High School Sports

PIAA track and field: State College relay teams come up with lucky sevens at state championships

Saturday was a lucky day for the State College track and field teams.

They kept rolling sevens.

Three Little Lion relay teams reached the medal stand on the final day of the PIAA Championships at Shippensburg University’s Seth Grove Stadium, and all three teams stood in the same spot.

After the 3,200-meter relay teams on both the boys’ and girls’ side had each reached the mark, the 400 relay team knew the command.

“Our other teammates were like, ‘You can’t get below seven,’” senior Lauren Bonness said. “It’s seven or up. We made it happen.”

The teams were the three Centre County medal winners on another blustery, but at least sunny and warmer, final day of high school track in the state.

The first seven was rolled by the girls’ 4x800 team, turning in a time of 9 minutes, 24.45 seconds.

“I’ve never won a medal before, so it’s definitely very rewarding to have my last race in high school being a medal at the state championships,” said senior Hannah Grubb, who ran the lead leg after competing in the 1,600 meters on Friday.

While Grubb had to wait until her final high school race to medal, freshman Natasha Fedkina, who was next to run, didn’t have to wait quite so long.

“It’s just so great to get a medal my first year,” said Fedkina, who confessed she didn’t feel any pressure before the race.

When the first two legs were done, however, State College was in ninth place in the 12-team race, and it was up to Emma Cousins and Victoria Crawford to pick up at least one spot to reach that medal stand. The two juniors did their part.

“I just wanted to get a medal for my team,” Cousins said. “I believed in Victoria, but I didn’t want to put all the pressure on Victoria to beat them. I just wanted to fight for it and do whatever I could for the team.”

“I knew I had to stay with the pack and at least keep us in eighth place,” Crawford said.

The group was joined for the infield celebration by Kaelyn Yoder, also a junior, who ran one of the relay legs in Friday’s preliminaries.

As the four girls were waiting on the infield to pick up their medals, they also had good seats to watch their male counterparts, and while the girls’ race saw the field spread out across more than 200 meters by the race’s midpoint, the boys were in a much tighter group and the Little Lions were anywhere from sixth to 11th during their race.

“I knew I had to get up and pass as many guys as I could,” Chris Golembeski said. “(We had to) try and stay in front of Carlisle, stay with the guys I knew I could run with and get it to Kyle (Adams) in the best position possible.”

“All these guys we’re running against out here, we know all their names, we know all their times,” Adams said. “Once you get the baton, you know the guys next to you, you know who you can keep up with, who you should be passing. It’s just doing your job.”

Running the lead leg was Sam Bollinger, the lone senior among the foursome, who faced a different kind of pressure a year-and-a-half ago when he helped the State College soccer team reach the PIAA semifinals before they lost in a shootout.

“That was also very nerve-wracking,” Bollinger said. “(There was a) way bigger crowd for this. There you’ve got 11 other guys. Here you’ve got three other guys. More nervous here than there.”

Will Cather had the anchor and he surged to as high as fourth before losing a little gas at the end and was passed, but he and Adams managed another feat by matching the finish of last year’s 4x800 team — seventh.

“When you have three other guys working their hardest,” Cather said, “as an anchor trying to get you in the best position, you just want to take it home as fast as possible.”

That left the run of numbers to the 400-meter relay girls. Unlike the 3,200 relay races which had 12 teams, this foursome knew all they had to do was not get disqualified and they would pick up a medal. But they also wanted to run fast.

“We all were just excited to run, and go out there and give it our best for the end,” Bonness said of the team’s best time of the season at 49.11 seconds.

After Bonness ran around the turn on the lead leg, she handed the baton to Olivia Watkins, who had one pressing thought.

“‘Get it to Hayley,’” Watkins said of third-leg runner Hayley Crawford. “I was just running. I was just going so fast. I saw people beside me, I was just like, ‘I’m not going to let them get me.’ You know? With the sun on my back I just felt great.”

Crawford, a freshman, also knew she had a chance to match her older sister Victoria and pick up a medal of her own.

“She just said, ‘Good luck,’” Crawford said.

The team was running a race otherwise filled with teams from either the Pittsburgh or Philadelphia suburbs, along with Easton, which was later disqualified.

“It was well earned for us,” said anchor Niara Valentine after closing out the day’s final seven “We worked hard to get here, show them our place here.”

Penns Valley’s Grace Gover, who started the run of sevens on Friday, returned from her seventh-place medal in the high jump by placing 12th in the triple jump with a top leap of 35 feet, 3 3/4 inches. Teammate Nicole Beinert was 18th in the discus at 96-2.

In the javelin, Tiffany Bertothy of Philipsburg-Osceola finished 21st at 100-11.

In the long jump, State College’s Bryce Williams injured his quad during the triple jump on Friday and made only one attempt in the long jump Saturday, covering 19-8 1/4, before scratching out of his last two attempts.

In the 3,200-meter runs to start the day, State College’s Sarah Almarzooqi was 24th in 11:38.42 on the girls’ AAA side, and Bellefonte’s Mitchell Smith was 27th in 9:55.83 in boys’ AAA.