Track and field has long been viewed as an individual sport.
It is all about one person’s speed and strength, one individual’s ability to be mentally and physically better than everyone else, whether they are running, jumping or throwing.
Even when there is a team aspect like a relay race, there is no one helping the runner as they circle the track. No one is passing a ball, setting a screen or backing up a play.
But there was little doubt State College had as much team involvement as possible even as the individuals were faster and stronger than the rest of the state.
It showed when distance runner Alex Milligan was running in the 1,600-meter final, and Kellin Valentine left the high jump area, raced to the edge of the track and implored Milligan to run harder.
It showed when members of the boys’ and girls’ teams were celebrating together on the infield of Seth Grove Stadium late Saturday afternoon when the PIAA Track and Field Championships had come to an end.
It showed when Milligan was willing to give everything he had to run in five long races that were essentially all really, really long sprints. He ran in two 4x800 relays, two 1,600 races and one 4x400 relay over two days, running all-out in pretty much all of them. If not for rain late Friday, there would have been another relay race.
“All adrenaline right now,” Milligan said after his lap in the 4x400 relay Saturday afternoon, which produced a silver-medal performance for the Little Lion runners.
It showed when several athletes scratched out of one event to have a better chance in another, and especially a better chance for team points.
That’s how you win state titles, and have arguably the state’s best track program right now. The Little Lion boys won the Class AAA crown last weekend, the Lady Little Lions finished second.
Combining the two teams there were 86 total points, and scoring came from pretty much everywhere but the throwing events — and they each had a competitor in all the throws. Otherwise, there were points in jumps, pole vault, sprints, middle distance, hurdles and relays.
“We might have left a couple points on the table, but that’s about it,” first-year boys’ coach Steve Shisler said moments before his boys hoisted the team trophy.
There were wins in there — Griffin Thompson took the pole vault, Milligan the 1,600 and the 3,200-meter relay team won with the nation’s fastest time this year — but finishing among the top eight earns a medal and points for the team. In all, there were 16 medals earned by State College athletes. At the state championships, when there is high-end talent in pretty much every event from some corner of the state, that’s a lot of medals.
“To go 1-2 in the state is pretty telling,” State College girls’ coach Jennifer Evans said. “It tells that the State College program is a really strong program. It shows that we have families that care and that we have coaches that do an outstanding job — and our athletes work so hard to make sure that when we come to a meet, we’re ready to compete.”
It was a memorable weekend in so many ways, for so many athletes who didn’t walk away with gold medals.
Philipsburg-Osceola had a relay team running for the first time in years, while St. Joseph’s Catholic Academy had girls competing at the state meet for the first time ever. Penns Valley brought home three medals, two for Destiny Andrus and another for a relay team.
Getting to that level, to be faster and stronger, to be among or better than the rest of the state’s best, takes not only physical prowess, but something more. It takes a willingness to work hard, to give extra effort, to spend hours with weights, running sprints, logging miles around downtown State College or on backcountry roads. It also takes a willingness to listen to coaches, not be stubborn about how to do something and make adjustments.
All of that is individually driven and calls for loads of discipline, and produces individual accomplishments, but piecing each individual effort together, with everyone helping each other, leads to something incredibly impressive.
Getting there is not easy, and a lot of rewards were doled out last weekend to those who didn’t take the easy route.
“We prepared for this all season,” State College junior sprinter Zoe Wicks said. “This is when you want to have your biggest performances.”