It took 45 years for a State College 3,200-meter relay team to break the school record.
It took just 364 days to do it again.
While this record-setting run did not come with a state title, it still brought plenty of joy to the Little Lions.
“I had no idea we were going along that fast,” said Alex Milligan after anchoring the foursome, along with Eric Heatwole, Anthony Degleris and Nick Feffer, in breaking the record with a time of 7 minutes, 41.50 seconds.
It was one of a number of highlights on the final day of competition at the PIAA Track and Field Championships at Shippensburg University’s Seth Grove Stadium.
State College also saw Megan Fry tie for third place in the pole vault at 12 feet, Milligan came back to take fifth in the 1,600 meters, and St. Joseph’s Brian Hackman was fourth in the Class AA 1,600.
As a team the Lady Little Lions finished seventh with 21.5 points, while the boys tied for 19th with 10 points.
It may have been disappointing State College did not repeat last year’s state title win in the 4x800 relay, but the boys were still quite satisfied. Third place in the state, and the fourth-best time in the nation, should bring few complaints.
Heatwole was well back after the first lap but made up ground after the second and the team was fourth at the baton handoff to Degleris.
“I knew the pace was going out really fast when I was in dead last and I went out in 55 (seconds),” Heatwole said. “It’s usually about four seconds slower when we go out.”
The Little Lions were just off the lead the rest of the way, anywhere from second to fourth.
“I knew it was fast,” Feffer said. “I was tired already after the 400.”
Pennsbury won in 7:38.42, and Pennridge was second in 7:40.56.
Last year, State College won the crown and broke the school record with a time of 7:41.99.
“We were looking to run a fast time, we were looking to take a top-three place,” Degleris said. “We just wanted to be competitive and get a decent place. I guess the time just came along with it. No idea.”
Milligan raced down the stretch to the finish line, after which Degleris shouted the time to the junior, and he collapsed in celebration.
“When I saw that time when we finished, I just couldn’t believe it,” Milligan said. “I had no idea we were that fast.”
Milligan had to come back a few hours later for the 1,600, and through most of the first two laps he was near the back of the 12-runner field.
“I didn’t think I had anything left,” Milligan said. “The plan was just to stay in back, and if I had anything at the end I was going to use it. I had enough to get up to fifth.”
He found whatever he had left for the last two laps, finishing in 4:17.08.
“I dug pretty deep, just thinking about that medal and how bad I wanted it,” Milligan said. “I just saw the guys and I was counting them, I was so tired but I was counting them. Once I got one I thought maybe I could get eighth. I passed one and I kept going.”
Milligan’s race immediately followed Hackman taking fourth in the Class AA in 4:19.51. The St. Joseph’s senior was just off the lead the entire race, occasionally in second place and was in third until getting passed in the final 20 meters.
“I was pretty excited when I went into the finish,” Hackman said. “I knew I went under 4:20, which was my goal. I hit that. They say never to have any regrets after a race, and I really didn’t. I ran really well and I was happy with it.”
Beaver Falls’ Dominic Perretta, who later took the 800 title as well, won in 4:13.92.
“I was going into the race thinking maybe I could make a run at Perretta,” Hackman said. “I did, I gave him a good run. The closing wasn’t there at the end, but I was really happy with how I did.”
Fry was heartbroken immediately after she missed her final three attempts in the pole vault at 12 feet, 6 inches. She went to Shippensburg with a personal best of 12-9, the best mark in the state this year for girls.
“There are no words,” Fry said, holding back tears. “I’m really disappointed.”
Not long after, she found out she had tied for third and her mood changed. There were so many competitors who were eliminated at the same height, she had no idea where she stood.
“I’m happy about it,” Fry said. “I came in wanting to win like everyone else, but I’m happy about third.”
Eight girls all cleared 12-0 but missed at 12-6, adding to the confusion. The only one to pass that mark was winner Tesia Kempski of Bishop McDevitt at 12-9.
With such high expectations, does she feel better about finishing third?
“Not really, but I’m trying to,” Fry said. “Obviously I’m upset, anyone would be upset. I had high expectations and they didn’t work out.”
With a spot waiting for her on the Penn State track and field team, Fry is looking forward to the next step and knows she accomplished a lot during her senior season.
“I’m beyond happy with everything I’ve accomplished this season,” Fry said. “I had high expectations, I made goals coming into this season, but it’s just great to be able to check them off.”
A pair of runners raced through semifinals in the morning. In the 100-meter hurdles, Rachel Wylie could not advance to the finals after taking sixth in her heat in 15.04, which was 10th overall. In the 100-meter dash, Penns Valley’s Destiny Andrus was clocked in 12.71, finishing in seventh in her heat and 13th overall.
Earlier in the 3,200 finals, Eli Urban of St. Joseph’s ran among the lead pack for the first half of the race but fell off the pace the last few laps and finished 15th in 9:48.10. Lady Little Lion Sarah Almarzooqi was 31st in the AAA girls’ race in 11:39.04.
The AAA boys’ race was run at an incredible pace, with the top eight hitting national honor roll times and the top two breaking the state record, led by Carlisle’s Zach Brehm’s 8:55.60. State College’s Matt Beyerle was 27th in 9:52.94.
In the discus, Penns Valley’s Collin Egelhoff started his day with a throw of 130-2, the best of his three attempts, and finished 15th. In the boys’ javelin, State College’s Erik Ebel was 22nd at 154-2.
The State College girls’ 400 relay team had a false start and was disqualified.