Witmer clears final hurdle Becomes first EHS girl to win State gold
TODD RUTH Review Sports Editor firstname.lastname@example.org
, Staff Writer
Admittedly, Mary Witmer was a shy, timid girl when she decided to sign up for track and field as a freshman in the spring of 2010.
Needless to say, she has come a long, long way.
And this past Saturday at the State Meet held in Shippensburg University’s Seth Grove Stadium, Witmer put an exclamation point on what turned out to be a record-breaking high school career, capturing state gold in her final high school race.
The top seed in the AAA girls 300 hurdles, Witmer lived up to that billing when she finished in a time of 42.90 to claim first place in the state and become the first EHS female athlete in school history to win gold at the PIAA Meet.
"I just feel so blessed and I’m so thankful to God that I could stay healthy and just use the talents he gave me to my best abilities," Witmer said after receiving her gold medal. "I’m just so blessed for the coaches I have, the support from them and the support from my family…It’s been an amazing story this year, ending with the gold. That’s really what I wanted."
Witmer, who placed second a year ago in the 300 hurdles and has been targeting a return to this race since that day, now becomes the fourth in Ephrata history to claim gold, joining the 1970 boys mile relay team (3:25.5), Todd Peck, who won the boys intermediate hurdles back in 1980 with a winning time of 37.10, and Mark Spang, who won the AAA boys discus in 1995 with a heave of 161-0.
"It’s just awesome (being the first female from Ephrata to win a State title)," Witmer said. "Just representing my school, Ephrata High School, people realizing that ‘hey, we are here too. We can compete at this level.’ I’m just so proud I could go to this high school and represent them."
"I never would have imagined this would have happened," she continued. "It’s definitely been a goal of mine but now that it has happened it feels like a dream. I feel like I should pinch myself."
"I’m just so happy for her," Ephrata Coach John Keller said of the victory. "I know since the minute she took the silver last spring, she had that goal, and that was to go back and win the state championship. I have seen first-hand how hard she has worked to put herself in that position again this year. It is hard to explain how you feel (as a coach), but I can tell you it is a very good feeling."
While she admitted to feeling some nerves prior to the race, Witmer said that all went away when she got in the blocks just prior to the start.
"I was just able to focus on what I had to do," she said. "I just wanted to get out first and be strong right off the bat, and not let any of the competition get to me and just focus in on my own race."
Despite a stiff wind at race time, Witmer did get the start she wanted. She came around the final turn with a slight lead over Hempfield Area’s Maddie Holmberg, the seventh seed, who was surprisingly alone in second and well ahead of expected challenger Kayla Coley of Cheltenham.
But as they hit the home stretch, Witmer gained some distance between she and Holmberg, and the Ephrata senior was not to be denied.
"I definitely felt her," Witmer said of Holmberg, who grabbed silver in a time of 43.65. "I was surprised because I didn’t expect her to be right there. I thought it was going to be Kayla Coley from Cheltenham, or someone who was close to my seed but the girl stayed with me most of the time and that’s amazing. She’s only a sophomore so that’s really good for her."
Keller said he knew about the mid-race point that Witmer, who is headed to Division One Liberty University in the fall, was in good position to nail down the gold.
"Pretty much right after the fourth hurdle (I was feeling pretty good)," he said. "She went over that in around 20 seconds and that usually puts her under 43 seconds for the race. She looked the strongest out of the gate, and even the first two to three hurdles you could see she was the first one to them. You just never know in those hurdle races though. You have to keep it clean, and she did just that, and there was not a girl on the track who was as strong as she was. (Holmberg) made a slight push, but Mary was just too strong."
Witmer, who broke both the L-L League and District Three marks the two weeks prior to States, fell short of the State standard of 41.10 set by Abington’s Leah Nugent in 2011. However, considering the weather, Witmer was more than happy with her 42.90.
"Based on the conditions I was happy with my time," she said. "Once I came out here this morning I realized (it was going to be tough) to be able to break any records in this kind of weather. But I got my first goal…I achieved that, so I’m definitely happy."
Witmer’s win closes out an incredible season for both she and the Ephrata girls team. Not only did Witmer set both the L-L and District records in the 300 hurdles and post the eighth best time in the country, she helped the Lady Mounts’ team capture its second-straight Section Two title and win an L-L League crown.
Keller said the once shy freshman who became a team captain this season, will go down as one of the greatest in EHS history.
"She has come full circle, the way she interacts with others and her whole demeanor," the coach said. "She is still a very humble person and a devout Christian, a very good student and has always done what it takes to be the best. She will leave a lasting impact on the program, securing five individual school records along with the (4 X 400 relay). The girl has come a long way, and put in the time and effort to get to where she wanted to go. No doubt, she is one of the best, if not the best to compete in girls track and field at Ephrata."
Witmer wasn’t the only Ephrata girl to come away with a medal this past weekend as junior Crystal Hartman captured seventh place in the girls AAA javelin competition which was held Friday. Hartman, the 15th seed going in, uncorked a PR throw of 129-11 to claim her first State medal.
"Really, for Crystal to be able to go out to the State Meet and medal is just a huge accomplishment for her," Keller said. "You really have to feel good about what she has been able to accomplish. Coach (Jim) Vieland really has to be commended with what he has been able to do with her these last two years. She put that javelin out 129-feet, 11-inches into a tremendous wind, and it was not very nice weather-wise (Friday). She also made that throw right after she was bumped out of a medal. It just goes to show the competitiveness of the girl and I know we as coaches were all very proud of what she was able to pull off."
In addition to Witmer and Hartman, sophomore Kelly Liebl competed in a pair of individual events and one relay but did not leave with a medal. Liebl placed 20th overall in the girls AAA 200, finishing fourth in her heat with a time of 26.49. And Liebl also competed in the AAA long jump where she closed out the season tied for 27th overall with a leap of 16-7 1/4.
And finally, in the girls 4 X 400 relay, the Ephrata team of Andrea Castillo, Witmer, Liebl and Jordan Crills finished in 11th place with a time of 4:02.77.
Ephrata’s Golden Track and Field History
2013Mary WitmerIntermediate Hurdles42.90
1980Todd PeckIntermediate Hurdles37.10
1970Donald BusserBoys 4×400 Relay3:25.5
More WITMER, page B-2