It was a spectacular day for the State College track and field team.
Records fell, medals were won and there even were a few surprises.
Biggest of all, a Little Lion relay team walked away with a gold medal among seven for the school and the boys departed with a fourth-place team finish.
“The team’s getting higher up in the state,” said two-time medal-winner Kyle Adams. “I think we’re starting to get some respect. This is where we want to be – the state meet running with lots of people.”
Adams was a member of the 3,200-meter relay team that broke a long-standing school record and captured a gold Saturday at Shippensburg University’s Seth Grove Stadium.
He also helped the 1,600 relay team to a sixth-place finish while Jon Smith was sixth in the 300 hurdles and Will Cather capped a long day by taking sixth in the 800 between the two relay wins.
“We were pretty tired going into this,” Cather said. “We’ve all been doing doubles and triples all weekend.”
The Lady Little Lions had a pair of surprise high medals, as Veronika Karpenko leaped to a third-place finish in the triple jump and Rachel Wylie was seventh in the 100 hurdles. The girls’ 3,200 relay team captured a fourth-place finish.
“We’re all excited with how our season went,” said Hannah Catalano, who ran on that relay. “This couldn’t be any better getting in the top five. That was our goal coming into it.”
Boys’ 3,200 relay
The first medal won on the day was the biggest, with Chris Golembeski, Mason Post, Adams and Cather turning in a time of 7 minutes, 41.99 seconds. After the race, Adams repeated the time nearly a half-dozen times, hardly believing they had reached their goal.
“We had a lot of potential,” Post said. “This is obviously what we’ve been shooting for the whole time.”
The time broke the school record of 7:42.2, which stood since the Penn Relays in 1969.
After winning the indoor state title in the event in March, and plenty of successful trips to huge national meets, the foursome was pumped to finish the school year in style.
“There was a lot to prove after we won at indoors,” Golembeski said. “We wanted to keep it going, keep the momentum going right into the outdoor season. We’ve accomplished so much more than we could have imagined at the beginning of the season. It feels awesome.”
It also came on the heels of a seventh-place finish last year, with three of the four members of that team returning for this trip.
“All the hard work’s definitely paid off,” Cather said. “This is four years of hard work.”
In the 12-team race, Golembeski was eighth when he handed the baton to Adams after his two laps, and Adams made a big move over his final 200 meters to climb to fourth. With a number of strong teams, there was a tight battle with a lot of shifting positions.
Post had the team into third by the time he was giving the baton to Cather with two laps left.
“I took it out pretty fast, faster than I probably would have liked to,” Post said. “That’s what it took. I just stuck with the guys throughout the second lap. I feel like I got it to Will in a pretty good spot.”
Cather was determined, picking off the leaders and pulling in front halfway around the track.
“I just wasn’t going to lose,” Cather said. “We came close a bunch of years, lower medals, I just wanted to give my all out there.”
It was a matter of holding on from there, winning by 1.25 seconds over West Chester Henderson.
“To be able to do it with your best friends is just incredible,” Cather said. “It’s something I’ll never forget for the rest of my life.”
Girls’ triple jump
At last week’s District 6 meet, Karpenko surpassed her personal best by more than a foot to take second and earn a PIAA berth. In the week in between, she found even more inside her.
“I just kept telling myself throughout the day that I wanted to be in first place, I wanted to get 40 (feet),” Karpenko said. “I got 39 and I was estatic.”
That district jump was 37 feet, 10 inches, but on her very first attempt Saturday she flew 39 feet even. When the officials announced her distance she leaped high, gave a mid-air fist pump and let out a scream.
She held the lead through the rest of the preliminary rounds and retained it until late, when Harrisburg’s Sierra Brabham-Lawrence hit a 39-7 and Hempfield’s Stephanie Laudien, on the final jump before Karpenko’s last try, reached 39-3 to drop the sophomore to third. Karpenko could not do better on her final try.
“It’s bittersweet,” Karpenko said. “Third place is still really good for a sophomore, but I don’t know, it kind of felt like I was first and they took it away.”
She said she was more proud of the 39-foot jump than the medal, but hitting that distance so early also ate at her the rest of the afternoon.
“Then I got nervous throughout, and I think that’s what led to me not attaining the distance I wanted,” Karpenko said.
