It may not have been a golden day for any Centre County athletes, but there were hardly any complaints and several records broken Saturday.
That was especially the case for the State College 3,200-meter relay teams, with big performances for both the Little Lion boys and girls at the PIAA Track and Field Championships.
“It was pretty amazing for our team,” said Esther Seeland, who medaled on two relays. “We’re really proud.”
With a second-place finish for the boys and a stunning, come-from-behind third for the girls, nine medals were hauled away from Shippensburg University’s Seth Grove Stadium.
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Also landing medals were State College’s Owen Wing (1,600), Nick Feffer (800), Taylor Givens (long jump), Jordan Bair (discus) and the girls’ 1,600 relay team.
Penns Valley also landed a pair of medals with Rebecca Bierly taking sixth in the 3,200 and Isabella Culver eighth in the 400, with both breaking school records.
“I’m happy and satisfied,” Culver said. “It was a good weekend — good team bonding, good running.”
State College boys
The Little Lions couldn’t quite match last year’s gold medal — the only 4x800 team of the four races that did not defend its title Saturday — but still raced to a 7-minute, 41.42-second finish.
The time, based on rankings at the start of Saturday, ranks third in the U.S. according to milesplit.com. Winner Central Bucks West is No. 1 in the country at 7:40.14.
“I got the baton right behind the CB West guy, which is exactly what I wanted,” said Nick Feffer, who is the anchor runner. “I tried to run off him. I knew he’s strong competition. I tried to go around him once or twice a little too early because I was feeling good, but I might have paid for it in the last 100.”
Feffer and Wing returned from last year’s winning relay, which was the third straight year the relay team broke the school record at 7:37.25. They couldn’t quite do it again this year.
Newcomers to the relay Chris DiPerna and Joey Feffer were trying to hold maintain their emotions.
“Coming into the race after prelims, I was pretty beat,” Joey Feffer said. “I was a little bit nervous coming into this, especially with all the fans.”
DiPerna also had to stay in control with the opening leg.
“I didn’t want to go out there too fast,” DiPerna said. “I went out too fast yesterday and I paid for it on the second lap.”
Wing returned a little over an hour later to run the 1,600 in 4:14.68, but he actually didn’t find the transition that bad. He got advice from Alex Milligan, a member of last year’s team now running at North Carolina, who did the relay-1,600 double twice.
“He said it’s the easiest double,” Wing said. “He was kind of joking, but you’re just kind of warmed up after the (relay) and with a taper you can double without much of a problem.”
The senior, headed to Penn State this fall, said a sugar jolt from Gatorade and Skittles had him ready to run again.
“I just wanted to leave it all on the track with no regrets,” he said. “I think that’s what I did. That’s how I executed it, with no regrets.”
Nick Feffer had a little more time to recover, but he didn’t do as well as he hoped in the 800. He got boxed in by other runners at the back of the 12-runner field and had a slow first lap.
“I moved up as much as I could at the end,” Feffer said. “I didn’t execute it as well as I wanted to.”
That contributed to his 1:53.79 time, though he had loftier goals for the weekend.
“The whole season I’ve been feeling like I’ve got a 1:51 or faster in me,” Feffer said. “I ran 1:53 indoors at Millrose (Games) and so to not pull out anything much faster at the outdoor state meets is a little disappointing.”
Saturday morning, Mitchell Etter ran to a 15th-place finish in the 3,200 in 9:28.57.
State College girls
Esther Seeland bookended the day for the Lady Little Lions by anchoring a pair of relay races to medals.
It started in the late morning with a stunning 3,200 relay run to third. When Seeland took the baton for the final two laps, State College was near the back, and she was still in ninth with a little more than 300 meters to run.
“Adrenaline. Pure adrenaline,” Seeland said. “I knew my teammates were counting on me and we had a shot. I knew I had to pull through for them.”
Her closing kick over the final 100 meters gave the team a 9:14.06 finish.
Of the four members of the relay, only Catherine Curtin had been to the state meet before, but the experience didn’t seem to matter to the others, including to Sophie Bollinger, who had the team in the lead at the end of her lead leg.
