ALTOONA — Sometimes experience isn’t necessary.
Such was the case at the District 6 Class AA Track and Field Championships on Wednesday.
Whether it is a fledgling program in just its third year of existence sending its first qualifiers to the state championships, or a program with a deep and rich history sending a number of qualifiers including a trio who have barely run any meets, the newcomers stole the day.
On the second day of action in the district meet at Mansion Park — after the meet was cut in half Tuesday by torrential rain and lightning — five individuals and two relay teams earned tickets to the PIAA Championships, including three district champions.
Bald Eagle Area’s Bryce Greene won the 200-meter dash, then helped the 4x400 relay team to a tile, and Penns Valley’s Gino Nicosia took the 800 meters to pick up Centre County’s gold medals.
“I feel awesome,” Nicosia said. “It’s surreal. … I still can’t get over it.”
BEA’s Nathan Styles also qualified in the 400 and Zach Moody made it in the 3,200, and St’ Joseph’s Catholic Academy will join BEA in the 1,600 relay after Brian Hackman made the field in the 1,600 on Tuesday.
The top three finishers all earn state meet berths.
The top finishes for BEA helped the Eagles finish third as a team with 50 points.
Richland won with 63 and Juniata had 55. Penns Valley had 16 for 16th place and Philipsburg-Osceola was 28th with five points.
For St. Joe’s, it was a new experience all the way around, with a program that is still getting off the ground and not exactly filled with depth.
“We had one person on the team who had been here last year, and everyone else it was their first time at districts,” said coach Jayson Jackson, whose team finished seventh with 35 points. “A lot of times it was the first year of track for some of these kids. To have them do that well is pretty exciting.”
It started with Hackman finishing second in the 1,600 Tuesday, and for a while it appeared he had also made the state meet in the 800 when action resumed Wednesday.
But he was caught in the final meters by Purchase Line’s Dan Learn, who leaned ahead at the finish line for third. The official time for both was 2 minutes, 3.25 seconds, but the automatic timing had the difference between them at 0.006.
Still, Hackman has one individual event set at Shippensburg University’s Seth Grove Stadium on May 23-24.
“It’s just awesome to be a part of this school and this program,” Hackman said. “We can keep leading it through.”
He then ran the second leg in the 4x400 relay, following the lead leg by Kahsim Buey and finished by Mikey Kresovich and Charlie Ross. The Wolves had the lad at the midpoint, after Hackman’s leg, then held on with Ross holding off a Bellwood-Antis runner at the finish line.
“I was telling Charlie to dig deep for the last, for the anchor,” Buey said. “I said ‘Give it all you’ve got!’ And he did. The kid tried to pass him but he didn’t let him, and now we’re going to states.”
They finished in 3:35.41, cutting four seconds off the team’s best time.
“Brian Hackman started us off yesterday when he made it to states,” Buey said. “He was saying, ‘We need to get to states.’ He can’t room by himself. This 4x4, we’ve been training all year, and we said we’ve got to get to states.”
Winning the race were the Eagles, with Bryan Green and Dakota Bartley getting things started, and Bryce Greene and Styles turning on the jets to surge into the lead. They crossed in 3:31.17, cutting their time by seven seconds and beating runner-up Homer Center by 3.35 seconds.
“I just wanted to jump for joy,” Styles said. “It was awesome.”
That was a slightly different feeling for Styles than earlier, when he ran the finals of the 400 and turned around for the lead leg of the 4x100 relay minutes later. The junior said he threw up between the races.
“Not too good,” Styles said. “(I had) maybe a little less than 10 minutes. But I’ve been doing that all season. I’m used to it but it is challenging.”
He added even more drama to his 400 race, which finished in 52.21, by stumbling with about 50 meters to go, losing the lead but hanging on for second place.
“I’m not exactly sure what happened,” Styles said. “I was running it, next thing I know I lost my stride, tripped, I don’t know. Just lost my balance. … I actually thought I was going to fall down there for a second.”
He was not the last Eagle to lose his feet on the home stretch.
Moody completely lost his balance and was practically flat on the track, then staggered to his feet with about 10 meters to go, wobbling the final steps in 10:05.53. He still had a six-second cushion over the next runner, and lopped 17 seconds off his best time.
“I started leaning, one thing led to another, and the next thing I know I end up eating track a little bit,” Moody said. “I was pretty dead, but losing my balance, that certainly didn’t help anything.”
After just missing a state berth last year in the 1,600 by finishing fourth, then doing the same thing this season, the senior knew this was his last chance.
“I was terrified,” Moody said. “I didn’t look back because I’ve learned you never do that.
But I could imagine the person coming up was real close to me and I was like, ‘I’m not losing this in three feet because I fell!’ ”
Completing the BEA success story is Bryce Greene, who is by far the novice of Wednesday’s champions. The district meet was just his fourth track meet of his career, and this was just his third time running the 200. He won in 23.46.
“It feels extra good being out here,” said Greene, also a member of the BEA baseball team. “I was ranked, like, fourth coming into this meet. I really didn’t have anything to lose. I was just running.”
Trying to balance preparing for the state meet with the district baseball playoffs starting next week for the Eagles, the coming days will be challenging for the Greene brothers and Bartley, who are all moonlighting in track.
“It’s definitely a change, but I enjoy it,” Greene said.
Nicosia didn’t have to run in the first half of the meet Tuesday, and his fresher legs paid off with his 2:00.68 clocking. He grabbed the lead early in the second lap and was estatic well after the race was over.
“I just came out here and ran — oh my,” Nicosia said. “I got to the 500 (meter mark).
I knew I had to go then. I went and then just kept on running. Tried to go as fast as I could.”
He will be the lone representative of the Rams’ program, despite a few other near-misses.
Ayla Olsen-Zelman was fourth in the long jump with a leap of 15 feet, 6 inches, missing a spot at the state meet by a quarter-inch. Forest Hills’ Kaitlyn Kline was third at 15-6 1/4.
Also, Chelsea Emel was sixth in the shot put, Kylie Orndorff was sixth in the javelin, Destiny Andrus matched that result in the 200 and Alyssa Limbaugh took eighth in the 3,200.
The BEA 4x100 team just missed out with a fourth-place effort, Hunter Hall was fourth and David Gawryla eighth in the discus, while Alyssa Butterworth took eighth in the 800.
For Philipsburg-Osceola, Tim Eason was eighth in the 800, Collin Maurer was eighth in the triple jump and the P-O 1,600 relay team was also eighth.
Also for St. Joe’s, Kresovich took fifth in the 400, Eli Urban was sixth in the 3,200 and Buey was seventh in the 200.
For those heading to the state meet, which will be a new experience for every one of the area’s qualifiers, they are all eager for the challenge.
“Just like districts is compared to other meets, (states) is a whole new ball game,” Hackman said. “It will be much more important getting out at the start. I’ll need to work on that for the next week of practice.”