As Griffin Thompson stood at the end of the runway, he clapped his hands a few times over his head, inspiring the crowd to join him.
He then raised his pole, burst down the runway and flew high into the sky, clearing over the bar. He floated down, arms raised in celebration before he even landed.
“The flight down’s just amazing,” Thompson said. “You pull your hands over the bar, and everything just slows down. You slowly fall, and then when you hit the mats you kind of come back to reality.”
The senior capped his high school career with a state title in the pole vault at the PIAA Track and Field Championships at Shippensburg’s Seth Grove Stadium.
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He was one of three medalists for the Little Lions, with Veronika Karpenko taking a silver medal in the triple jump and Kellin Valentine capturing seventh in the boys’ triple jump.
Thompson savored the moment after clearing the pole vault bar at 16 feet, 3 inches. It broke the school record of 15-10 he had set a week ago at the District 6 championship, and he punctuated the moment with a show for the fans.
“I love putting on a show,” Thompson said. “I’m totally fine being all-eyes-on-me, being the attention person. That’s fine with me. I thrive in that environment.”
He stood up on the mats and raised his arms toward the crowd in the bleachers, then hopped off the mat, pumped an arm and raced to vaulting coach Joe Sarra for a big hug.
Thompson was part of a three-man battle who cleared 15-9, with Hempfield’s Hayden Fox and Hatboro Horsham’s Nicholas Marino.
“We knew those were going to be the deciding bars,” Thompson said of the final heights. “All these kids have had shots at 16 feet, 15-6. I had a (good) expectation of where people were going to be.”
Thompson, who will vault at Penn State next season, was the lone survivor at 16-3, then went after the PIAA record of 16-7. For a moment it appeared he broke it on his final attempt, but he barely brushed the bar with his stomach.
“I didn’t think it was that close until I saw the film,” Thompson said. “It was probably four or five inches where I was just floating. I kind of nicked it a little bit and it didn’t want to stay on.”
Teammate Lucas Gray tied for 13th at 13-9.
Girls’ triple jump
Veronika Karpenko had to settle for a silver medal this year.
The defending state champion in the triple jump struggled through the day, scratching on two of her three first-round attempts and not meeting her personal standards. Her top leap of 39 feet, 2 inches came on her sixth and final jump to bypass a number of other jumpers.
“I’m not feeling great about it because I haven’t (hit a personal record) all season,” Karpenko said. “I wasn’t feeling really good before the start of the meet because of my (sore) hamstring.”
She injured her leg during the Mid Penn Championships two weeks ago, and she said it affected her second phase of the triple jump the most. She was visibly agitated after several of her attempts, frustrated she was well short of her personal best of 40-3.
“I scratched quite a few jumps that were good,” Karpenko said. “I was kind of mad about that.”
She finished three inches behind Evelyn Berecz of Downingtown West.
“It’s really nice knowing I can place second with an injury and this heat,” Karpenko said, “and all the other elements against me.”
Boys’ triple jump
Kellin Valentine finished seventh in the triple jump with a top leap of 46 feet, 1 1/4 inches.
He was fourth heading into the finals, with his top mark his third jump of the day in the preliminaries, but could not do better in final round of three attempts.
“The jumps just kept getting bigger and bigger and bigger,” the Little Lion senior said. “The 48s just kept going. I knew I was going to have to keep working hard. It just didn’t work out for me.”
Valentine, who will play football this fall on the same field at Seth Grove Stadium, was hoping to get a little higher on the medal stand.
“I really wanted to do better,” he said. “It was my last time triple-jumping in high school. The fact that I didn’t get the marks that I wanted wasn’t a problem for me. All the guys I was competing with are all my friends and I had a good time competing.”
Ravaughn Dillard of Gettysburg won at 48-7.
The State College boys and girls, and St. Joseph’s girls, all advanced in the 3,200 relays.
The Little Lion boys team of Craig Hilliard, Owen Wing, Anthony Degleris and Nick Feffer turned in a time of 7:52.51. They were second in their heat to make the final 12 teams. Hilliard was running in place of Alex Milligan, who was resting up for races later in the day.
“It’s what we were shooting for,” said Hilliard. “We just wanted to get top four. We got it done so we were happy with it.”
The Lady Little Lions team of Natasha Fedkina, Jordan Rohrbach, Catherine Curtin and Emma Simon were clocked in 9:29.07. They were sixth in their heat and 11th overall to advance.
The Lady Wolves foursome of Lucia Person, Lindsey Carmack, Kate Ott and Sera Mazza were clocked in 9:46.71, taking fourth in their heat and ninth overall. It was the first appearance for a St. Joe’s girls team at the PIAA meet.
“It was a little nerve-wracking because it was pretty close,” Ott said. “It went well. I’m happy.”
In AA boys, the St. Joseph’s team of Eli Urban, Charles Ross, Andy Rogan and Michael Peters was 12th in their heat in 8:50.48, while the Philipsburg-Osceola group of Kyle Albert, Mike and Matt Shimmel and Nick Patrick was 13th in 8:45.02 in their heat. Neither team advanced.
In the 100-meter dash, Penns Valley’s Destiny Andrus was clocked in 12.49 seconds make the Saturday morning semifinals. State College’s Taylor Givens was clocked in 12.87, finishing sixth in her heat to miss finals, and Tristan Daman was clocked in 11.21 for third in his heat to make the finals.
In the 1,600, Natasha Fedkina raced to second in her heat in 5:01.86 to make the finals, while Mazza was eighth in her heat, unable to advance, in 5:22.88 for St. Joe’s.
Milligan came back to run 4:23.13 in the 1,600 and advance to the finals.
The 400 relay saw Penns Valley break the school record with a time of 49.41. Marissa Stecko, Maci Ilgen, Valerie Hosterman and Andrus broke the record which had stood for four years.
“It gives us a really, really good chance of making it to the finals,” an elated and breathless Andrus said, “and getting a freakin’ state medal.”
Deadpanned Hosterman: “We’re really excited.”
The State College girls were clocked in 47.79 and also made the finals with Rachel Wylie, Taylor Givens, Zoe Wicks and Hayley Crawford.
Penns Valley’s Isabella Culver was clocked in 59.50, just 0.20 off the school record, in the 400.
State College’s Noah Oesterling (49.90) was fourth in his 400 heat and Noah Woods (48.95) was third in his, but neither advanced.
Wylie returned to the track in the 300 hurdles, turning in a time of 44.28 to make the finals. She was second in her heat. Rohrbach was fourth in her heat in 46.25 and didn’t advance.
In the AA boys’ 300 hurdles, P-O’s Payton Moore was sixth in his heat in 42.54 and didn’t make the finals.
Andrus and Crawford made the semifinals in the 200 with times of 25.80 and 25.37, respectively.
Feffer and Degleris returned late in the afternoon for the 800 races, taking second in each of their heats with times of 1:54.99 and 1:55.68, respectively.
In the throwing events, State College’s Jordan Bair and Erik Ebel didn’t medal. Bair was 10th in the shot put at 38-5 while Ebel was 20th at 50-2 on the boys’ side.
In the girls’ pole vault, Lyndsey Reed was just off the medal stand, tying for ninth at 11-6. Kinsey Thompson tied for 14th at 11-0.