High School Sports

High school track & field: State College’s Karpenko finding balance to be among state’s best

State College's Veronika Karpenko is striving to join the state’s best in the triple jump this weekend at the PIAA Class AAA Track and Field Championships in Shippensburg.
State College's Veronika Karpenko is striving to join the state’s best in the triple jump this weekend at the PIAA Class AAA Track and Field Championships in Shippensburg. CDT file photo

Veronika Karpenko had been lamenting her lack of progress in her jumps this season.

Then she started ticking off what has been occupying her time, and admitted she’s been a little distracted.

Four advanced placement classes, and a part-time job, may stunt training a little bit.

“I’m either studying or working on weekends,” the State College junior said. “If I have any spare time, it goes to practice.”

She was talking about her slow progress at the District 6 Class AAA Track and Field Championships last week, where she unloaded the top mark in the entire state in the triple jump.

The junior will be the one to beat at the PIAA Championships at Shippensburg University’s Seth Grove Stadium. She will compete in the long jump on Friday and the triple jump on Saturday.

Her mark in the triple jump last Thursday evening was impressive: 39 feet, 9 inches. It leads all of Pennsylvania girls and is among the best marks in the entire country this spring.

Last spring she made huge leaps — literally and figuratively — in the triple jump, seemingly adding a foot or more over the final meets of the season, on her way to hitting 39 feet even at the state championships for a third-place finish.

She did not match or exceed that measurement through all of the indoor or most of the outdoor season until last Thursday. But when she added a little perspective, she was OK with where she stands heading to Shippensburg.

“I’ve P-R’d (hit a personal record) in the triple and I’ve P-R’d in the long, and you really can’t ask for anything more than that,” said Karpenko, whose best mark in the long jump this season is 18-11 1/2.

Lady Little Lions head coach Jenn Evans was not worried that Karpenko was behind schedule.

“Our best performances are in May, and as coaches we train for that,” Evans said. “… Nika raised the bar last year as a sophomore, as to what level she would like to be competing in her discipline, in her dedication and her training. It allowed her to get to that moment.”

In that state meet last May, Karpenko uncorked that 39-foot effort on an early attempt, letting out a shout of glee after the mark was announced, and it stood as the No. 1 attempt until the final round, when two girls passed her on their final attempts. She didn’t even realize she had dropped from first to third until she walked to the podium for her medal.

She also gained some wisdom and maturity from the experience.

“You don’t have to be the best at everything when you’re really young,” Karpenko said. “You have a lot of time to progress and get to where you want to be, to overcome certain things.”

That outlook is helping her handle the pressure and added attention she has had this year as being one of the leaders instead of surprising everyone.

“Nervousness is good, pressure is good, just don’t let it eat you up,” Karpenko said. “That’s kind of what got me in the finals. I started to panic. I’ve never had that much attention, never had that much progress, that big of a P-R all at one time and I couldn’t handle it.”

She is much more level-headed this season.

“Nika’s fierce,” Evans said. “In pressure competition she is hard. She is either going to be hard on herself or she’s going to be hard on the competitors. When she’s not having a good meet, that type of frustration tends to push her to bigger and better performances, and when she’s having a good meet, that kind of excitement is also going to push her to bigger and better performances.”

Her studies have certainly had an influence.

So what has been dividing her time? In addition to her part-time job at Mountain View Country Club, the homework is a little difficult. Among her classes of late have been calculus, physics, molecular and cellular biology, genetics, botany and zoology. She is trying to find a college where she can compete in track, but she has to figure out what she wants to study and what school has the right program.

She is torn.

It could be marine biology, or maybe biochemistry, microbiology or immunology.

“I have to figure out what I want to do so I can find which school I can go to,” Karpenko said

“Nika has a pretty busy schedule,” Evans said. “She is one of State High’s best and brightest. We have a core of kids who are also pretty competitive in the classroom.”

Because of the academic demands, the training and event schedules have been eased. She has missed a few meets here and there, and Evans provides some flexibility.

“If she doesn’t need to be there, then she’s not there,” Evans said. “We allow student-athletes to be students first. Then hopefully that same kind of drive, same kind of responsibility connects well with track and field.”

Karpenko is looking for the right connection this weekend. She wouldn’t mind another personal record – and maybe this time a gold medal will be hers to keep.

No matter what, she knows how to handle it all.

“I’m definitely on my way to doing something bigger and I want to do well at states,” Karpenko said. “And I feel pretty good right now – knock on wood (tapping her head).”