitely think all my angels were watching me today.”
As the top seed by a wide margin, the state title seemed to be hers for the taking, at least on paper. Her seeded distance of 142-1 was more than 15 feet ahead of the next closest competitor, Shenango’s Callahan (127-0).
But Sharp’s dad and the Homer-Center throwing coach, Wes Sharp, knew the margin of separation wasn’t what it seemed on paper.
“This is something. I’m still kind of…” an elated Wes Sharp said before trailing off, visibly emotional even behind his sunglasses. “You knew it was possible. She was the one seed.
“But I also knew that at the WPIALs, it was wet, and I knew that Callahan and Hale didn’t have the best conditions, whereas Justley had pretty good conditions (at the District 6 meet). So I knew that 15-foot separation was a lot closer than that. They had the two furthest throws up until last week in double-A girls.”
Sharp supplanted them as the top Class 2A thrower in the state last week with her district-winning toss of 142-1, and she proved herself worthy of that ranking Friday.
“The first time she picked up the discus when she was in fifth, sixth grade, I knew she was a special thrower,” Wes Sharp said. “She picked it up right away. She’s a good athlete, too. Great athletes in the throwing events do great things, and that’s what Justley did.”
“This is a goal that I’ve had forever, since I started coming to the state track meet with my dad,” Justley said. “I was just telling (Homer-Center head coach Matt) Mr. Rodkey that I think the first time I ever came was either 2015 or 2016. Ever since then, I’ve watched those girls win, and I thought, I want that to be me, and now it is, and that’s just the craziest thing.”
Sharp will look to add another medal to her haul Saturday in the Class 2A shot put. She is seeded second at 44-2, though she’s some 6 feet behind Callahan (50-8).