“We’re bringing the state title back to State College!” Kellin Valentine shouted to his teammates when the final race of the day was over.
With talent and depth across nearly every area on the team, Valentine and the State College boys were leaving Seth Grove Stadium on Saturday afternoon with the first team trophy at the PIAA Track and Field Championships in program history.
Clinched with a second-place finish in the final race of the meet, the 1,600-meter relay, and buoyed by two state titles on Saturday, the Little Lions finished with 54 points to edge Downingtown West with 53.
Following a pole vault title on Friday for Griffin Thompson, the 3,200 relay team won another crown Saturday morning and Alex Milligan won the 1,600 in the afternoon. A collection of other medals followed in jumps and sprints to wrap up the trophy.
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“This is track and field,” coach Steve Shisler said. “We were able to do it sprints, middle distance, 1,600, long jump, triple jump, pole vault —the guys believed in it and made it happen.”
Valentine was sixth in the long jump and Tristan Daman took fourth in the 100. In the 800, Nick Feffer and Anthony Degleris were fourth and eighth, respectively, to put Shisler in an enviable spot in his first year at the program’s helm.
“That’s the downside of winning it your first year,” Shisler said. “There’s nowhere to go but down. We’ve been working toward this since November. I talked with the kids with regularity about what they can accomplish if they buy into what we are selling as a coaching staff. We have an unbelievably outstanding coaching staff, and that’s how we were able to get this team title today.”
The highlight came in the morning, when the 4x800 team of Owen Wing, Feffer, Degleris and Milligan were clocked in 7 minutes, 37.25 seconds, breaking the school record by 4.25 seconds and capturing the No. 1 spot in the U.S. this spring.
“We had the No. 1 time in the indoor season for a little bit,” Feffer said. “Just to take it back feels really good.”
The foursome had boasted earlier in the week about making the school “800 High” and they delivered with the performance, crediting the new head coach, who had been an assistant coach for the previous five seasons, for the success.
“He couldn’t have done a better job,” Milligan said. “It’s no coincidence that the first year, he’s our coach, we get a state title – and a United States No. 1 in the 4x8. We have four state titles to show for it because of him.”
The 4x800 team won with relative ease, with a good 50 meters back to second place when Milligan crossed the finish line. And despite not being pushed by another team, the domination still produced the third record-setting performance in the event in the last three state championships.
“Coming in we knew it was possible to better our time from last year,” Feffer said, “especially returning three guys. We just had to take care of business and we knew we’d be fast.”
Feffer, Degleris and Wing were clocked in a then-school-record 7:41.50, along with senior Eric Heatwole, but they came in third. It had them inspired.
“Coming here last year, running a fast time, but still only being third was almost bittersweet,” Degleris said. “Running fast today and taking the title, that’s what we were looking to do.”
Milligan returned to take the 1,600 title early in the afternoon in 4:10.17. He was near the back of the pack for much of the first lap but then slowly worked his way to the front and led the way over the final turn around the track.
With a few hours of rest, he was back for one final lap in the 4x400, and the team needed everything everyone had. The lead over Downingtown West was three points, and the Whippets were the top seed. Because rain Friday had washed out the preliminaries for the 1,600 relay, Saturday turned into a timed final for that event, and Milton Hershey ran a really fast race right before it was the Little Lions’ turn.
Downingtown West won the race, State College was next in 3:16.57, beating Milton Hershey by 0.09 seconds to grab the state trophy.
“I almost pulled a hamstring up in the stands jumping up,” Shisler said of the moment he knew the team had the title.
With two golds and a silver, and the team trophy, Milligan was glad the effort was worth it.
“That’s what it’s all about, coming down to the 4x4 for the state team title,” Milligan said. “It’s awesome.”
Daman landed his first state medal with a time of 10.92 in the 100-meter dash. He was clocked in 10.81 in the morning semifinals.
“It was fun,” Daman said. “I felt good.”
Daman said he struggled with a sore right hamstring in the finals, which first started to bother him at the Mid Penn Championships two weeks ago.
“I think the heat took a toll a little bit,” Daman said. “It was fun. I had fun.”
Feffer and Degleris returned for the 800 final, taking fourth and eighth, respectively. Feffer had a time of 1:53.50 to Degleris’ 1:54.17.
“I wasn’t even sure I was going to make the finals,” Degleris said. “To get on the medal stand is all I could ask for.”
Both also were trying to recover from the hard work in the morning’s relay in Saturday’s heat.
“Down the homestretch I was just thinking, ‘Everything I’ve got.’ It’s my last race, last open (800) of the year,’ and I was just doing everything I could,” Feffer said. “The three guys up front, they were just way gone.”
Valentine had two events Saturday. He tied for 11th in the high jump at 6-2, after leaping 22 feet, 4 1/2 inches in the long jump to place sixth.
“I didn’t worry about anything else,” Valentine said. “I just focused on my marks. I just trusted my coach, listened to him and just jumped — jumped as far as I could.”
Erik Ebel couldn’t quite add to the team point total, hitting a personal-best 183-1 in the javelin to place 11th, to go with 147-2 for 20th in the discus.
It was a day to savor for the Little Lions.
“To be the first team to get the hardware,” Milligan said, “it’s really awesome.”