A total of 21 State College athletes have individually qualified for the PIAA Class AAA Track and Field State Championships.
Nearly a fifth of those athletes have qualified for a single event: the pole vault.
On Friday at Shippensburg University, not only will Griffin Thompson, Lyndsey Reed, Kinsey Thompson, and Lucas Gray all compete in the pole vault, but they will also look to medal.
However, it hasn’t been an easy road. Despite impressive seasons last year, the athletes all seemed to fall short at the end of the season. The boys no-heighted at states and Kinsey was unable to make it past districts.
“These kids are motivated by goals and if they don’t match them or beat them it drives them crazy,” State College pole vault coach Joe Sarra said.
That has pushed each athlete in spectacular fashion this season, as each one of them has made height gains from as small as six inches to as big as almost three feet.
What they show at state will be the culmination of their efforts to reach their goals.
Griffin, Gray seek redemption
“States last year was a little rough,” Griffin said, “I let a lot of things get to me and I ended up ‘no-heighting.’
“It was a little windy last year and people were blowing back and I was a little nervous last year,” Gray added.
They think this time around will be different as the boys are better, more consistent — which means they have even higher goals.
Griffin’s improvement meant adding a foot and four inches to his previous best for a jump of 15-10.
When he cleared the jump at the District 6 Championships, he was able to claim the State High school and meet record by an inch. It was previously held by Kevin Dare, who earned the marks in 2000.
The jump has turned out to be the best in the state — he enters states as the No. 1 seed. However, the Penn Relays victor doesn’t put that much thought into his ranking.
“I don’t think seeds matter,” he said, “I’ve come in seeded 16th and walked away with medals before. It’s all about first attempts over bars and who’s mentally tough for whatever the weather brings and just being ready to go.
“This year, I’m going to treat it like every other meet and show up and just put the pole in the box and jump, keep it really simple and really focus on just being mentally strong and listening to my coach and making some good efforts.”
Gray, who finished second at districts, is seeded in ninth place with a jump of 14-3.
The duo also has another goal in mind for states rather than placing.
“We’d like to have two guys over 15 feet at states,” Griffin said, “Nabil Mark and Dave Myers did that a couple years back and it would be really cool for us to do that this year and really make a name.”
The wish to excel together is the perfect goal for teammates who have been pushing each other for the past four years.
“I credit a lot of my success to just Lucas and I going back and forth, and it's just been a real honor,” Griffin said.
Gray agrees with the sentiment but also recognizes Griffin’s big gains this season.
“It’s interesting he’s a really hard worker and that’s why he is where he is. I do it for fun, he does it to be the best,” he said.
Sarra also sees success in the duo’s future state performance.
“Griffin and Lucas have been so rock solid every meet, and they’ve really showed up at the big meets” he said, “Lucas’ two best meets have been Penn Relays and districts in the outdoor season and same thing with Griffin is that every single big moment they step up.”
After the season the two will part ways as Griffin will attend Penn State to study applied science and health while also competing on the track and field team. Gray will be enlisting in the United States Air Force.
Kinsey, Reed look to turn heads as newcomers
For Kinsey and Reed, Friday will be their state debut.
Kinsey, a senior, was unable to attend the meet last year after a third-place finish at districts, while Reed was only competing on the middle school track team as an eighth-grader.
This year, both Kinsey and Reed are seeded in the top 10. Kinsey is in a six-way tie for the No. 5 seed with a high mark at 12-0, and Reed is in a four-way tie for the No. 6 seed with an 11-6 mark.
Kinsey, a Geneva College commit, is excited for the meet and to finally show people what she can do. Over the past few years, the senior has been slightly overshadowed by now Penn State vaulter Megan Fry. Now, after claiming the District 6 title, Kinsey is ready to prove herself.
“It’s really cool to finally have all of my hard work pay off,” she said.
However, Kinsey also states that having a teammate and friend like Fry has only made her a better athlete and leader. When Fry graduated in 2015, Kinsey stepped up and took Reed and the other freshmen under her wing to help them fly.
“It’s so much fun seeing how much she (Reed) has grown and just knowing that I’m what Megan was to me last year and just seeing that is really fun,” she said.
Reed has definitely benefited from the senior’s leadership.
Before the season, her previous outdoor best was a 9-0, and she’s now jumping 11-9 as the best freshman pole vaulter in the state.
“It’s great, she (Kinsey) has been my leader this year,” Reed explained, “She’s what I look up to, and I just kind of follow her lead and she’s just so much fun to be around and I’m going to miss her a lot next year.”
Sarra explained that as one of only two freshmen competing in the event at states, Reed also has the ability to break the state freshman record.
“I’m really excited, I’ve heard a lot of good things and everybody around me is very high energy so I’m super excited,” Reed said.
No matter the outcome on Friday, Sarra hopes that all of his athletes will perform to the best of their abilities and that the seniors will hold on to their high school experiences long after their final meet ends.
“When you step on the runway by yourself with just a bar and the pole you learn a lot about yourself,” he said, adding that he hopes they take a lot of those lessons with them throughout the rest of their lives.