Girls’ 3,200 relay
Like the boys relay team, the Lady Little Lions also were inspired and driven by a seventh-place result last spring, and also had nearly everyone back.
“Last year we freaked out when we were seventh,” Emma Cousins said. “Now that we’re top five, it just feels so good.”
Finishing fourth certainly should feel good, with Cousins, Catalano, Natasha Fedkina and Victoria Crawford clocking in at 9:08.00. They fell a second short of their school record, but had no complaints.
“Seventh, it just felt great to be on the medal stand,” Fedkina said. “Today we were saying how we wanted to place in the top five and we achieved that.”
Fedkina was eighth when she handed the baton to Catalano, and the team held that position to the halfway point. A good kick from Cousins down the stretch of her leg had the team up to fourth, barely, when the baton when to anchor Crawford to make a big move for the team.
“I tried to position myself to get as close to as many teams as possible,” Catalano said. “Our strategy going into it was to try to pick off as many teams as possible. We knew that everyone going into it, they wanted to run hard, they wanted to go for that top eight. We knew it was going to hurt, it wasn’t going to feel as good as the trials and we knew we were going to have to give it everything to get where we are.”
Central Bucks West won in a meet-record 8:51.49, with Strath Haven and Great Valley following, but Crawford still managed to pass a couple runners on her way to the finish line.
“I was about to collapse at the finish line,” Crawford said. “My legs were wobbling.”
Girls’ 100 hurdles
While Karpenko exceeded her best by a long distance, she went in confident she could jump far.
Wylie was stunned by the time she turned in for the morning semifinals of her event, setting the school record at 14.90 seconds. She finished fifth in her heat but snuck into the last spot in the finals.
“I definitely was not expecting it but I’m so happy it happened,” Wylie said.
What helped was having on her right Cheltenham’s Ciara Leonard, who surpassed the PIAA record in a wind-aided 13.65 seconds.
“That was crazy,” said Wylie, who went on to clock a 15.03 in the finals for seventh.
“I definitely do a lot better when I have good competition and people pushing me,” Wylie said. “In the semis I had the girl who got first next to me, so she really pushed me. Seeing her ahead of me made me drive more.”
Boys’ 300 hurdles
Smith also had a busy day, running to his sixth-place finish in 39.35 seconds a little while before leading off the 1,600 relay.
“I was a bit nervous for myself,” Smith said. “But when you think about it in the grand scheme of things and how you have teammates rooting for you and everyone around you hoping for the best, it makes it a lot easier to run and go all out.”
Having the success the Little Lions were showing all day also proved to be inspiring.
“Seeing all my friends with gold medals, and seeing them up in the stands, it means a lot to be up there with them,” Smith said.
Cather had given everything he had in the 3,200 relay in the morning, not to mention all three races in Friday’s preliminaries, and it showed when he just didn’t have an extra gear left in the 800 final with his time of 1:54.56.
“The legs were gone,” Cather said. “The legs were definitely gone. A medal’s a medal and I can’t complain about that.”
Still after the elation of the earlier win, the Penn State-bound senior was happy with any medal he could pick up.
“I’ve never gotten one in an outdoor state meet before,” Cather said. “That’s pretty cool. I would have liked to go faster today, sixth is all right, I would have liked to go faster. I’m happy. I’m happy I know I gave my all.”
Boys’ 1,600 relay
By the last event of the day, the Little Lions were spent both physically and emotionally. There were grand plans at the start of the meet of picking up the team title, but by the time the team stepped onto the track it was more about survival.
“I was pretty tired after that 4x4. My hamstring’s a little sore about halfway through it,” Cather said. “I just wanted to give it everything I had. It was my last race with these guys ever and I wanted to make it count.”
“We’re all running our fifth or sixth event of the weekend,” Adams said. “It’s a lot to ask, but I’m so proud of everyone here, our entire team for digging through all of that and giving it everything.”
The team of Cather, Adams, Post and Smith turned in a time of 3:20.34, which was just 0.25 seconds off their school-record time set earlier this year, but just getting into the final was good enough for them.
“I don’t think the goal this year was to get a medal in the 4x4,” Post said. “I think the focus was on the 4x8. This is just extra on top. (We’re) very happy about.”
Saturday’s other results