Ephrata girls clinch, Eagle boys edge Mounts
A spectacular storm rolled in early Tuesday evening, sending track athletes and fans out of the Ephrata Middle School complex scattering for their cars or nearest shelter.
Prior to that, both Ephrata and Cocalico athletes created quite a storm of their own in the annual Section Two meet between the two rival schools.
In the girls’ meet, Ephrata’s Kelly Liebl turned in one of her best days of her high school career as the junior sprinter/jumper won three individual events an anchored the Lady Mounts’ 4X100 relay to a win in the feature event of the day.
Her exploits not only led the Lady Mounts to their 23rd straight dual meet victory, but the 91-59 team win also clinched a third-straight Section Two championship for the Ephrata girls.
On the boys’ side, Oregon-bound thrower Jhet Janis showed off his cannon, launching his best throw of the season at 203-4 to win the javelin. That victory, along with a four-win performance from senior sprinter/hurdler Alec Whitsett, gave the Eagles a split as Cocalico edged the Mounts, 76.5-73.5.
It was a great day of track and field, but particularly for the Ephrata girls and Coach John Keller, who has seen his program rise from the ashes and into one of the tops in the L-L League.
“I’m happy for the kids,” he said following the win. “ I know what it means to the kids, and as far as our program goes, 15 years ago when I started coaching I would have never thought that we’d string together 23-straight dual meet wins and win three-straight section titles. I wouldn’t have thought that was possible. But I have a good group of coaches and the kids are a great group of girls who are very competitive. They’ve been there and done that and for them, it’s just another day at the track. But in the grand scheme of things, somewhere along the line, they’ll look back and say we had a heck of a run going there for three years.
“It’s hard to win one championship, and to be able to do it three straight years…the last couple years we had (State champion hurdler Mary Witmer) but this is as sweet as any of them because this group of girls just came together and willed themselves, meet in and meet out…it just amazes me how these girls have come together and put this season together.”
Tuesday, Kelly Liebl certainly had a big hand in it. She ran a personal best to win the 100 in a time of 12.2. She followed that up with a near PR time in the 200 (25.5), and jumped 16-4 on her first attempt to capture the long jump.
Then in the 4X100, which featured the top two teams in the league going head-to-head, she was trailing by a nose when she got the baton but shifted into high gear to edge Cocalico’s closer Emily Fassnacht at the finish for a winning time of 50.3.
“I can’t say enough about the season Kelly is having,” Keller said. “She’s having a great season. She’s been able to stay injury free, knock on wood, and that’s huge. She’s just looking fast. I’m super proud of her effort and what she’s been able to do, and today was amazing.”
The win in the 4X100 was sweet revenge for the Ephrata team of Kay Liebl, Cassie Vaitl, Yasi Davis and Kelly. They were beaten by the Cocalico squad of Carrie Sensenig, Stephanie Wahl, Emily Johnson and Fassnacht just a week ago at the Hempfield Invitational.
“The girls were really excited for the challenge because they knew Cocalico had a good 4X1, and they knew they got beat over at the Hempfield Invitational by them,” Keller said. “I told the girls, ‘Cocalico ran a good race over there. We’ll see them later. You just stay within yourselves and we’ll run our race,’ and our girls put together a heck of a race today.”
Keller made one slight tweak to the lineup, switching Vaitl from lead to second and Kay Liebl from third to lead. It worked to their advantage.
“You get Kelly the baton with the race that close, nine times out of 10 she is going to win the race,” Keller said. “That set the tone. That’s a big lift. That’s an exciting relay and everyone kind of knew that was the race of the day. It worked out.”
Cocalico Coach Ron Derr added, “Their girls 4X1 team is so good. They’ve really done a great job with getting their girls together there. Our girls 4X1 is amazing in some of the things they’ve been able to accomplish. A lot of times in an elite 4X1 you have just one of those absolute knock down, drag out speedsters, like a Liebl, and we don’t have that. We have tremendous balance, and on any given day I’m not quite sure who the fastest of the four really is. They are all so very close to each other so with that type of relay we really rely on just real smooth exchanges and everybody having a good day. We ran a decent race but Ephrata is putting things together and I know Coach Keller said they did a little juggling with their lineup to try to maximize a few strengths…They’ve gotten a little better that way so we’ve got to go back and work on a few things ourselves and see how we can match-up for a few of the later post-season runs.”
In addition to Liebl, Taylor Mahlandt and Crystal Hartman both added two individual wins each. Mahlandt captured the 800 (2:32.2) and 1600 (5:37.4) while Hartman won both the discus (96-3) and javelin (117-5).
Mahlandt added a third win as part of the winning 3200 relay which also included Haley Schaller, Nicole Wilkerson and Andrea Castillo. That foursome earned the victory in a time of 10:16.0.
Castillo (400, 61.8), Vanessa Hurst (3200, 12:44.6) and Natalie Flaim (high hurdles, 16.7) rounded out the wins for the Ephrata girls.
Megan Gingrich led the way for the Cocalico girls with a pair of individual wins. She captured both the 300 hurdles 48.9) and triple jump (32-5¼) for the Lady Eagles.
