Nathan Styles had been anxiously waiting for Tuesday to arrive.
For two weeks, the Bald Eagle Area senior could not run, could not step on the track to do what he does so well. All he could do was watch his teammates – and wait.
“When I can’t race I watch it, I’m all over it,” Styles said. “I wish I was in it, definitely.”
Patience paid off. Styles won the 400-meter dash as the only Centre County boys’ champion at the District 6 Class AA meet at Altoona’s Mansion Park.
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However, there will be a strong representation of the area at the PIAA Championships at Shippensburg’s Seth Grove Stadium on May 22-23.
Brian Hackman and Eli Urban of St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy and their teammates in the 3,200-meter relay also earned tickets to the state meet, joined by Penns Valley’s Gino Nicosia and Collin Egelhoff.
A strained right quadriceps had Styles on the sidelines, hoping for everything to heal. He pestered his coaches each day, “Coach, I think it’s OK, I think I can do it,” he told them, but the Eagle coaches and trainer Scott DeVore reminded Styles it was more important to be ready for the district meet than any of the other invitationals or the Mountain League championship.
When he finally put his feet into the starting blocks, he was more than ready for less than a minute of work.
“I was so nervous,” he said, “especially not being in it for two weeks. Coming down the home stretch was just awesome.”
Actually, his work day lasted just 51.16 seconds, and he faded a little at the end, but his margin of victory was relatively comfortable at 0.82 seconds.
“My quad did start to bother me a little bit,” Styles said. “But I said to myself, ‘I’m not letting this affect me. I’m going to keep going.’ My motto is, ‘If I can beat him in the first 200, I can beat him in the last.’”
The boys’ race of the night might have been the 800 meters, with a number of runners jockeying for position during the two laps around the track. Penn Cambria’s Garrett Sutton outdueled Nicosia down the final 100 meters, winning by just shy of a half-second with Nicosia’s time of 1:59.84.
“I was kind of, I don’t want to say scared, yeah, I was a little scared,” Nicosia said. “… I don’t want to say I psyched myself out, but there was a little fear going in.”
Runners had to battle a strong wind all evening, blowing into their faces as they rounded the turn for the homestretch.
“I didn’t notice it the first lap,” Nicosia said. “The second lap, as I hit the 100, I was like “Ooooh!’”
Right behind defending district champion Nicosia was Hackman, who was clocked in 2:00.36. The top three places in each event, plus all others hitting the state-qualifying standard, earn PIAA tickets.
Hackman needed a big surge in the second lap to earn his 800 berth, including passing Philipsburg-Osceola’s Nick Patrick, who finished a close fifth in 2:04.04 and missed a PIAA spot.
“I just didn’t get off the line,” Hackman said. “I was doing that all last year. Normally I haven’t had any problems with that this year, but I just didn’t get off the line and couldn’t make it up at the end and win, which was the goal. But I still made states.”
Hackman was in the lead group of four runners at the halfway point of the 1,600, but fell off the pace in the fourth lap and was nearly passed with about 200 meters to go. But then the senior found another gear and surged ahead for his third-place finish and a clocking of 4:35.50.
“I was scared there,” Hackman said of nearly being passed. “He’s just a freshman and he ran a good race.”
Hackman chose to scratch out of the 800 for the state meet, focusing on the 1,600 and the relay.
The day’s first state qualifier came from St. Joseph’s, with Hackman, Urban, Charles Ross and Michael Peters finishing second in 8:23.85.
“Everyone ran a solid race,” Hackman said. “I’m really proud of how all of them ran. We’re going to have a great race at states and hopefully medal.”
Urban capped the evening for St. Joe’s, which was 10th in the team standings with 28 points, by taking a solid second in the 3,200 in 10:08.36. He was an alternate on the 1,600 relay team last year at PIAAs, only able to watch his teammates run, but this time he will be on the track for two events.
“I’m glad to really contribute to this legacy for our team,” Urban said. “Just because our school’s only four years old, it means so much more. I really attribute it to my team and the support I get.”
Capping the qualifiers was Egelhoff, who uncorked a top throw of 134 feet in the discus to punch his ticket.
“I’m really happy,” Egelhoff said. “I get to go to states, which is awesome, and I’m happy to be representing Penns Valley there. I’d like to thank coach (Drew) Welch and (throwing coach) Kendyl Paolini for their support and their help in helping me achieve this. I’m just really excited, this is a great way to end my senior year.”
Also for the Rams, who were 13th as a team with 22 points, Ben Alexander finished seventh in the 200 and Nick Fuller was seventh in the 3,200, and the 1,600 relay team took fifth.
Central Cambria won the team title with 83 points. BEA had 10 points for 21st and P-O had four points for 29th.