Ephrata sweeps 4 X 8 relays, Basenga leaps to L-L gold

By on May 17, 2017
Ephrata’s Sydney Morgan (left) takes the hand-off from teammate Mary Campbell for the final leg of the girls 4 X 800 relay. The Lady Mounts went on to set a school record and captured the gold. Photo by Preston Whitcraft

Ephrata’s Sydney Morgan (left) takes the hand-off from teammate Mary Campbell for the final leg of the girls 4 X 800 relay. The Lady Mounts went on to set a school record and captured the gold. Photo by Preston Whitcraft


Elie Basenga entered his first season of track and field with tons of raw ability but admittedly had little knowledge of the events he would be asked to do.

“I didn’t know anything about high jump,” Basenga said Friday.

Evidently, he’s a quick learner.

Friday afternoon at the L-L League Meet held at Hempfield, the first-year Ephrata junior captured the gold medal in the high jump when he was the only competitor to clear 6-4 on what was his last attempt at that height.

But with the gold already in his pocket, Basenga went for more and cleared 6-5 on his second attempt, setting his PR and adding another high mark to what has become an already remarkable season.

“I don’t even know how to describe it right now,” he said moments after winning the gold. “I’m real excited because it’s my first year of track, and it just went really well. I’m surprised I did that because my ankle is killing me…but I’m excited.”

His victory was the first of several highs for Ephrata athletes on a weekend where the rain-drenching weather made conditions less-than-ideal. In addition to Basenga, both the Ephrata girls and boys 4 X 800 relay teams won gold medals.

The girls team of Haley Schaller, Nadine Eichenlaub, Mary Campbell and Sydney Morgan set a new school record time of 9:34.32 to hold off Manheim Township for the gold. And the boy’s squad of Tyler Shue, Andrew Foster, AJ Morales and Zach Lefever went out and crushed the competition, finishing more than 10 seconds ahead of second-place Hempfield with a winning time of 8:00.28.

All told, Ephrata athletes won a total of 17 medals as the girls finished seventh with 43 points while the boys were ninth with 38 total points. The boys’ total could have been greater as Shue challenged for gold in the 800.

Unfortunately as the freshman dueled with two-time champion Derin Klick of Lebanon and Nathan Henderson of McCaskey down the stretch, Shue lost his footing and fell about 20 meters shy of the finish line. He ended up finishing 15th but won the praise of his coach nonetheless.

“I think when you consider what the weather conditions were like, we had an excellent weekend,” Ephrata Coach John Keller said. “Our girls placed in 11 of the 17 events we competed, and combined we had three league champions, re-set two new school records and had nine personal records. Take into consideration the effort that our freshman boy Tyler Shue put out and the unfortunate ending to his race in the 800, you have to feel pretty good about how things turned out.”

Basenga got it all started Friday with his gold-medal performance. The junior, whose best jump earlier in the year was 5-8, said listening to his coaches throughout the season helped him acquire the proper technique. And he took off from there.

“When I first jumped 5-8 earlier in the year, I felt like I should just quit,” he remembered. “I thought, ‘there is no need.’ I don’t know what happened but I just enjoyed it a lot, so I decided to practice and pay attention to what they were telling me. I definitely didn’t see this coming, but I’m real excited right now.”

“His technique is improving,” Keller said when asked of Basenga’s progression in the high jump. “He is feeling more comfortable with the event, and really probably has a few inches left in him to close out this post-season. Foul weather does not seem to bother him either as he has done well several times when the weather was less than favorable. I could not have been any happier than to see this first-year athlete have that type of success at the League Meet.”

The Ephrata girls 4 X 800 relay team was in the mix after Schaller and Eichenlaub both ran solid first two legs of the race. But when Eichenlaub handed it to Campbell, the ninth grader took off and grabbed about a 10-meter lead before handing it off to Morgan, who ran a 2:17.5 split to clinch the gold.

“I just wanted to go as fast as I could and make sure Syd had a good lead so that she could finish,” Campbell said. “I just wanted to make sure I was in first so that Syd could do what she does.”

All four runners ran PR splits in the race, leading to the school-record performance.

“It means a lot,” Schaller said of the win and record. “We’ve been working toward it pretty much all season so it feels pretty good to be able to accomplish our goal.”

Keller said he wasn’t surprised to see his girls excel on the big stage.

“We knew the girls had this race in them,” he said. “They picked a good day to have each run the race they did. It was a school-record performance by all, and a closely contested race. We went back and forth for a while, but never fell off pace, a tribute to both Haley & Nadine who ironically enough, ran the 3200 Friday night. Then Mary opened up a little gap on the third leg, and once Sydney got the baton, I just had the sense she was not going to relinquish the lead. It was a great race, set the tone for the day, and I know gave those girls a great sense of relief that they were able to conquer.”

The boys 4 X 8 team was able to conquer as well, and in dominant fashion.

Shue got it started with a quick first leg to grab a substantial lead before handing off to Foster, who maintained a slight advantage heading into the third leg run by Morales. Like the Ephrata girls’ squad, this is where the Mounts gained some separation as Morales gave Lefever an insurmountable lead heading to the final leg.

Lefever then breezed home for the easy win.

“I got the baton, was confident and just went out,” Morales said of his leg.

“AJ blew the lead wide open for me,” Lefever said. “I had at least a 50-meter lead and was really just trying to hold on. My first 400 was pretty quick so I knew I had a decent lead. My last 400 I just coasted in because I took the first 400 a little fast.”

The 8:00.28 time was their second fastest of the season after setting their PR of 7:56 a few weeks back.

“I kind of expected it, and I do not mean that in a disrespectful sense,” Keller said. “The boys’ 4 X 8 is on a mission. They were really excited to go out and run the race they did at Leagues. We were pretty much uncontested throughout, and that tells you something about the four boys we have running. They complement each other well, none of them are afraid to ‘take it out,’ and each has the confidence in themselves and the team to go out and perform. I’ll go back to leadership with Lefever and AJ, I think they just have that ‘calm confidence’ effect and this group I feel is ready to take it to the next level.”

Lefever added a silver medal individually in Friday’s running of the 3,200. And despite posting his second-best time ever (9:24.09), he finished a whopping 21 seconds behind three-time champion Henderson, who broke the L-L League mark with a winning time of 9:03.10.

Hurdler Kyra Horst shook off a tough performance in the 100 hurdles prelims to come back and post a time of 15.87 in the finals to finish third.

The other school record to fall this past weekend came in Friday’s girls pole vault competition where junior Sarah Megivern broke her own mark when she cleared a height of 10-6 to place fifth overall.

The rest of Ephrata’s female medalists included: Jenna Raezer, seventh place in shot put (32-10) and seventh in discus (101-8); Morgan, seventh place in 800 (2:25.05); Jennie Young, sixth place in 200 (26.10) and seventh in 100 (13.02); Eichenlaub, eighth place in 3200 (11:27.42); Alexus Clayton, sixth place in discus (103-1); and Kandice Liebl, fourth place in javelin (110-11).

On the boys’ side, additional medalists were: Morales, fourth place in 800 (1:58.40); Foster, fourth place in the 3200 (9:42.63); and Dawsen Miller, fourth place in pole vault (13-0).

Up next, the District Three Meet will be held Friday (2 p.m.) and Saturday (9 a.m.) at Shippensburg University.


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