“Megan has been real solid for us this year,” Derr said. “She has done a great job in hurdles and triple jump and runs the relays as well…she just seems to be winning two events every time out and does a great job for us.”
Other wins by Cocalico girls included: Brooke Meckley in the pole vault (8-6); Miranda Weitzel in the high jump (4-8); the 4X400 relay team of Carrie Sensenig, Gingrich, Katelyn Bollinger and Johnson (4:19.4); and Emily Stauffer in the shot put (33-3¼).
Stauffer, one of the top throwers in the State, is recuperating from surgery to her right shoulder. Amazingly, she threw with her opposite hand and still had enough to win, earning the praises of Derr.
“It’s not the furthest throw she’s ever done but to use the opposite hand and throw 33 feet….I don’t quite have the words to express that,” he said. “There is a lot to those throws. They are not simple motions. You reverse everything. She’s a strong young lady but the mental aspect of reversing everything you’ve learned to do through the years is not a simple thing. It’s pretty amazing.”
On the boys side, Janis got close to his school record time of 204-6 on his second attempt of the day. Derr wasn’t even sure his standout senior would be competing since he will be competing in the Penn Relays this weekend.
“It was very, very iffy (whether or not Jhet was throwing),” Derr said. “His main goal was really to go into Penn Relays at full strength. We knew the meet was going to be nip and tuck so we talked about getting a little bit of a warm-up and to just go easy without going too hard just to get us some team points. And in talking with the throwing coaches, they said he did one of his warm-up throws and everything just clicked. I guess when you are a thrower and things are coming together you want to take advantage of that. He didn’t take his full compliment of throws but to get one out there on grass like that I think he’s got to be going into Penn feeling pretty good about going over 200. That’s the second best throw he’s ever popped out there.”
In addition to Janis’ big throw, Whitsett had a huge impact for the Eagles. He captured the 100 (11.2), high hurdles (16.6) and 300 hurdles (45.0), and ran the third leg of the victorious 4X100 relay which also included Mark Ulysse, Arion Domonique and Isaiah Weinhold (49.8).
“Alec is a senior who has really been big for us,” Derr said. “We don’t have a lot of seniors on the team, and with some of the youth on this team we struggle to put points together a lot of times. Alec has really come up as a key contributor for us.”
Ulysse also had a big day with a pair of individual wins, claiming both the long jump (20-10½) and high jump (5-10). Domonique (200, 23.6); Jake Grasser (400, 54.0); Abdul Saad (shot put, 43-9); and Stewart Martin (discus, 121-4) also picked up wins as the Eagles held off Ephrata.
For the Mounts, Alex Smith led the pack with two individual wins and was part of a pair of relay victories. He captured both the 800 (2:07.7) and 1600 (4:29.9) and helped the 4X400 (3:44.2) and 4X800 (8:48.9) relays to wins as well.
Nate Becker (3200, 10:51.3), Mark Njenga (triple jump, 37-11) and Will Young (pole vault, 10-6) rounded out the Ephrata wins.
In addition to Tuesday’s meet, Ephrata also competed in the Twin Valley Invitational last Thursday.
Kelly Liebl earned three first-place medals to lead the Ephrata girls. She captured both the 100 (12.98) and 200 (26.79) and was a winner in the long jump with a leap of 17-0½.
She was also part of the second place 400 relay from Ephrata, which also included Flaim, Davis, and Kay Liebl. That foursome took the silver with a time of 51.32.
Hartman also was a gold medal performer, claiming the javelin with a throw of 125-4. Hartman also finished fourth in the discus (109-1).
Other placewinners for the Ephrata girls included: Vaitl, 7th place in 100 meter dash (13.99); Julia Yoder, 6th place in 200 meter dash (28.89), 4th place in pole vault (8-3); Castillo, 3rd place in 800 meter run (2:30.06); Wilkerson, 5th place in 800 meter run (2:31.73); Mahlandt, 2nd place in 1600 meter run (5:32.86); Jordan Carvell, 5th place in 1600 meter run (5:40.38); Megan Fox, 2nd in 3200 meter run (12:11.15); Hurst, 5th place in 3200 meter run (12:25.00); Flaim, 6th place in high hurdles (17.51); Katelyn Young, tied for 7th place in pole vault (7-9); Erica Voigt, 5th place in triple jump (31-11); and the 3200 relay team of Haley Schaller, Mahlandt, Wilkerson and Castillo, 2nd place (9:58.23).
In boys action, the Ephrata 3200 relay team of Chris Hershberger, Paneal Wolde, Becker and Smith earned a second place medal with a time of 8:27.72.
Individually, Young led the way with a pair of medals, claiming a fifth in the pole vault (10-0) and sixth in the javelin (145-1). Other individuals to earn medals were: Travis Troutman, 8th in the 400 (53.66); Hershberger, 6th in the 800 (2:09.51); Smith, 4th in the 1600 (4:37.36); and Becker, 3rd in the 3200 (10:10.66).