ALTOONA — If there is one thing the State College girls’ track and field team has gotten good at over the last few years, it is stacking up talent in the middle- and long-distance events.
Friday night may have had the best example yet of the depth and talent for the Lady Little Lions.
The team had 1-2 finishes in the three longest running events, plus won two of three relays, to easily grab the team title at the annual West Central Coaches Invitational at Mansion Park with 162 points. South Western was second at 116.
“It’s so exciting because you have somebody to run with,” said Emma Cousins, who won the 800 meters in one of those 1-2 finishes. “It just makes it so much more of a team sport because you’re not just out there running by yourself. You’re in the same heat, you’re so close and I think it pushes you a lot more.”
The Lady Little Lions got wins from Emma Cousins in 800, Hannah Grubb in the 1,600 and Hannah Catalano in the 3,200 to lead the charge.
The State College boys also had a good day, with wins for Will Cather in the 1,600, Matt Mullin in the shot put and Lathom Thompson in the pole vault, along with the 4x800 relay.
Bellefonte turned in a solid day too, with wins for Sean Gipson in the 400 and Mitchell Smith in the 3,200, helping the Red Raiders look forward to the District 6 meet in less than two weeks.
“We’re feeling good because we know we still have time to prepare and get ready and train our legs just a little bit more,” Mitchell said. “We still have one more meet to kind of train our legs one last time before we get into it.”
Grubb won the 1,600 by a wide margin, lapping another runner just before the finish line for a 5-minute, 15.35-second clocking, with teammate Kaelyn Yoder following in second at 5:24.85.
“It’s definitely rewarding when all the hard work pays off,” Grubb said, “and you get the points for the team.”
Later in the 800, Cousins ran her two laps in 2:19.93, followed by Natasha Fedkina in 2:22.26.
“At this meet last year I was a little bit faster,” Cousins said. “But I also know I’ve struggled getting past that barrier, but then once I hit states it all clicks together. The past two years, time just flies off.”
The distance double was completed by Catalano circling eight laps in 11:48.01 as she ran side-by-side most of the race with teammate Sarah Almarzooqi, who finished in 11:52.51. The pair was alone in the lead for the last half of the race, with third place more than 34 seconds behind.
The distance crew is spurred on by healthy competition among the group, not only with the girls who were 1-2 in the three races, and the solid foursomes in the 4x400 and 4x800 relays, but also by a number of others nipping at their heels pushing for spots on the track.
“Within the relay and the mile, I have all my teammates right on my butt trying to get my spot,” Grubb said. “It’s healthy competition. It’s good to know somebody’s there pushing you to do your best.”
The day began with the 3,200 relay, with Fedkina, Victoria Crawford, Larissa Burka and Grubb winning in 9:30.25.
“The relays are definitely a special team to be a part of,” Grubb said. “We’re able to travel to a lot of different places, like to Penn Relays last week, so it’s definitely a special privilege to be on a relay. The competition is really high.”
The 4x100 relay followed a few hours later with Olivia Watkins, Lauren Bonness, Niara Valentine and Hayley Crawford being clocked in 50.04.
In the 4x400 to close the meet, it appeared a relay sweep was at hand, but Mifflin County passed the final Lady Little Lion with about 40 yards to go to take the race as the foursome of Bonness, Yoder, Chandley Book and Crawford finished in 4:05.04.
As for the happy night for the Red Raiders, Gipson trailed Punxsutawney’s Kevin Hughes by about a stride for much of the trip around the track, but surged into the lead with about 50 meters left and held on for the 49.54-second victory.
“I knew where my talent lied – it was on the home stretch, on the kick,” said Gipson, who added a third-place effort in the 200. “I was like, ‘Just have faith that that is going to work out.’ I came out of the turn, turned on the jets and pulled it through.”
Smith had a really long day for Bellefonte. He ran in the 3,200 relay around 2 p.m., then had plenty to time to think about running in the 3,200 close to 10 p.m.
“I didn’t have a real good 4x8 race, so my whole day was spent sitting around getting ready for this,” Mitchell said. “It’s not too bad because you get a lot of rest, you get a lot of mental preparation, a lot of time to physically and mentally prepare for your race. But at the same time, the entire time you’re psyching yourself out for a race, you’re sitting on pins and needles trying to get ready.”
State College’s Matthew Mullin beat the competition in the shot put with a top toss of 47 feet, 5 ½ inches.
Will Cather outkicked Bradford’s Aziz Yousif over the final stretch to win the 1,600 in 4:22.12, winning by 0.25 seconds.
Lathom Thompson added a half-foot to his season best by clearing 13-9 in the pole vault, winning by that same six-inch margin over Altoona’s Kolby Koeck.
The day was begun with a 4x800 relay win for Cather, Alex Milligan, Connor Stashko and Chris Golembeski in 7:59.48.
“We’ve got some work to do,” said State College coach Rusty McCrea. “Altoona’s deep, we’re missing a couple of kids, but it’s still working time. We’ll have five or six more days of good, hard practices, then taper and let the track gods decide.”
The State College girls racked up plenty of points with other place-winners as well.
Chandley Book grabbed second place in the 400 in 59.72, and Kimberly Lightner was second in the javelin at a season-best 127-11.
Emily Randolph grabbed third in the 300 hurdles, while Bonness did the same in the 100.
Valentine was fourth in the 100 and Marica Verica matched the finish in the high jump.
Rachel Wylie took fifth in the 300 hurdles and Megan Vonada was fifth in the 100 hurdles.
The State College boys had a 2-3 finish in the triple jump, with Sean King posting a top leap of 43-8 ½ and Bryce Williams a half-inch behind. The Little Lions also turned in a 2-3 result in the 800, with Kyle Adams beating out teammate Sam Bollinger at 1:57.50 and 1:58.14, respectively. Jon Smith had a second-place finish in 40.42 seconds in the 300 hurdles, Matt Beyerle grabbed fourth in the 3,200, Kellin Valentine was fourth in the long jump, Kellin Valentine took fourth in the long jump and Dan Forziat captured fifth in the high jump. The 400 and 1,600 relay teams also grabbed third place.
Penns Valley also got a second-place finish from its 400 relay team with its time of 51.54, barely edged by Tyrone. Carolyn Darr took some speedy turns around the track, grabbing a second-place finish in the 100-meter dash and a pair of thirds in the 200 and 400. Teammate Grace Gover grabbed a third in the high jump, Nicole Bienert was fifth in the discus and Alyssa Limbaugh took fifth in the 3,200.
Bellefonte’s Cassandra Book grabbed a fifth-place finish in the shot put at 31-2.The Bellefonte boys added a fourth-place effort in the 4x800 relay.
P-O’s Tiffany Bertothy grabbed fifth place in the javelin while Tim Eason was sixth in the 800.
For Bald Eagle Area, Marissa Ward was seventh in the long jump and Hunter Hall took sixth in the discus to lead the Eagle finishers.