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Lady Mounts find pot of gold 4 X 400 relay win keys program’s first-ever L-L team title
TODD RUTH Review Sports Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
, Staff Writer
By the time Jordan Crills took a successful hand-off from Ephrata teammate Emily Voigt for the last leg of the girls 4 X 400 relay Saturday at Hempfield, she certainly was well aware of the stakes.
"We all knew," she would say later.
What she and her teammates were privy to was the fact that if Crills was able to maintain the 30-yards-or-so lead her three partners had given her, not only would they win Ephrata’s sixth gold medal of the L-L League Meet, but more importantly, the Lady Mounts would clinch their first L-L team championship in school history.
It was all on the shoulders of Crills, who came out for track for the first time in this her senior season, and she delivered like a seasoned veteran.
Crills maintained the lead and broke the tape first in a time of 4:01.71, well ahead of second place Hempfield, which finished in 4:06.71.
"I was thinking about (what was on the line) when I first got the baton, but then I just kind of realized it’s just a race," Crills said. "I have to run my race and I know what I can do."
The win gave Ephrata 89 team points, placing the Lady Mounts four points ahead of defending champion Hempfield, which finished with a total of 85.
Following his team’s first L-L championship, Ephrata Coach John Keller fought through tears as he described what this title meant to both he and his program.
"You know when you got good athletes who step up and rise to the occasion… I just can’t say enough about this team," Keller said. They just hung together all year and just didn’t quit. You could have written them off today. It looked pretty bleak there for a while but I just couldn’t be any more proud. Our coaches, our athletes and what we’ve been able to do these last couple years in the girls program… Holy smokes. I can’t believe it’s happening at Ephrata. I never would have dreamt it."
Making that dream possible was the weekend put together by senior star Mary Witmer, who won four golds in the meet, including the winning 4 X 4 relay in which she ran a blistering 56-second split.
Friday night, she leaped 37-1 to capture gold in the triple jump. On Saturday, she edged Garden Spot’s Hannah Williams to win the 100 hurdles, finishing with a winning time of 14.68. Following that race, and in a brief but driving rain storm, Witmer blew away the competition to win the 300 hurdles in a meet record time of 42.32. That time is the ninth-fastest posted in the country this year, and best in the State.
"How can you discard what Mary did today?" Keller said. "She certainly has got the gift. And I know she’s got to be super proud of that record (in the 300 hurdles), and really she did that in the driving rain."
Witmer admitted she was surprised by her time.
"I couldn’t believe it," she said. "I saw that time and was like, ‘oh my word, that’s amazing.’ I was just hoping for a 43-something, and then I looked up and it was 42. I just couldn’t believe it, especially with all of the rain. I wasn’t sure how that was going to affect me but I think the rain almost kind of helped me. I just like the cooler weather."
"I definitely wanted to PR this year," she continued. "I really wanted to get the fastest time in the State this year because I know there is a girl that got it earlier in the season and I was like, ‘I’m going to get that record. I’m going to beat that.’ And I did."
Saturday didn’t start out all that great for the Ephrata girls, who trailed the Black Knights, 25-20 coming into the day. To make matters worse, in the first event of the morning, the Hempfield 4 X 800 relay team PRed (9:44.64) on its way to capturing gold ahead of the Ephrata team of Andrea Castillo, Vanessa Hurst, Jordan Carvell and Nicole Wilkerson, which finished in a time of 9:53.82.
But Ephrata got a big lift from it’s team of Moriah Pfautz, Yasi Davis, Kay Liebl and Kelly Liebl in the 4 X 100 relay. That squad went out and posted a school record time of 50.19 to edge Garden Spot for gold.
"What a race that was," Keller said. "They set the school record, ran a perfect race and it just seemed like everything clicked. That just kick started everything."
Still trailing by seven points in the team standings, Ephrata needed things to fall right in the 200 and then the 4 X 400 that followed in order to have a shot at the team title.
