By Harold Raker
The Daily Item
SHIPPENSBURG -- The first trip to the PIAA meet at Shippensburg University can be an eye-opening trip for a freshman.
Danville's Mackenzie Jones was no different.
The District 4 Class AAA champion in the 3,200 meters, set a PR (personal record) of 11 minutes, 5.45 seconds in finishing 16th on Saturday at the state meet.
"I wanted to go under 11, but I still got my PR, so I'm happy," Jones said. "It was a hard race. It was like a war zone. It was like everybody for themselves."
However, Jones knows she can certainly use it as a learning experience.
"I know what to expect (now)," Jones said. "Coming in here, I saw all the people warming up, then watching starts of races, you see people getting boxed in. It was intimidating. When you get out there and the race starts, it might take a while, but you get used it."
Southern Columbia's Cody Pavlick was also watching, but his focus was on the Class AAA discus throwers on Friday.
"Watching some of those throws on Friday (in AAA), I tried not to let it get in my head, and I just buckled down and I focused," Pavlick said after winning the seventh place medal in Saturday's Class AA discus event. I was focused and I'm really happy with my place today.
Like most of his fellow athletes, the wind was something he had to battle. "At some points in time the wind was blowing right into us and some of the throws barely went over 130 feet and it was a big game-changer on how some of the kids threw.
"It was pretty hard to throw today at some points," he said.
But, as he did with other distractions, he tried to not allow the windy conditions to get into his head.
"At first I was thinking about it a lot, and then when I got down here I pushed everything out of my head, I tried not to become a head case and I just focused and made up my mind I needed to throw today," he said.
Pavlick also does the shot put but focused more on the discus this season, including a lot of hard practices which including trying to improve his footwork.
"I wasn't really expecting (the medal), but I was really happy and I am really honored to represent my school and get sixth as a junior."
Southern's Luke Rarig said he didn't get the best start out of the block and was a little high over some of the hurdles, but getting a sixth-place medal in the Class AA 110 highs was pleasing. What made it better was his getting a best of 15.09 seconds.
He said that competing in the long jump at the same time actually helped him. "It helped take my mind off (the hurdles). The jumps helped me warm up for the hurdles."
Heading into the state meet, things did not look good for the Milton 400 relay team of Tyrel Kling, Brandon Rogers, Trevor Zimmerman and Chris Reuss making a trip to the PIAA Class AAA meet (this is Milton's first year in AAA).
During the District 4 100 final the previous week at Susquehanna University, Reuss pulled a hamstring at the start, but finished third.
He returned to the track and anchored the relay team past favored Williamsport for a berth in the state meet.
Reuss also deflected any credit for his team beating the odds and rising from the 22nd seed to a fourth-place medal.
Pointing to his teammates, he said, "It wasn't me. All I had to do was maintain the lead they gave me. It was all them."
Zimmmerman said that, having competed in horrible weather during this year's Gerry Breslin Invitational at Mount Carmel helped prepare the team for the bad conditions they faced over the weekend in Shippensburg.
"We were expecting to break 43 (seconds), but, given the weather conditions, we can't complain (with a 43.13). But, after Mount Carmel, this was like summer," Zimmerman joked.
Southern's Joey Kleman went out in style for his career, claiming a pair of medals (fourth in the 100 dash and fifth in the 200) and now will take his track and field talents (and possibly his football skills) to Bloomsburg University.
Kleman said it meant a lot to him for his team to do so well, and that the Tigers brought some momentum and confidence into the state meet after winning their second straight District 4 AA team title a week ago.
"No one usually gets back-to-back district championships, so we wanted to put something together for states off of that and we did," he said. "I thought we had a pretty successful time in Shippensburg," he said.
Southern scored 15 team points, tying North Schuylkill for 14th place.
As for his own senior season, Kleman said, "I thought it was amazing season. I take my hat off to my head coach, Lanny Connor and coach (Tom) Donlan, for never giving up on me and also my sprinting coach (Jim) Roth, for helping me out.
He also felt a bit lucky.
In the 100 semifinal, he said, "I thought I might have jumped a little bit on the start."
But he said he thought he had a great start in the finals and also finished strong.
Eze anchored the Lewisburg 400 relay to a seventh-place medal, but gave credit to his teammates, Will Sumfest, Sean Walker and Nick Scullin.
He said the team was not assembled until the last day of April, but things clicked immediately. "Our first relay together was like a 3:30.3 and we were just over a half-second shy of state qualifying time (3:29.6), so at that point, we knew it was real, we knew what we could do." What the Green Dragons did was advance to states with a 3:29.29 at the district meet.
Eze, who will attend Cornell University in the fall, and possibly walk on the track team, said the team could not have had such success if any of his teammates were missing. Sumfest is a pole vaulter and shot putter who does a great job on the lead leg, he said.
"He always goes out and gives us a good spot," he said.
He said Scullin usually runs the 1,600, the 400 and a leg of the 3,200 relay during the season, so having him fresh was a plus, and Walker placed fourth in the 1,600 earlier in the day, but was fresh for the final relay.
The team overall saw all of its athletes get medals to which Eze said, "We knew it would take all of us to show up on the right day at the same time and it came together in the post-season. Our coaches are really smart (with training), they make us peak at the right time."
East Juniata junior hurdler David Brantley should be getting used to close calls, most of them not going his way.
He barely missed qualifying for the state meet in the 110 hurdles at the District 4 meet, but, after punching his state ticket in the 300 hurdles, he finished third in his preliminary heat at states, but missed qualifying for the final by six-hundredth of a second.
Another example of how Valley athletes are up against it in Class AAA in the state meet came Saturday morning when Milton's Zak Lewis, a sophomore who made it into the meet after another runner scratched, ran a 10:33.98 in the AAA 3,200 only to finish 32nd.
n Correspondent Todd Hummel contributed to this report.