High School Sports

Here’s how underdog State College won the boys’ state title in track and field

State College boys celebrate state title in track and field

State College won the team title at the PIAA Class 3A Boys' Track and Field Championships on Saturday at Shippensburg's Seth Grove Stadium. This video was provided by WTAJ, through a partnership with the Centre Daily Times for daily news content.
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State College won the team title at the PIAA Class 3A Boys' Track and Field Championships on Saturday at Shippensburg's Seth Grove Stadium. This video was provided by WTAJ, through a partnership with the Centre Daily Times for daily news content.

A nervous energy pervaded the State College boys’ track team, coaches and athletes alike, for the final two events of Saturday’s state meet.

The Little Lions thought, mathematically, they had clinched the state title — but they couldn’t be 100 percent sure. Did they get something wrong? Was there an opponent they didn’t account for? They checked, re-checked and triple-checked their math, but the paranoia remained. That is, until the announcement came over the loudspeaker and the PIAA made it official.

The Little Lions were state champions. State College officially earned the team title at the PIAA Class 3A Boys’ Track and Field Championships.

“When it was finally announced, we finally started jumping around,” head coach Artie Gilkes said. “We wanted that trophy to have a lot of fingerprints on it, so we passed it around from person to person and took a victory lap.”

Said Luke Knipe, who finished with a gold in the pole vault and a sixth-place medal in the long jump: “It feels just beyond measure. We’ve been working on this since November and, the years before that, this is what we had in mind. Finally reaching this goal is unbelievable.”

State College broke into a frenzy at Shippensburg’s Seth Grove Stadium following the announcement. The team dumped numerous bottles of water over its coach, the girls’ team stayed behind to celebrate, and the medalists extended an index finger in the air while jogging around the track.

Even hours later, while stopping at a Sheetz on the drive home, the team took the state title trophy inside the store and high-fived one another. It was an accomplishment some of them, like Knipe, thought about since the seventh grade. And it was one few outsiders expected — based on the seeds, State College was expected to garner about 27 team points.

Instead, it finished with 47 points — ahead of runner-up Coatesville (40) and third-place Central Dauphin East (36). So the Little Lions didn’t want the celebration to end.

“Once we had it in the bag, the emotions started and really have stopped since,” Lance Hamilton said from the team bus, hours after earning a silver in the long jump to complement his gold in the triple jump.

In all, six individuals directly contributed points to the team title — Hamilton, Knipe, Conrad Moore, Lokey Howell, Zachary DeCarmine, David Wasson — and the 3,200 relay team also medaled and set a season-best while consisting of Hank Ballard, Marc Allerheiligen, Joe Messner and DeCarmine.

But players and coaches alike said this trophy belonged to the whole team, the teammates who pushed the medalists to their best and the student-athletes who supported them, practiced with them and made the team better. But they all also pointed to DeCarmine — and how his performance epitomized the spirit of the Little Lions.

None of the Little Lions realized just how important DeCarmine’s run was until after the fact. But that made it no less forgettable. Gilkes told the team it likely needed 41 points to wrap up the team title and, before DeCarmine ran in the 300 hurdles, it stood at 40 points.

At the start of that finals race, DeCarmine hit the first hurdle hard and collapsed to the track. He pushed himself up and started limping toward the finish line, trying his best to make it over each hurdle.

If he had given up or admitted he was too hurt to continue, State College would’ve been awarded no points. But a night after a team meeting, in which the coaches emphasized how “every point counts,” he trudged on and finished so his team would get a single point. He ended the race about 15 seconds after the second-to-last sprinter crossed the finish line. He gave State College its 41st point; without knowing it at the time, he clinched the state title.

“That was the gutsiest thing I’ve ever watched,” Knipe said. “Him limping for 200 meters, I’ll never forget that. That’s the most unbelievable track memory I’ll remember — fighting for that one point. It was great for team morale.”

Moore, a sophomore, left no doubt with a third-place finish in the final event of the meet, the high jump. His distance of 6-7 proved to be two inches higher than his seed mark.

State College was announced as the state champs shortly thereafter. And the underdog Little Lions didn’t hold the celebration in.

The performances were hard not to take pride in, after all. The 3,200 relay team set a season-best (7:51.46) and improved their time prior to states by a nearly unprecedented 30 seconds. Howell set a personal record when it mattered most. Hamilton won his first gold medal.

At nearly every turn, State College exceeded expectations and went home with its first state title since 2016 — and its first season ever winning both the indoor and outdoor state titles.

“It just feels very satisfying,” said Gilkes, a longtime assistant in his first season as head coach. “I’m really happy for the guys. And, if I’m going to be totally honest, there’s a big sense of relief.”

Added Knipe: “It’s just really pure joy. There are no other thoughts, just smiling with some of your best friends out there.”

State College (Class 3A)

Saturday’s medalists (top 8): Lance Hamilton (2nd, long jump), Conrad Moore (3rd, high jump), Lokey Howell (4th, 110 hurdles), Luke Knipe (6th, long jump), State College relay team (8th; 3,200 relay), Zachary DeCarmine (8th, 300 hurdles)

Friday’s medalists (top 8): Lance Hamilton (1st, triple jump), Luke Knipe (1st, pole vault), David Wasson (6th, pole vault)

Honorable mentions: Jake Hefkin (13th, long jump), State College relay team (T-16th, 400 relay), Stanley Hamilton (15th, triple jump), Jake Hefkin (21st, triple jump), Alex Hynoski (27th, 200), State College relay team (12th; 1,600 relay)