While the items sitting atop the relatively brief to-do list Leah Bergey carried into her junior season might have seemed a bit lofty to those on the outside looking in, Milton’s track and field standout quietly revealed them in matter-of-fact fashion.
There’s hardly anything matter-of-fact about the way Bergey approaches her specialty events — the 100- and 300-meter hurdles — since she displays power, elegance and precision whenever she competes.
Although success was a constant throughout her first two varsity seasons, Bergey’s exploits at last month’s District 4 championships proved to be even more notable as she was the lone competitor to win three individual crowns at the Class 3A level.
Thanks to her efforts at the district meet and plenty more dominant outings as the 2019 season unfolded from late March to late May, Bergey has been named The Daily Item’s Girls Track Athlete of the Year.
“My goal was to get better myself, be able to PR and get the school records in my events,” Bergey said. “For the most part, I was able to do that for the hurdles, so I was able to accomplish my goals for the season.”
The determined Bergey usually accomplishes what she sets out to do. She even won the high jump competition at districts, clearing a career-best 5-3.
While her career-best times entering her junior campaign stood at 15.36 in the 100 hurdles and 45.88 in the 300s — the former came at Lock Haven and the latter at states — Bergey popped a 14.90 in mid-April at Shippensburg University that had her ecstatic and wrapped a slick PR and school record into one tidy package.
Yet even though Bergey finished second behind eventual state champion Jane Livingston of Conestoga Valley, there were plenty of positives to take from that race.
“The good thing about April when she raced Jane is we have all that film, all that footage,” said Milton coach Rod Harris, who lauded Bergey’s commitment to the sport and her willingness to get into the weight room more often than she’d done in the past.
“So, we’re able to go back and watch that race over and over and over again, to be able to critique the things Leah did really well and also point out the things that Jane does exceptionally well. (Things) that you can actually see and hopefully mimic and be able to correct her form a little bit.”
Still thrilled by her efforts at Shippensburg, just a day or so later in the Milton training room Bergey’s sparkling season was nearly wrecked when a sizable chunk of ice fell on one of her big toes. While blood was spilled, fortunately nothing was broken.
The next weekend at Lock Haven, Bergey returned to the track and hit a 15.39. Once May arrived, Bergey’s 15.15 at Loyalsock was backed up by a 15.10 at the Heartland Athletic Conference meet.
Bergey then went on to clock a winning 14.99 at districts before hitting another 14.99 in the preliminary round at her first Class 3A state meet.
“The (3A) competition is definitely a lot different,” Bergey said. “It was hard at first getting used to it, but I think it’ll just help me to get better and make me a better athlete competing against the athletes that are at higher levels. … It’ll help to prepare me.”
While Bergey’s times in the 300 hurdles remained steady through the first half of the season, they began to drop gradually once classmate Kylie Roup started pushing her close friend as they trained together.
The Milton tandem actually finished 1-2 at the HAC and district championships, as Bergey won both races in 46.82 and 46.15, respectively. Roup, meanwhile, posted her 300 hurdles PR (47.48) at the HAC meet.
“She was always right behind me, so it made me have to go faster and made me push myself and made me better,” Bergey said. “I also kind of helped her out because if I would run a faster time it would help her to go faster.
“So we helped each other out and we made each other better.”
Bergey finally hit her PR at states, clocking a 45.54 in the prelims.
Bergey’s recruitment is beginning to percolate — Harris said Bucknell and Slippery Rock are showing interest — she may take a different step next month by competing in her first heptathlon at a Junior Olympics regional.
While Bergey has run the 100 hurdles and 200, been successful in the high jump, and played around indoors while tossing around the shot, new events such as long jump, javelin and the 800 also would be involved.
Nonetheless, don’t be surprised if Bergey’s matter-of-fact approach proves successful.
“It’s a lot of fun working with her, because she’s just willing to do whatever you ask her to do,” Harris said. “She never resists you. She never fights you. And she trusts in what I say the more we’re together.”
Coach of the Year
When one looks back at what first-year Lewisburg girls coach Michael Espinosa said during preseason practice about his program’s immediate outlook, several sentences that proved rather prophetic really, really stick out.
“The Lewisburg girls look to compete well within the division and district. The team is flush with new athletes and has a goal of peaking in May after a regular season of gaining experience,” Espinosa said a week or so before the season.
As everything played out, it’s definitely accurate that Espinosa and his Green Dragons checked all the right boxes as March rolled into April and then May. That’s why he’s been tagged The Daily Item’s Girls Track and Field Coach of the Year.
Not only was Lewisburg able to compete well within the division, the Green Dragons claimed the HAC-II championship after skipping through the regular season with a perfect 6-0 mark. They also placed sixth in the team standings at the league meet.
Espinosa’s bunch also finished second in the chase for the District 4 Class 2A team title — despite winning only the 4x400-meter relay.
So, the immediate future does indeed appear to be mighty bright for a Lewisburg program fronted by Espinosa that returns plenty.