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Making their marks Witmer claims District gold in near-record pace Felpel wins third shot gold, Moser, Janis also advance to State Meet
By: TODD RUTH Review Sports Editor firstname.lastname@example.org TODD RUTH Review Sports Editor email@example.com, Staff Writer
Mary Witmer doesn’t need competition to fuel her. The Ephrata junior counts on her inner drive to get the end result she seeks.
"I try not to let the other people get to me and just try to focus on my race and not who’s closest to me," she said. "But if there is someone close to me, I just try to let that push me even further to do my best."
Her best was certainly on full display this past weekend at the District Three Track Meet held at Shippensburg University.
Witmer won Ephrata’s first District gold medal since 1996, capturing gold in the 300 hurdles in a near-record time of 43.80, a personal best. In addition, she claimed a bronze medal in the triple jump (37-8 1/2), took fourth in the 100 hurdles (15.17) and was part of the Ephrata girls’ 4 X 400 relay which captured third place in a school record time of 4:00.71.
She also qualified for next week’s State Meet in all four events (and is top seed in the 300 hurdles), capping one of the best District Meets ever by an EHS athlete.
"Mary had an outstanding weekend," Ephrata Coach John Keller said. "(Winning) a gold, two bronze and a fourth place medal in District Three is special… there is no other way of putting it. This was really the first time on this stage that she ran the 100 meter hurdles and even the triple jump (an injury a year ago forced her to miss those events in the post season) and although she did not PR in either event, I thought she handled herself well.
"It is a lot of racing, preparation and mental stress, and that can wear on you. She moved through the prelims and semis of the 100 hurdles and went into finals seeded sixth (finished fourth), then came back in a loaded field in the triple jump and put one out 37-8 to finish third. Of course she had the race of her life in the 300 hurdles and I just think capping it off with a great run by the 4 X 400 relay team was just a fitting end to her weekend."
Joining Witmer at States will be the rest of her relay squad which includes freshmen Kelly Liebl, Erica Voigt and Andrea Castillo. Sophomore thrower Crystal Hartman will also be making the trip to States after finishing fourth in the javelin with a personal best throw of 121-8.
Witmer, the top seed in the 300 heading into Districts, got out fast and never relinquished the lead once she got it. Cumberland Valley’s Rachael DeCecco was a distant second at 44.99, followed by Elle Wallace of Lower Dauphin, who placed third with a time of 45.46.
Witmer’s time of 43.80 was the fastest ever by an L-L League athlete in that event, and was just three-tenths behind the record of 43.53 set by Harrisburg’s Alysha Cook in 2008. With the win, she became the first District champion from Ephrata since Ann Mielnik and Mark Spang accomplished that goal in the same year of 1996.
"That was one of the most amazing races I have ever seen in the hurdles," Ephrata hurdles coach Todd Ream said. "Mary has worked so hard at all the elements of being a good hurdler and they all came together on Saturday in that race. I could not have been any more proud to see her achieve her goal of being a district champion."
Keller added, "The events format was set up perfectly for Mary. She could basically just focus in on that race first thing Saturday morning when the weather was a bit cooler and the triple jump was behind her (on Friday). She was dialed in. That was probably one of the finest 300 meter hurdle races I have ever seen, and the crowd around us knew that they just witnessed something special. It was a real neat moment."
Witmer, who placed fourth in the district a year ago, obviously was pleased with her efforts.
"(That was a) a big PR," she said. "I’m so happy about my time because that will put me in a good position at States. I got out fast and finished strong. That’s what I wanted to do. I wanted to get in the 43-range. I was hoping to get lower 43s, but 43.8 is good enough for me."
In Friday’s triple jump, Witmer was the second seed coming in but settled for third with her 37-8 1/2 jump behind champion Marshay Ryan of Chambersburg (39-8 1/2) and runner-up Ahmena Richardson of Milton Hershey (37-11 1/4).
"On paper, a triple jump of 37-8 and finishing third in District Three is a great accomplishment, and make no mistake, it is," said Witmer’s jumping coach Matt White. "However, Mary will be the first to tell you that the mechanics of her jumps were not as good as she would have liked. She is just that type of athlete, settling for nothing but the best. We will work on those mechanics this week in practice. If we can put together some quality jumps, I think that Mary has the potential to make history this weekend."
