---- — By Harold Raker
The Daily Item
COAL TOWNSHIP -- It's been a rough senior season for Shamokin senior sprinter Matt Gass, but he was certainly glad that on a comfortable spring day earlier this week, he was still working with his coach and trainer at Kemp Memorial Stadium.
The fact that his season is still alive is a tribute to his hard work and the encouragement of coach Mike Rogers and trainer Tom Swaldi.
Gass, who came into the season with the high expectations one might expect of an athlete who took the District 4 Class AAA meet by storm last year at Athens High School.
He won the 400-meter dash in what was an area season-best, 50.50 seconds, won the 800 in 2:00.27 and helped the Indians' 1,600- and 3,200 relay teams finish first and second, respectively.
"That was a big high emotionally and I had a lot of expectations coming off of that into this year," he said.
"But I think I put to much weight on my shoulders," he added.
That wasn't the biggest problem.
A week before the start of the season, Gass sustained a minor left hamstring pull. "It wasn't too bad, it was a minor setback, he said.
But things got worse.
About a month ago, with four weeks left until this past Saturday's district championships, Gass pulled his right hamstring.
"That one was pretty bad. It's still giving me trouble now, it's still sore," he said during a break from his stadium workout.
Gass, the son of Chris and Lisa Gass, sat out the rain-plagued Heartland Athletic Conference championships at Susquehanna University and rested for the district meet. On Saturday, he blew past a stellar field to win the 400 in 50.78 (his best on the season is 50.45).
Gass decided that, because of the injury, he would not challenge Williamsport standout Herb Stelly in the 800.
Recalling last year's meet, he said, "Running the 400, the 800, the 4x4 and the 4x8 is really taxing on your body, but I think if I wouldn't have had the injuries, I would have taken a shot at it," he said.
Gass, who did not like track at first -- only doing it to stay n shape for soccer -- found it to be his passion so much that he will run track at Susquehanna University next year and has put away the soccer spikes for good.
That's what made this season so frustrating.
"It slowed me down. I was on such a hard schedule, I was practicing seven days a week. It throws off my practice a little bit.
He said that not being able to do what he expected to do was more of a shock to his psyche, but, in the end, "I couldn't have asked for anything better."
He said Swaldi and Rogers made the difference.
"It was really rough, but, with the help of my coach and my trainer, they pulled me through. There is no way I could have done this without them. It was so difficult for me."
He said he heads into the state meet, where he will be a small fish in a big Class AAA pool, with only positive thoughts.
"My goal all through the year was to make it to the state finals in one of the events and it's still my goal. I'm not going to give up on my goal, I am going to try my hardest and remember it's my last year and try to pull through and hopefully succeed," he said.