ALTOONA — Two long, really long, droughts came to an end for the State College boys' track and field team Friday night.
It made for an especially fervent celebration on the field of Mansion Park.
The day began with the 3,200-meter relay team breaking a record that had stood for 33 years and ended with a team title at the District 6 Class AAA Track and Field Championships, ending a run of 18 straight crowns for Altoona.
“The expectations were to win,” said senior Will Cather, who won the 800- and 1,600-meter runs. “This was the best team we’ve had in decades — maybe ever — and the expectations were high. We wanted to win. We weren’t going to mess around.”
When the team title was official and announced, the Little Lions began bouncing around the turf in celebration, then took the trophy on a joyous victory lap around the track.
“It was 19 years in the making,” Cather said of the team run. “It feels pretty sweet.”
The Little Lions tallied 238 points, besting the Mountain Lions’ 206. Bellefonte finished seventh with 32.
While Cather played a major role in earning points, the biggest total of the day came from Bryce Williams, who was the day’s only triple-winner — boys or girls — taking the high, long and triple jumps for 30 of his team’s points.
“In the back of my head I thought I could get it,” Williams said. “I knew it would take a lot of work but I can in with the mentality that I wanted to do it.”
Shooting for an extra win in the high jump — Williams qualified for the PIAA Championships last year in the other two — was part of the strategy to pile up the points wherever possible.
“Every year we come here and we come so close but then we don’t get it,” Williams said. “This year, for my senior year, to finally get it, it feels awesome.”
With three events each for Williams and Cather, who added a third-place run in the 3,200, and others also adding to their usual competitions, it was a strategy to finally break Altoona’s dominance.
“That’s what Altoona’s done for years – to use the tools they have as much as they can,” coach Rusty McCrea said. “They’re an excellent team. We’ve been thinking about how to use our kids in their best events early, and hopefully allow them to compete in a few extra events later on. We just have a deep team this year.”
Other winners included Mason Post in the 400, Jon Smith in the 300 hurdles and the 1,600 and 3,200 relay teams.
Bellefonte also picked up a highlight, with Mitch Grasser capturing first in the shot put.
While the Little Lion team ended one drought, it was the relay race that began the competition that started the party.
The 3,200 relay team broke a record that had stood since long before any of Friday’s competitors were born, when MTV was launched, IBM introduced the home personal computer and Ronald Reagan took office as president.
Chris Golembeski, Alex Milligan, Kyle Adams and Post shattered the mark by more than two seconds in 7 minutes, 49.79 seconds.
“We love chasing history,” Adams said. “That’s what it’s there for. Records are made to be broken. We like to train hard and we were very close to it last year so that kind of left a bitter taste in our mouth. We wanted to make sure we got it this year.”
“We knew we had the potential, but it was not what we were aiming for,” Post said. “We just wanted to get the state standard and win it.”
With Cather a part of the quartet, State College turned in an even faster time of 7:45.12 at the Penn Relays, and they are chasing an even older school record of 7:42.2 that has stood since 1969.
“We came into it with high expectations, but not expectations like that,” Post said. “Running that without our fastest guy in Will, we really couldn’t ask for much more than that.”
Post clocked in at 49.74 in the 400 to add his individual win, then anchored the 1,600 relay’s victory in 3:24.24 along with Smith, Noah Woods and Kyle Adams.
Cather and Alex Milligan finished 1-2 in the 1,600, with Cather winning in 4:27.30, and Cather came back to take the 800 in 1:55.76, with Adams second and also reaching the state qualifying time.
Cather capped his 14 laps of running with a third-place effort in the 3,200 for a few more team points. He was caring only about place, and not time, for each of his runs.
“I’ll hurt a lot, but I got the job done,” Cather said. “This is actually the first I think I’ve ever done that, but anything for this team. This was our year and, weren’t going to mess around with it and I was going to do whatever I could to get this team a victory today.”
Matt Beyerle and Golembeski finished second and fourth, respectively, in the 3,200.
Smith completed the 300 hurdles in 39.03 to pick up his win, and added a second-place effort in the 400.
As for triple-winner Williams, it would be hard to ask for more.
The day started with him and Kellin Valentine going 1-2 in the long jump, with Williams winning at 22-10, 11 1/2 inches ahead of Valentine. The senior then cleared 5-foot-11 in the high jump and capped his day with another record of 48 feet, 7 1/2 inches in the triple jump. It broke another long-standing district standard since 1989 of 47-2 1/2.
“That feels great too,” Williams said. “My name’s going to be beside that mark now, and we’ll see what happens the next few years with Kellin.”
Williams decided Friday he will not compete in the high jump at the state meet, and Cather has scratched out of the 1,600, letting Milligan take his place. Valentine also made the state field in the triple jump after taking second.
The 400 relay team almost added to the win total but was nipped at the finish line by Altoona, but Tristan Daman, Max Herbst, Woods and Valentine clocked in at 43.01 for second and a state-qualifying time. Daman also was second in the 200 but hit the state qualifying time.
Grasser delivered his shot put win early in the day to give the Red Raiders their lone qualifier for the state meet, which will be held May 23-24 at Shippensburg University.
“It’s definitely something I’ve worked for for a while,” Grasser said. “It feels great.”
After a poor first throw, Grasser took the lead on the second attempt and held it the rest of the way, building to his best of 47-3 3/4 on his fifth of six attempts.
“All the guys in the finals could rip off a throw that could beat me at any point in time,” Grasser said. “I was just trying to keep calm and keep advancing my best. Almost every throw I kept advancing a couple inches at a time.”
While he may be the lone Raider and will have to wait until Saturday to take his shot at a state medal, he is eager for the opportunity.
“It’s going to be a lot of fun,” said Grasser, who took eighth in the discus. “Just go down, hang out for a day or two and throw on Saturday.”
He nearly had a teammate with him, but Matt Querns finished second in the discus at 130-6.
Other medal-winners for Bellefonte included Brett Finley (seventh, 800) and Matthew Feldman (seventh, javelin), with the 3,200 relay taking fifth, the 1,600 relay sixth and the 400 relay seventh.
State College had a speedy trio of Daman, Woods and Herbst who finished 2-3-4 in the 200 and 3-4-5 in the 100.
Other top finishes came from Anthony Degleris (seventh, 400), Alex Banerjee (fifth, 110 and 300 hurdles), Matt Mullin (third, shot put), Sam Murphy (sixth, shot put and discus), Mark Weakland (seventh, shot put), Nick Feffer (sixth, 800), Andrew Miller (seventh, discus), Griffin Thompson (third pole vault), Matthew Suchanec (eighth, pole vault) and Tyler Smith (eighth, 300 hurdles).
They all picked up points to end a long Little Lion drought.
“We’ve got more business to take care of, but this has been the major goal all year,” McCrea said. “To win this thing.”