While everyone gets off the bus together and there is team scoring, for the most part track and field is an individual sport.
It is all about how fast someone runs, how long they jump, how far they throw as an individual that determines the outcome, and while sometimes there can be a personal duel with another athlete, they are alone in competing in that moment. No one is passing them the ball, giving a block or helping on defense.
But sometimes, there are cases where one person surrenders personal ambition for the good of his team.
Will Cather did just such a thing last Thursday.
He could be at the PIAA Championships this weekend competing in one or two individual events — the 800 or 1,600 meters — but it was something he did in another race earlier in the day that got him and three teammates to the state meet but left him off the list for those other events.
The state meet gets underway at 9 a.m. Friday and continues through Saturday at Seth Grove Stadium at Shippensburg University, with a large contingent of Centre County athletes.
At the District 6 Class AAA Championships, in Thursday’s first event, Cather was running in the 3,200-meter relay along with Sam Bollinger, Connor Stashko and Kyle Adams.
The plan was for the first three runners to go out hard, give the Little Lions a lead and let Cather turn in a split time for his leg of about 2 minutes, so he could save a little bit for his other races.
The first three boys more than did their part with their times, but what they had not counted on was Altoona running a really strong race, and State College would be trailing — by quite a bit — when Cather was handed the baton for his anchor leg of a half-mile.
The junior knew what he had to do, gave no thought to what it might mean for later, and turned on the jets. He caught the Mountain Lion runner, Terry Futrell, beating him by 2.4 seconds to the finish line, and in the process nearly set the District 6 meet record. The final time was 7 minutes, 52.51 seconds, which was about a half-second off the 7:51.98 time that has stood since 1981 — long before any of these runners were born — and also set by State College.
"Unfortunately, (being able to run easy) didn’t quite happen, and we were down five or six seconds going into my leg," Cather said. "We wanted to win that, for sure, and that was the main goal. I took that hard and caught us up for the win."
In addition, the hot time has given State College the No. 5 seed for the 4x800 relay preliminaries, which will be run for Class AAA boys around 10 a.m. Friday. Altoona’s time was so good, the Mountain Lions, too, surpassed the automatic-qualifying standard and will be running Friday as well.
But it left Cather a little low on gas, and it showed in his other two races.
"That’s something that Will has done time and time again when we have conversations about these types of things," State College coach Rusty McRae said. "Sacrifices sometimes have to be made to do something really great, or have the chance to do something great as a team. He’s as on-board and excited about it as anybody."
In the 1,600, he faded toward the end and finished in 4:26.44, which was about two seconds off the state-qualifying standard and four seconds off his season-best, which was the top-seeded time.
Mifflin County’s Jon Colwell got the best of him, winning by nearly seven seconds.
Cather also has been hampered by an injury to his shin, and it was bothering him by halfway through the 1,600 race, affecting his stride.
In the 800, he again had the best time entering the event but was two seconds off that clocking and missed the state standard by 0.34 seconds, finishing in 1:57.66.
In the span of about four hours, Cather ran three races totaling eight laps and two miles, and by that last lap of the 800 he was running on fumes.
"In some ways it’s kind of a blessing," Cather said of missing out on the other two races. "I’m injured. It gives me one race to focus on. I don’t have the burden of another race. That’s always a good thing."
Bellefonte’s Sean Gipson, who also ran in the 4x800 relay, and later in the 4x400 but was disqualified for a false start in the 400, took advantage of having the fresher legs and won the 800 in 1:55.85.
"I thought he passed the (Altoona) guy early enough that he had saved enough to compete really well," McRae said. "But Colwell’s a really good 1,600 runner anyway, and to do those three events in that amount of time at that level is really difficult for anybody."
But having helped his team win the opening relay, getting three teammates to go along with Cather to Shippensburg, was more than worth the effort.
"It’s fun to coach a guy like that," McRae said. "He doesn’t limit himself."
Plus, they are liking what history tells them – that 1981 district championship foursome in the 3,200 relay went on to post an even better time of 7:43 at the state meet.
"This team isn’t about individual accolades or anything like that," said Cather, who is weighing plenty of college possibilities. "It’s a team. Our main goal, from Day 1, is to see how high we get in the 4x8 at states. That wasn’t going to change and I was going to sacrifice for the good of the team."
Get updates throughout the day Friday and Saturday from the PIAA meet on Twitter @GordonCDT