“I just started running the 800 this year,” said Bollinger, whose brother, Sam, won gold in 2014 in the same relay, “and I handed off in first and I was just like, ‘Can’t even believe we pulled this off.’”
After a strong preliminary time, they weren’t sure if they could top that showing.
“We were just hoping to get to the finals, honestly,” freshman Elly Haushalter said. “Yesterday that was our goal. Today, our goal was to medal. I don’t think I thought it was possible, I don’t think any of us thought it was possible.”
The success impressed the veteran Curtin.
“This is like a brand new team,” Curtin said. “It just feels so great to pull in three new athletes and to still have an amazing and even better performance.”
Seeland returned to anchor the finale with the 1,600 relay. Jordan Rohrbach, Givens and Zoe Wicks kept the Lady Little Lions close to the front, and it was up to Seeland to find some more magic like she had in the morning.
“I started crying at the end because I was so tired,” said Seeland, who sat in exhaustion next to the track for more than a minute. “I just gave it everything I had. I pushed through because I have a bunch of teammates I have to pull through for.”
The effort was worth it. They finished fifth but broke a school record that had stood since 1977 with their time of 3:53.30. They were 1.04 seconds faster.
Givens took her lap around the track a little after finishing seventh in the long jump. She matched her place from last season on the podium but her best jump of 18 feet, 3/4 inch, recorded on the third of her six attempts, was just over an inch off last year’s mark.
She was already looking ahead to next season before even leaving the infield.
“Just work hard, train, get down my steps and hopefully go for the gold next year.”
Bair was a low seed — 23rd out of 26 competitors — but she managed a strong throw of 125 feet, 4 inches to qualify for the finals and held her place to go with a sixth-place shot put medal from Friday.
“I came in with the mental mindset to do my absolute best,” Bair said. “If my best gets me into finals, that’s great, if it doesn’t, then that’s how it is. There’s nothing more I could have possibly given today.”
Also, State College’s Emma Simon was 22nd in the 3,200 in 11:30.59.
Bierly entered the 3,200 as the No. 4 seed and was in that position most of the race, staying just off the lead of eventual winner Christina DiFalco of Pine Grove. She got passed by two girls on the final lap but was hardly upset about that.
“It was faster than what I’m used to,” Bierly said. “But as we went on, I was trying to keep contact with the girl right ahead of me. But at the end she pulled away. … On that last lap I was saying, ‘I’ve got 200 meters! I’ve got 100 meters!’ It was tough.”
DiFalco won in 10:47.61.
Bierly’s time of 11:02.41 broke the school record by nearly eight seconds, previously held by Deanna Martz.
“It’s a good way to end the season and my senior year so I’m happy,” said Bierly, who will be running and studying health and physical education at Lock Haven this fall. “I have the school record now. That was one of my other goals. I’m happy with my place, but I was also shooting for the record so I’m happy either way.”
Culver had to work on her pacing. She sprinted hard out of the blocks, but faded a little over the next 200 meters and could not make up the deficit.
“I think my 100 percent was faster than (Friday’s) 100 percent because I just had more adrenaline, so I was a little bit faster,” she said of her start. “I think I had enough left. I was pushing as hard as I could. I couldn’t feel my legs.”
Culver also broke a record with her time of 59.13, though hers was less than two weeks old — which she set at the District 6 meet.
“Now that I know that I can make it to finals,” Culver said, “I’m just going to try to keep doing that again and keep breaking my own record.”
St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy
The Wolves didn’t leave Shippensburg with any medals, but there were a number of close calls.
Lance Hamilton was 11th in the triple jump at 42-7 1/2, and Sera Mazza had the same placing in the 1,600 in 5:20 68.
Mazza is still not as comfortable on the track as she is for road and trail races, as the defending PIAA Class A cross country champion.
“God blessed me with this gift and I’m really happy it got me all the way to this part. Even though my place isn’t what I hoped it would be, I still got to finals and that was pretty much my goal.”
The hard part was adjusting to the hard pace of the leaders.
“It’s a challenge but it’s also rewarding to be in a race with them,” Mazza said. “Maybe one day I can be like them.”