Kelly Liebl got it started in the 200 as she held off Lancaster Mennonite’s Lindsey Kreider (25.94) to win gold in a time of 25.72. This came after she had just taken fourth place in the long jump (15-11 1/2) and before the 4 X 400.
"Kelly had a tough afternoon," Keller said. ‘She had the long jump, the 200 and the 4 X 4 all kind of bunched together at the end. But you know, she knew going in she had a chance. And she’s a gamer. She just put it together which was huge for us."
Liebl’s 200 win gave Ephrata its first team lead of the meet at 79-77, but Keller still had worries heading into the 4 X 400. Castillo, the normal lead-off for Ephrata, was ill and couldn’t go. That led Keller to not only insert Voigt into the lineup, but switch Liebl from the third position to lead off.
He explained his strategy.
"My thing is you get to that race in the meet, you go get a lead," he said. "You get a lead like (Liebl and Witmer) can give you, and no one is coming back from it."
Though tired, Liebl went out and ran a 60.6 first split to set things up for Witmer.
"My whole focus was to give it the best I had," Liebl said. "I was pretty beat from the 200 but I knew these girls needed me. My whole team all needed this so I just gave it all I had."
Witmer took it from there, opening up a huge lead with her amazing split.
"Hempfield was ahead of us for a brief second and then I was like, ‘No. We’re not having it,’" she said. "I just made it a point to get past her and just finish strong and hold the lead. I don’t look back to see where they are…I just run. I don’t really have a strategy."
Voigt then took over and maintained the big lead before handing off to Crills for the final leg.
"I was just thinking, ‘stay relaxed,’" Voigt said. "I ran a 400 today and an hour before the run my coach told me that I was going to run in the 4 X 4. I knew I still felt good. It just finished raining so I guess that gave me a little extra energy. I felt good, especially coming off that last turn. I felt really strong and took it all the way through."
Crills took the baton and said she took some advice from her coach as she began around the track.
"I always hear (Keller) yelling at me, ‘you got to go. You got to go.’ That’s what I kept thinking about the whole time. I knew they were coming, and (Keller) always tells us to run scared because they are running for us. They were coming for me so I just went."
Keller was impressed.
"Jordan Crills is coming on," he said. "She ran a 60-flat today. She wanted it. She really has come a long way."
Keller said he felt the key to Ephrata having a shot at the team title was to sweep all three relays. And they came close to doing just that with two firsts and a second.
"I couldn’t be any prouder with what we had to do," Keller said. "I thought we had to win the relays, and out of 30 possible points, we got 28."
In the end, it was just enough.
Keller was also quick to laud the performance of the Hempfield team, which was missing one of its top point producers in junior sprinter Sarah Helgeson, who was out with an injury.
"I knew Hempfield didn’t have her and she certainly would have been a huge part of their team," he said. "But, you race who is here, and unfortunately in sports, injuries are a part of it. I was just proud that we were able to come back like we did, but give Hempfield credit. I think they could have folded without a Helgeson, but they didn’t. And I give their girls a lot of credit. They came out thinking lets go win one for Sarah, and they are deep and they are tough."
Ephrata had four other place-winners contribute to the team title. Thrower Crystal Hartman won a pair of medals, finishing second in the discus (112-03) and third in the javelin (119-3). Voigt added a fifth-place showing behind Witmer in the triple jump (33-0 1/2) while Carvell, a freshman, grabbed sixth place in the 800 with a time of 5:28.68.
In boys’ action, Ephrata senior Carl Rowits led the way with a PR performance in the the 800. He finished in a time of 1:59.63 to earn the silver medal in that event behind only champion Austin Stetler of Penn Manor (1:58.48).
Senior Sam Wolde also claimed a medal, placing fifth in the 3200 in a time of 9:53.81.
The District Three Track Meet will be held Friday, May 17 (1-6 p.m.) and Saturday, May 18 (9 a.m. to 4:30 p.m.) at Shippensburg University.
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