In the 100 hurdles, which Witmer has decided not to run at States, Conestoga Valley’s Kirsten Bass took the gold with a time of 14.72. Ericka Quenzer of CD East finished second (14.95) while Dallastown’s Sally Trout took third (15.03), ahead of Witmer’s 15.17.
"I thought my time was OK," she said. "I haven’t PR’d since Leagues, because I think with this event, I’m just more inconsistent. But I’m happy with my time and that qualifies me for States. I would have liked to finish second and maybe even first. It’s not my best event, but to qualify for States is just great. And to have everyone else qualify, like all eight of the top medalists, that’s awesome."
Her decision to drop the 100 hurdles next week had everything to do with going for it all in her other events.
"By not running the 100 meter hurdles we are removing potentially three extra races from her weekend," Ream explained. "Without the high hurdles to worry about and to prepare for, I think she has what it takes to bring back a state gold in the 300 meter hurdles."
Keller added, "Going in she is the top seed in the 300 meter hurdles. I certainly do not think it is out of the question that she can compete for a state championship gold medal in that event. She seems to be peaking at the right time, and that is what you strive for as a coach. She is also right there in the triple jump (seeded 7th). If she lands her phases and can put together some good, quality attempts, the potential is there to do something real special. I think a top five or even top three is not out of the question. I know she will be gunning for it."
Like last week at the L-L Meet when Keller moved Liebl and Witmer to the front of the 4 X 400, Ephrata went with the same strategy at Districts and it produced a bronze medal and a State berth.
Ephrata shaved nearly four seconds off its previous best time of 4:04.63 to finish third behind champion CD East (3:56.95) and the second-place team from Milton Hershey (3:58.18).
"I told the girls tonight how proud I was of them and the accomplishment they achieved," Keller said. "Those girls have all stepped up on one of the biggest stages the sport has to offer and ran just a great race. Each girl ran a PR split and each one really handled themselves well.
"It was just a fun race to watch and I will enjoy the opportunity to take them to States. It is not easy waiting all day to compete in the very last event, but these girls have been able to adjust and perform well. It comes down to preparation and the ability to control how much you eat during the day. Our goal next week will be to put out a sub 4:00. It is something we have talked about this season and I feel very confident they can achieve that goal."
In the javelin, Hartman broke her previous best throw of 116-11, uncorking the sphere for a new PR mark of 121-8 to earn her State berth. That was good enough to take fourth behind champion Chrissy Rickert of Hempfield (128-4), Tiffany Heisey of Elizabethtown (124-0) and Jackie Downey of East Pennsboro (123-03).
"She has really been coming along well in that event in the post-season and it is no surprise to me that she qualified," Keller said. "Last week we spoke to her about preparation in the post season and I think she has been doing a better job of that. Coach (Jim) Vieland has been very good for Crystal, and she is also a tough competitor. Several times this season she has won events and even a meet on her last throw. If she can keep herself in the game mentally she has a great opportunity at Shippensburg this weekend."
In addition to the State qualifiers, Ephrata claimed medals in two other events. Liebl took eighth place in the long jump with a leap of 16-0 1/4, while the 4 X 800 team of Castillo, Vanessa Hurst, Sondra MacNeal and Nicole Wilkerson grabbed the eighth position with a PR time of 9:47.85.
Besides being the top seed in the 300 hurdles, Witmer is seeded eighth in the triple jump while the 4 X 400 team is seeded 15th. In the javelin, Hartman is the 19th seed. More WITMER, page B-5 Cocalico’s Kyle Felpel was his usual, dominant self at the District Three Track Meet this past weekend at Shippensburg University.
The University of Alabama-bound star captured his third-straight District AAA gold medal in the shot put, uncorking a throw of 60-7 to edge friendly rival Kyle Long of Hempfield (57-5 1/2). He also won a silver medal in discus, finishing second behind two-time champion Long (199-1) with a throw of 181-3. And the Eagle senior capped his weekend with a fourth-place medal in the javelin with a toss of 183-0.
He qualified for States in all three events and is the top seed in the shot put going into States which are held back at Shippensburg Friday and Saturday.
"I was happy with it," Felpel said of his winning toss in the shot. "Yeah, it’s winning District Three, which is really competitive, so I’m happy with that. I knew that Kyle Long could pop one out there at any time, so I knew that I had to keep on throwing. I felt a little push."
Felpel joined rare company in becoming just the fourth athlete since 1925– the year shot put became a District event– to win three-straight golds in that event, joining Central Dauphin’s Ryan Whiting (’03, ’04 & ’05) and Hershey’s Eric Drescher (1973, ’74 & ’75) at the AAA level, and AA star Jeremy Silverman of Annville-Cleona (1999, 2000 & ’01).
