High School Sports

How Penns Valley boys’ track duo dominated the District 6 Class 2A championships

Penns Valley’s Brendan Colwell talks track duo

Colwell and Colton Sand guided the Rams to 1600-meter and 3200-meter success at Wednesday’s District 6 championships.
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Colwell and Colton Sand guided the Rams to 1600-meter and 3200-meter success at Wednesday’s District 6 championships.

Penns Valley boys’ track stars Colton Sands and Brendan Colwell were strictly competitors not too long ago.

In seventh grade, Colwell bested Sands’ mile time in gym class by three seconds, setting off oohs and ahhs from classmates. A year later, Sands edged Colwell in the two-mile run, sending the latter into a fit of frustration.

“We were going at each other,” Colwell said Wednesday under the bleachers of Mansion Park, shaking his head and smiling. “If I beat him, he’d be upset. And if I lost, I’d cry. It was super competitive.”

Those days are behind the Penns Valley sophomores, though. The Rams now operate as a dynamic duo — one that dominated Wednesday’s District 6 Class 2A track and field championships.

In the 3,200-meter run, Sands stood atop the podium, capturing the district title with a time of 9 minutes, 33.40 seconds. Colwell’s time of 9:55.09 guided him to a third-place finish. Earlier in the day, Sands and Colwell finished second and fourth with times of 4:16.43 and 4:30.51, respectively, in the 1,600-meter run. (Overall, Penns Valley finished ninth as a a team, with Richland winning the title with 81 points.)

Sands and Colwell’s performances in both the 1,600 and 3,200 were good enough to qualify them for next weekend’s PIAA championships at Shippensburg.

That doesn’t surprise Penns Valley coach Kendyl Wittenrich, either. The former IUP runner recalled watching both Colwell and Sands excel in junior high, imagining the type of success they could have at the high school level and beyond.

“I got real excited,” Wittenrich said. “You don’t generally see that much talent in the same grade level. You get one kid a year and they don’t have anyone to run with. It’s nice for them that they have each other to compete with. They can always count on each other.”

It wasn’t always that way. Colwell and Sands had their bouts — both competitively and in gym class — in junior high. But the runners’ relationship changed as freshman contributors on Penns Valley’s 2017 state championship cross country squad. Surrounded by four seniors, egos took a backseat.

“Having so much team success, it grounded me,” Sands said. “It got me more focused on the team aspect. Our goal was the state title, and that’s what we got.” Thanks in large part to the freshmen. Sands placed seventh, Colwell finished 12th, and the Rams’ cross country squad ousted Elk County Catholic and the rest of the competition for the title.

Wittenrich called that triumph a “confidence boost” and “reinforcement” for the then-freshmen, a reminder to Colwell and Sands that they belonged. The tandem, though, celebrated more than being just champions last year. Colwell called that cross country win “the bonding moment” that set them up for Wednesday’s accomplishments.

“We had to step up. We had to work together. We started doing well as a duo,” Colwell said. “Now we absolutely push each other to the limits.”

That was evident Wednesday night — and it ought to show up again in Shippensburg when the two compete for PIAA glory in both the 1,600 and 3,200.

The Rams won’t be in foreign territory at states. Both reached the 2018 PIAA track and field championships as freshmen, which Wittenrich said was “unheard of.” Sands medaled in both events, placing fifth and sixth in the 3,200 and 1,600, respectively. Meanwhile, Colwell finished in 17th in the 3,200.

Both hope to improve those marks next weekend — and they believe they can, too.

“You just have to visualize success,” Colwell said. “Everyone in districts and states are at your level. The biggest breakthrough comes mentally. If you’re good to go in your head, you can do whatever you want.”