Isabella Culver had been knocking on the door for so long, she was wondering if it would ever open.
She picked the right time to bust it down.
Turning in the fastest one-lap run for a girl in Penns Valley history — in 59.18 seconds — Culver finally had her elusive school record and a District 6 title.
“I am so happy and relieved I finally got it,” said the sophomore, who has been within a tenth-of-a-second of the 400-meter dash record for two seasons. “The moment I stepped out on the track today, I was like, ‘OK, let’s go.’ This is one of my last chances so I’m going to do it.”
Then she gave a big grin.
“I did it.”
Culver won the 400-meter dash while teammate Rebecca Bierly won the 3,200 meters to highlight the day for Centre County athletes at the Class 2A championships at Mansion Park on Tuesday night.
Also making the state meet were the Lady Rams’ 1,600 relay team and Sera Mazza of St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy.
Culver said she was feeling pretty relaxed before the meet, but as her event approached the nerves began to grow.
“Once I got out here and was running around and stretching, the nerves kind of went away,” Culver said. “Right before the race I got nervous, but once that gun went off, it all just goes away and I just run. I don’t think about anything.”
Culver is used to setting the pace, but teammate Sheri Bowersox, in an outer lane, got off to a fast start and Culver was chasing her friend through the first 250 meters. Bowersox finished fifth.
“I thought I wasn’t working hard enough,” Culver said, “but she did great.”
Culver’s time of 59.18 seconds broke a school record of 59.30 that had stood since 1986 by former Lady Rams coach Deneen Keller, and Culver was the latest in a long line of athletes who had been within a fraction of the mark.
Now that she reached her big goal, what’s next?
“Try to break my own record,” she said confidently.
She barely missed making a second PIAA event individually, finishing fourth in the 200.
Joining her at the PIAA championships in Shippensburg University on May 26-27 will be her teammates in the 1,600 relay of Bowersox, Sydney Riegel and Marissa Stecko, who just missed their school record with a 4:08.03 as they finished third.
“That’s almost more exciting than going to states — almost,” Riegel said. “States isn’t just about the meet, it’s about the team bonding, the sleepovers and it’s a really cool, different track than the ones we compete at all season.”
The team celebrated by posing for a picture on the infield, holding their fingers like guns to re-create a pose by the U.S. women’s 4x100 relay team at the 2016 Olympics — or the movie poster for Charlie’s Angels.
“Something to show for all our hard work,” said Riegel, who added they made the same pose over the weekend in their prom dresses.
Bierly will join her Lady Ram friends in Shippensburg, turning in a 11:21.94 in the 3,200, breaking her previous personal best by three seconds.
“I didn’t want to be that cocky, ‘Oh I can do this,’” Bierly said. “I knew I had a pretty good chance of going to states because I can run that time. But the goal is to get first.”
Mazza, the two-time state cross country champion, covered the 1,600-meter run in 5:23.35. She finished third but was not disappointed in the result.
“They’re really good competition and I really look up to them,” Mazza said. “I like challenging myself with people faster than me. It helps me run a good race.”
The tough part is she will be the lone member of the Lady Wolves to run at the state meet this time after going with a relay team last spring.
The 3,200 relay girls just missed their chance with a fourth-place finish — the top 3 make the state meet unless they hit the qualifying standard — after a 10:03.51 showing for Shannon Brawley, Lindsey Carmack and Addie Ebbs along with Mazza.
“We definitely set a goal to make states in the 4x8,” Mazza said. “We just have to keep pushing on. You’re going to have some disappointing races. That one really wasn’t disappointing because we gave it our best, because it’s a hot day and we have other races we have to focus on.”
Bald Eagle Area just missed sending qualifiers, with Adazie Mellott hitting 98 feet, 2 inches in the discus for fifth and Alyssa Packer taking sixth in the 300 hurdles in 48.93.
Kristin Butterworth was the top finisher for Philipsburg-Osceola with a seventh-place 29-8 3/4 in the shot put.