A year ago, Grace Gover finished ninth in the high jump, one spot away from winning a medal at the state championships.
She didn’t want to experience being so close yet so far again.
In her third and final trip to the PIAA Track and Field Championships, the Penns Valley senior finally picked up her medal.
Gover was seventh in the high jump among the Friday highlights on a raw, windy, chilly day at Shippensburg University’s Seth Grove Stadium.
In addition, State College’s 400 and 3,200-meter relay teams advanced to Saturday finals along with Lauren Bonness, who qualified for the 100-meter dash semifinals.
For Gover, she could finally breathe easy, but it wasn’t without a little extra drama.
First, it took until her third and final attempt at 5 feet, 2 inches before she was able to clear the bar.
“I’ve jumped it before, so I knew I could make it,” Gover said. “It was just getting the power in the last jump.”
She and four others did not make the next height of 5-4, and that led to the next bit of drama: There are only eight steps on the medal podium.
“She told us there were nine girls left, so no one knew who that one person would be that wouldn’t make it on,” said Gover, who competes in the triple jump Saturday. “It was pretty nerve-wracking.”
She finally got the official word after she ran her leg on the 400-meter relay, and eventually got to stand at the center of the infield with her medal.
“It’s my third year, so I have a little more experience here at states,” said Gover, who will study nursing at Penn State-Altoona this fall. “Knowing it’s my last year, I think I tried harder.”
She and teammates Carolyn Darr, Destiny Andrus and Anna Bair were pretty speedy at 51.07 seconds to finish third in their preliminary heat, but just missed making the Saturday finals.
While that team didn’t make it, several other athletes did move on to the finals, including some strong showings from the State College relay teams.
The Little Lion boys’ 3,200 relay team was as far back as seventh at one point and had the lead briefly on the final leg before Sam Bollinger, Chris Golembeski, Kyle Adams and Will Cather finished third in 8:02.99. It was not only third-best in the heat, but also overall for the two preliminary races.
“It was a little slower, the overall times, than we would have liked but the weather’s not great,” Bollinger said. “We’re going (Saturday) so we’re happy to advance.”
They were 10 seconds off their time from the District 6 meet, but with strong winds everyone had to manage their races. It helped having a group of about nine runners near each other for much of the race.
“It was a big pack,” Bollinger said. “The first two legs were all balled together. There was some bumping in there, but that’s good with the wind. You get to sit in there and get the wind broken for you.”
Adams had the strongest leg, moving from seventh all the way to second by the time he handed the baton to Cather.
“He made a good move, I think he got two or three places for us,” Bollinger said. “We wanted to be in the top four places. We saw the first heat was a little slow, so that gave us a cushion, took a little bit of the pressure off.”
The girls’ 4x800 relay team of Natasha Fedkina, Kaelyn Yoder, Emma Cousins and Victoria Crawford stayed just off the lead for the entire race, running anywhere from third to sixth before settling into fifth for the last two legs.
Their time of 9:36.60 was about three seconds off their time from the District 6 meet, but their main goal was to make the Saturday morning finals with the No. 10 time among the 12 teams that advanced.
“We’re not too happy with the time, but we know the weather’s not the best,” Cousins said. “The only point is to get into finals, it’s not we have to get our best time now. If we’re going to get our best time, we’re going to get it at finals, when it counts.”
Several hours later, though it was not much warmer, the Lady Little Lion 400 relay girls blazed around the track in 49.29, winning their heat to earn the automatic qualifying spot in the finals. Bonness, Olivia Watkins, Hayley Crawford and Niara Valentine had the fifth-best time among all the qualifying heats.
It was part of a busy day for Bonness.
In the 100-meter dash, Bonness finished second in her heat, easily making it into the Saturday morning semifinal, turning in a time of 12.31 seconds.
Penns Valley’s Darr did not make it to the semifinals, finishing sixth in her heat in 13.03.
Then in the 200, Bonness was fifth in her heat in 26.13, and was unable to make it to the semifinals, missing by one spot and nine-hundredths of a second.
“It’s been a good day,” Bonness said. “We made it to the finals of the 4x1 … and I made the semifinals in the 100, and I’m psyched for that.”
Bonness thought she might be coming back for one more race in the 1,600 relay, but she rested as Yoder, Valentine, Chandley Book and Victoria Crawford placed fifth in their heat in 4:06.53 and could not finish a relay sweep into the finals.
There were plenty of competitors in the 800 meters. For the girls, Cousins and Fedkina each finished 14th in their respective heats with times of 2:23.58 and 2:27.42. For the boys, Philipsburg-Osceola’s Tim Eason was 12th in his race in 2:08.37.
“I’ve never gone out that fast before,” Eason said. “I don’t know what my time was but I know it was really bad.”
Also, Bellefonte’s Sean Gipson was on the cut line with his 1:57.65, taking seventh in his heat, but the second race was faster and too many other runners passed him. He led his race briefly at 100 meters, was near the back by 400 meters, then tried but could not quite move back into contention.
“It was weird, to say the least,” Gipson said. “I got pushed at the beginning a little bit so I decided to go with it … but I didn’t want to burn myself out … and I let too many people go by on the backstretch. I had to make up a lot of ground, and I didn’t quite have the legs to take as much back at the end.”
In the 400, Mason Post was seventh in his heat in 52.45, while John Smith took fourth in his heat of the 300 hurdles and did not qualify.
In the 1,600, State College’s Hannah Grubb was clocked in 5:13.25 but finished 11th in her heat and did not advance.
State College’s Kimberly Lightner took 10th in the javelin with a top throw of 123-6. The triple jump had a pair of Little Lions, with Bryce Williams taking 11th at 44-10 1/2 and Kellin Valentine 26th at 42-0. In the long jump, Bald Eagle Area’s Marissa Ward was 24th at 14-5 1/2.