State College’s Kileigh Kane never dreamed quite this big.
Sure, the senior knew two years ago she was talented. But she was a jumper, not a runner. And, she freely admits with a smile, she could never have foreseen back then winning her second straight gold medal in the 1,600-meter run (4:59.80) at districts.
“I probably would’ve laughed and would’ve been like, ‘You’re thinking of someone else,’” Kane said at Thursday’s District 6 Class 3A track and field championships at Mansion Park. “If you would’ve told me two years ago, ‘Oh, you’re going to be a sub-5(-minute) miler, I would’ve been like, ‘No, I’m not.’”
Success was not immediate for Kane, who helped lead the Lady Little Lions to a team district title Thursday with 208.5 points, far ahead of runner-up Altoona (128).
As a freshman, Kane was a cheerleader. But the after-school activity wasn’t enough to satisfy her craving for competition, so she opted to follow her sister and try cross country and track and field. It wasn’t exactly love at first sight — “I felt like I died after one lap around the track,” Kane said with a laugh — but the sport grew on her every day.
The more work she put in, the bigger the payoff. As a sophomore, she primarily focused on the field events in the sand pits. One of her coaches at the time told her she had the potential to set a school record in the triple jump one day.
But the coaching staff also knew she wouldn’t make it out of districts in the event, at least not as a sophomore, so they also decided to put her in the 400-meter dash at districts. She finished in nearly identical places, in both the event she constantly practiced and the one that was new.
That small, simple move at districts two years ago set the foundation for Kane’s entire career — one that will be taking her to Penn State next season as a scholarship track athlete.
“She started to like it a little more than the sand, and she started training a little bit more,” State College girls’ coach Jenn Evans said. “And she never looked back.”
Of course, Kane wasn’t the only Lady Little Lion to impress Thursday. There were plenty of other individual winners — Jessica Lose (100), Makenzie Graham (200), Casie Eifrig (400), Elly Haushalter (800), Jordan Reed (3,200), Lyndsey Reed (pole vault), Noelia Pagano (triple jump) — but none had quite the story of Kane.
Kane wasn’t just a natural who latched onto a new team and impressed everyone she came in contact with. She was winded early on, but she practiced, kept at it — and grew into one of the state’s best. That’s a story that still resonates with her teammates.
“She’s crazy inspiring,” said Haushalter, a junior. “She didn’t run much at first and, when she got going, there was no turning back. She always gives great advice about believing in yourself.”
In her first season, as a sophomore, Kane remembers her best time hovering around 5:54 in the 1,600. The next season, her 800 time dropped by about 10 seconds. A year after that, and she’s regularly running nearly a minute faster in the 1,600.
After Thursday’s run — in which a few runners collapsed afterward, sucking down deep breaths — Kane crossed the finish line 17 seconds ahead of the runner-up, her teammate Lizzie Gilpatrick. Kane had to wait a total of 30.09 seconds for a non-State College runner to meet her near the official timekeepers. “My body’s feeling kind of tired,” Kane said.
She put her hands on her knees but took less than five minutes to start talking and breathing as if she never had the race to begin with — a far cry from those sophomore days of feeling like her chest would explode after 400 meters.
Evans said she “raises the game and the level of desire” in everyone shes runs with. Haushalter said she’s the one cracking jokes at the starting line and doling out the best advice in practice.
Kane? She just wants to see how far track and field can take her. She’s off to states next weekend — but she couldn’t help but reflect how far she came first, after winning district gold again Thursday.
“As the season progressed, I just fell in love with this,” she said about sophomore season. “With hard work and dedication, I’ve been able to accomplish a lot. And now my running coach is talking about the 1,600 school record — so I go from potentially breaking the triple jump to the 1,600.
“It’s been crazy.”