A year ago, Veronika Karpenko thought briefly she had a win, but ended up in third place in the triple jump.
This time, hoping just to make it onto the medal stand, she duplicated that place in the long jump and was quite satisfied.
“Always the third place,” the State College junior said. “I’m pretty happy about that. It’s pretty good to get it in this kind of weather.”
Overcoming a difficult cross-wind Karpenko picked up the lone medal for Centre County athletes on the first day of the PIAA Track and Field Championships on Friday at Shippensburg University’s Seth Grove Stadium.
A number of others will chase more medals Saturday, including Karpenko in the triple jump, and a strong contingent earned spots in the finals after preliminary races on the track.
Among those who advanced from preliminary races were Penns Valley’s Destiny Andrus in the 100-meter dash, teammate Gino Nicosia in the 800, 1,600-meter runners Alex Milligan of State College and Brian Hackman of St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy, the Lady Little Lions’ 400 relay team and the State College boys’ 3,200 relay team.
Fighting through a gusty breeze that was sometimes blowing as a headwind, Karpenko leaped to a third-place effort of 18 feet, 2 inches. A big improvement over not even making the finals last year, and a goal of just making the finals and earning some kind of medal this time.
“I wish I would have jumped a little bit longer,” said Karpenko, whose personal best is 18-11 1/2. “More toward my (personal record), but, yeah, I really liked the results.”
The conditions were tough on everyone, and it kept the jumps a little short. Pocono Mountain East’s Khyasi Caldwell Adams won with a jump just an inch longer than Karpenko.
“It was kind of poor conditions,” Karpenko said. “It was not what I was wanting. It was a little bit windy, but even with that I jumped relatively well.”
State College’s 4x800 boys’ team had a lot to live up to, following in the footsteps of last year’s four seniors who broke a 45-year-old school record and won the state title.
“All over the (public address system) they’re announcing, ‘State College – defending state champs,’” said Nick Feffer, who ran the second leg Friday. “So we’ve got big shoes to fill.”
While they were about 15 seconds off last year’s winning time, the foursome of Eric Heatwole, Feffer, Anthony Degleris and Milligan took fourth in 7 minutes, 56.33 seconds to earn a spot in the 12-team finals race Saturday.
“As an entirely new group of guys from last year, it feels great to get the weight of qualifying off our shoulders,” Feffer said.
“We didn’t run our full group at districts,” Feffer said. “Once we were firing on all cylinders, I knew we would qualify.”
Milligan came back a few hours later, took the lead of his 1,600 preliminary about halfway through and held on for the win in 4:21.40.
That followed Hackman twice taking the lead in his 1,600 preliminary on the backstretch on each of the last two laps and finishing third in 4:26.95. Like Milligan, Hackman also ran in the 3,200 relay a few hours earlier.
“I ran a pretty good split in the 4x8’s,” Hackman said. “It’s always easier to double back when you do well. You have more confidence.”
With one race left in his high school career, Hackman is ready for Saturday afternoon’s final.
“I know a lot of guys sometimes save it,” Hackman said. “I wanted to give it all I had to make sure I got into the finals.”
Hackman joined Eli Urban, Charlie Ross and Michael Peters in the 3,200 relay, finishing 13th in their heat in 9:16.51.
Andrus had three sprints Friday, but only advanced to the semifinals in the 100 with her time of 12.82, the last of the 16 times qualifying for the Saturday morning semifinals.
“I made it by the skin of my teeth,” the junior said. “I’m hoping to improve that. Even if I get last, it’s still 16th in the state and I can’t complain about that.”
The 400 team of Maci Ilgen, Val Kubalak, Val Hosterman and Andrus was clocked in 51.30, taking fourth in their heat.
“I’m just trying to treat it like any other track meet,” Andrus said. “We didn’t do as well as we wanted in the 4x1, but we still ran a good time for us. There is always that, and there is always next year.”
Wylie also had a busy day, and will be busy again Saturday.
In the morning she raced to a time of 15.23 seconds in the 100 hurdles, finishing third in her heat and cruising into the semifinals. She took seventh in the state in last year’s meet.
She could not make the finals in the 300 hurdles with a clocking of 46.93, fifth in her heat.
In between, she teamed up with Emma Domico, Taylor Givens and Haley Crawford for a time of 48.42, finishing second in their heat and making the finals.
Nicosia was disappointed as he walked off the track after his time of 2:01.10 in the 800, thinking it was his last race. But he had a big surge over the final 200 meters, passing a couple runners for sixth and earning just enough to grab one of the spots in the finals.
“The first lap was bad, I felt slow and my legs were heavy,” the Ram senior who is heading to West Point. “Then I just wanted to do better than I did last year, and I accomplished that, but I was disappointed I didn’t hit a P-R (1:59.8).”
The gusty winds also played tricks on the 800 runners.
“That first lap, it hits you like a brick wall,” Nicosia said. “The second lap, you’re tired so you’re just running, you just hope for the best.”
The day was capped by a scintillating finish for the State College boys’ 1,600 relay team of Josh Rickley, Milligan, Max Herbst and Noah Woods. The team was last after the first two legs, but in second place by the time Herbst handed the baton to Woods, and he had the lead at the turn for the final 100 meters, but he was caught by Milton Hershey at the end, losing by 0.04 seconds. It meant the Little Lions just missed making the finals.
“I didn’t know Milton Hershey was so close,” said Woods, who helped the foursome to a time of 3:21.58. “Whenever I passed the first guys I thought I had it. Then I saw his shadow next to me. I started to worry and then my legs started (to tire) and it really came down to the line. He beat me by a hair.”
The State College girls’ 4x800 relay team of Larissa Burka, Zoe Wicks, Julia Neely and Ellie Mhando was ninth in their heat in 9:39.91, missing the finals.
State College boys’ 4x100 team of Tyler Smith, Herbst, Woods and Ilya Bogdanets turned in a time of 43.50 and did not make the finals, finishing fifth in their heat.
In other preliminaries with runners not advancing, Jordi Rohrbach had times of 16.00 in the 100 hurdles and 47.49 in the 300 hurdles, Crawford was clocked in 12.92 in the 100 and 26.00 in the 200, Taylor Givens was 12.65 in the 100 and missed the semifinals by less than a hundredeth of a second, Natasha Fedkina ran the 1,600 in 5:24.52 and the 800 in 2:20.68, and Bald Eagle Area’s Nathan Styles had a time of 52.31 in the 400.
Lady Little Lion Jordan Bair delivered a throw of 36 feet, 1 ½ inches in the shot put and finished 15th.
State College’s pole-vaulters, Griffin Thompson and Lucas Gray, each missed all three attempts at 13 feet and did not place.