"I don’t know all the history of District Three, but I do know it is a very strong track and field district," Cocalico Coach Ron Derr added. "I am very proud of Kyle for competing very well this past weekend. Each year he has gone it has been with different expectations, from when he made his first appearance as an up and coming freshman, learning what the big meets were all about. To the now veteran senior who has thrown in so many possible venues. In all cases he gives the best he has to give. Kyle is a very special athlete. He has tremendous God-given talent, but he has learned to combine that with a great attitude and a lot of hard work to continue to improve from year to year."
As he heads into his final high school meet, Felpel will attempt to complete the one thing he hasn’t accomplished in his outstanding career, which is winning a gold medal at the State Meet. In addition to his top seed in the shot, he is seeded third in discus and 12th in javelin.
"I want to set PRs in all three events," he said. "That’s my goal, and then I haven’t gotten that State gold yet, so that’s also another goal of mine. It will be the last time I’m wearing a Cocalico jersey, so I want to make it a good one."
Derr certainly expects to see nothing but his best out of the senior thrower in his final meet.
"Kyle has accomplished so much during his Cocalico career," he said. "I would hope he is able to go to this meet and enjoy it as much as he did the first time he ever competed and threw. If we had a Cocalico high school track and field Hall of Fame he would definitely be one of our most honored competitors. This weekend I would love to see him achieve all his own goals and dreams."
Felpel wasn’t the only Cocalico thrower making waves in the pits this weekend. In the javelin, Cocalico finished with three medalists among the top eight.
In addition to Felpel’s fourth-place effort, fact, sophomore Spencer Moser improved his PR by an astounding 14 feet to place sixth with a throw of 180-0. And, Jhett Janis, also a 10th grader, was right behind him in seventh with a throw of 179-04, to give the Eagles three-state qualifiers in that one event.
"When I first got to see and talk to Coach Krall (our throwing coach) after the competition I believe I told him it might take surgery to remove the smile that was on his face," Derr said. "I don’t know if a school has ever had three javelin medalists on the stand at one time, but it sure looked great to me to see those three on the stands for the medal ceremony.
"I had been up at the track watching Ashley Strenko take her first long jump attempts and headed down just in time to see Jhett’s big throw. We then learned that all three made finals and then watched as Spencer launched his huge throw. It was a case of momentum building and a little of, ‘anything you can do, I can do better,’ thinking. I was so proud of our young guys. Coach Krall continually tells all the athletes, ‘the key is to get to the big meet, and believe that you deserve to be there.’ It is challenging as a coach to prepare the kids for how ‘big’ the district meet is, and how talented all the competitors are which qualify for that meet. To have Jhett and Spencer perform so well there first time there is truly remarkable."
Moser said his confidence was just building as the competition progressed.
"I knew it was close throughout the entire thing, and I knew if I got into finals, it would be a different story," he said. "I just had a lot more confidence. But I knew it was just the relief of getting into the finals that put me over the top."
Janis, whose previous best was 172-8, said his goal was to get near that mark.
"Coming in, the goal was I was just trying to hit 170," he said. "I think I threw the 172 probably like the third meet of the regular season and I haven’t touched anywhere near that. So coming in here and throwing what I did, I definitely didn’t expect it.
"This is way better than we imagined," he continued. "For Spencer and I, we haven’t been throwing good for a couple weeks and to hit this is just real big for us."
Felpel credited their throwing coaches, which include Krall and Dustin Leed.
"I think having three people (earn District medals and qualify for States) just goes to show how good our coaches are," he said. "We’ve got two great coaches. Three people … it’s definitely not just us. We definitely have good coaches, and we’re actually blessed to have two. Most schools only have one."
Derr was asked what his goals for Moser (seeded 17th) and Janis (19th) are as they prepare for their first State Meet.
"The primary goal for a first-time competitor, especially as underclassman, is to learn, take in and enjoy the whole experience," he said. "As big as the District Meet is, this is bigger, much bigger. Then as a coach you want them to be able to compete as best they can."
In addition to the Eagles’ throwers, junior Ashley Strenko claimed Cocalico’s final medal of the weekend, taking seventh place in the girls AAA long jump with a leap of 16-00.50. She did not however reach the State qualifying standard. More FELPEL, page B-5