PIAA Track & Field Championships

High school track & field: State College relay team has eyes on history

gbrunskill@centredaily.comMay 22, 2014 

One by one the records have dropped this year.

Some were decades old, one was approaching a century in age.

And these guys are not done yet.

This has been a special season for the State College boys’ track and field team, and unlike some athletes who shy away from talk about records, these young men are embracing the chance to leave a mark on the history books.

“We’re very focused on it,” senior Kyle Adams said. “We talk about it a lot. Some teams don’t like to do stuff like that, it’ll psych them out, but we like to know what we’re shooting for and work hard to try and get it. Every time we don’t get it, it makes us want it more. It leaves a taste in our mouth wondering what we left out there.”

There is a core group of seniors on this Little Lion team, and their final chance to break records comes this weekend when they compete at the PIAA Championships at Shippensburg University’s Seth Grove Stadium. The meet kicks off at 9 a.m. Friday and runs through Saturday afternoon.

The list of accomplishments this season is practically jaw-dropping:

- The boys won the District 6 Class AAA team title last Friday, breaking a 19-year drought.

- At that same meet, the 3,200-meter relay team broke the district meet record that had stood since 1981.

- Also at that meet, Bryce Williams broke the district record in the triple jump that had been around since 1989.

- Earlier in the spring, Jon Smith broke the school record in the 300-meter hurdles that had stood since 1999.

-The biggest milestone was the 1,600 relay team of Adams, Smith, Will Cather and Mason Post surpassing the school record that had stood since 1929.

“That was the idea this year – to take down stuff that’s never been done,” head coach Rusty McCrea said. “It’s been a fun year, that’s for sure.”

But Smith, Cather, Post and Chris Golembeski have another goal in mind for this weekend: The school record in the 3,200 relay of 7 minutes, 42.2 seconds, which has been standing since 1969.

The quartet, along with alternate Alex Milligan, see no reason they can’t crack that one, too, given the strong competition set to line up in Shippensburg. Fourteen teams turned in times under 8 minutes at their district qualifying meets last week.

“We think the winning time will definitely be under our current school record,” Cather said. “We know if the pieces fall in place, we’ll be the new record-holders after this weekend, which is pretty exciting.”

Officially State College is seeded second off its District 6 time of 7:49.79, with Pennridge first at 7:48.18, but the Little Lions hit 7:45.12 at the Penn Relays in April – the fastest time in the state this spring and the eighth-best time in the U.S., according to national rankings on dyestat.com.

They finished sixth in that race, with teams from Jamaica, New York, New Jersey and Virginia ahead of them in the Championship of America Race.

“That was pretty surreal,” Cather said. “With 50,000 people watching, I think that brought out the best performance in all of us.”

It also has been one of several events that has put a spotlight on the team and gotten them used to pressure situations.

They won the state indoor title in March, then went on to finish fourth at the New Balance Indoor Nationals, and a month earlier placed second at the historic Millrose Games in New York. They also broke the Millrose record, but finished second to a team from Virginia.

“They’ve competed in a lot of big meets, and they’ve competed for years,” McCrea said. “They’ve been to big-time events, so putting that type of carrot in front of them doesn’t scare them. For a lot of kids, the first time you mention something like that, it is scary. But if you’ve been around a while, it’s motivating … and they take a lot of pride in being the best they can be.”

That’s what has helped make it easy for these young men to talk about breaking records. They know what the standard is at the meet, and for their program. The school district web site has a page that lists the top 15 times in each event – entering this season eight records were at least 25 years old – and the athletes can see where they stand and where seconds need to be shaved.

“We talk about that pretty regularly,” assistant coach for distance events Steve Shisler said. “First getting yourself into that top-15 list, then some of these records that have been around a long, long time – what can we do to try to get there?”

Shisler began coaching with the team when these seniors were freshmen, and he made a point of making them believe from the start that records were there for the taking.

“There’s an incredible history and tradition of success that this school district has,” Shisler said. “I wanted to try to reinvigorate that. I think that kind of fell off in the 1990s and early 2000s, where the focus of accomplishing big things seemed to go by the wayside.”

The team is strong because all four – five when including Milligan, who ran on the district team in Cather’s place – parts are strong individually. Cather and Adams will each race after medals in the 800, while Post is contending in the 400, and all of them can run the 800 in under 2 minutes.

“The big thing has been Mason Post coming up and running the 800 this year – that’s been huge for us and made all this possible,” Cather said. “With that we’ve been more and more surprised with the results and I think that’s helped us set these big goals and try to achieve them as the season has gone on.”

The success of the 4x8 team also could bleed into other parts of the team.

With five top-seven seeds for the meet, a number of medals could be hauled back up Route 322, and it is not out of the question even a team trophy could be there for the taking – just like the Lady Little Lions accomplished in 2011 when this year’s seniors were freshmen.

“If all of our guys compete, I think we’re one of the very best teams in the state,” McCrea said. “At any invitational we’re that way because we’re deep across the board. Even at the state meet that will come through on some level. Hopefully we’re a top-three type team.”

That would be the cap to the weekend, and the 3,200 relay team hopes to add to the fun by taking down another one of those ancient records.

“Hopefully we can ride some of this excitement to the state meet,” Adams said. “There’s going to be great, great competition there. There’s always incredible competition, so if we can get some nice weather, we’re going to try and blow it out.”

“We’ve been teammates for four years now, we’re best friends,” Cather said. “To be able to do this together as a team is phenomenal. It’s really cool that we can end it this way.”

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