The calendar said late May, but it felt like March at the PIAA Track and Field Championships.
With a temperature of 52 degrees when the meet began, with a light drizzle and a good breeze blowing across the track at Shippensburg University’s Seth Grove Stadium, the conditions hardly felt like the typical state track meet with summer around the corner.
“When we raced we felt like we froze,” said State College middle distance runner Emma Cousins, who ran both early in the 3,200-meter relay and late in the 800. “Your legs feel numb.”
The hard part may have been just getting used to it, since temperatures were well into the 80s earlier in the week.
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“You really have to just warm up a lot longer and earlier,” said State College’s Lauren Bonness, who ran off-and-on all day in a number of sprints. “You have to get your body warm, which can be hard when you’re used to it being really hot and you don’t need a lot of warmup.”
“We still have to make sure we warm up smart,” Bellefonte’s Sean Gipson said after running in the 800. “It’s definitely strange with the weather, especially since last year we came here and it was blazing hot.”
By the time Gipson ran and the meet was winding down the temperature had shot all the way up to 53 degrees and the winds picked up to better than 20 mph with stronger gusts.
At one point, a gust of wind picked up an umbrella belonging to a pole-vaulter and it went tumbling across the infield as she chased after it.
Early the wind was hitting runners in the face as they rounded the turn onto the front stretch, but it later switched and was hard on the backstretch and a tailwind to the finish line.
“It’s that turn where you have to pick it up, have to pass,” Cousins said.
To accommodate the chilly conditions, athletes could wear their warmup gear until moments before the start of each race, meaning an extra wait before every start. That, coupled with an athlete collapsing at the finish line from exhaustion and taken away by ambulance, along with a few other minor delays, left the meet nearly 90 minutes behind schedule by the last event, the 1,600 relay.
“I was outside warming up, then I had to cool down again, then warm up again,” said Philipsburg-Osceola’s Tim Eason, who also ran in the 800. “It’s worse now because you kind of get used to the warm weather, practicing in it.”
One last jump
Bald Eagle Area’s Marissa Ward was feeling down for a few moments after her final attempt in the long jump — she is a competitor after all — but the dour mood washed away quickly.
She may not have done her best in the event, but she was glad she got the chance to compete at the state championships.
“I was at least expecting to get what I got at districts,” said Ward, whose best jump was 14 feet, 5 inches after hitting 16-5 1/4 last week in Altoona. “But it was awesome here. A totally different atmosphere of my dual meets, of my invitationals. Everyone’s really good here so it’s a whole different atmosphere.”
For a meet that began at 9 a.m., she already had her three jumps done by 9:20 and was walking away from track and field for the last time.
“The morning didn’t bother me, but it kind of (stinks) that I woke up for nothing,” Ward said. “I didn’t do very well at all.”
Ward plans to attend Lock Haven this fall and play basketball. She was also considering Mansfield and the Penn State-Beaver branch campus, and is undecided on her course of study.
“I wanted to be close to home, and I really liked it there,” Ward said. “It’s nice.”
She’s happy to put track and field behind her, and get on to the next step of her life after a long search to find a college.
“I can calm down now,” she said. “It’s the end of the year and I’m graduating.”
After enduring two knee surgeries, missing an entire track season, two soccer seasons and one-plus year of basketball, Penns Valley’s Carolyn Darr was just happy to be on the track again at Shippensburg.
She had been a District 6 champion and made it to the semifinals as a sophomore before tearing her ACL during the following summer. Even though she is not back to the speed she had then, just getting to Seth Grove Stadium was the accomplishment.
“It was really a blessing after everything I’ve been through,” Darr said. “I’m really grateful to get another opportunity. I know I’m not quite up to par with what I was before, but I’m just glad I’m able to make it back.”
Darr ran a 13.03-second 100-meter dash, finishing sixth in her heat and missing a spot in the semifinals by 0.26 seconds.
“I wished I advanced to (Saturday) but I know I have more training to do,” Darr said. “I’m just here and we still have the 4x1 (relay) and we have a real good chance in that.”
Lending a hand
For some athletes, once they step onto the infield, they have to leave behind coaches and parents, and other than relay teams and pole-vauters, they are on their own.
At least in most cases. For State College’s Bryce Williams and Kellin Valentine, life was a little easier.
They both competed in the triple jump, sat together along the runway, talked and laughed quite a bit throughout the event and even when both had been eliminated from competiton, they stayed in their spots and watched the others jump.
“We had a good time,” Wiliams said. “We could laugh about stuff and relax.”
They definitely had a good time, with Williams finishing 11th at 44 feet, 10 1/2 inches and Valentine taking 26th at 42-0.
“We could talk about our jumps and help each other,” Valentine said.
The experience inspired Williams, a junior, and Valentine, a freshman, to want to return.
“It feels good to be out here,” Williams said. “We both have another year to go.”