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Witmer, relay qualify for StatesNjenga breaks long-standing EHS mark
By: TODD RUTH Review Sports Editor firstname.lastname@example.org, Staff Writer
It was quite a weekend at the District Three Track Championships for Ephrata’s Mary Witmer.
The Lady Mounts’ super sophomore, who missed the middle of the season with an ankle injury, is making up for lost time in the post-season.
This past weekend at Shippensburg University, Witmer claimed a pair of fourth-place medals individually, taking fourth in both the girls 300 hurdles (47.09) and 400 meter dash (58.07). In addition, along with teammates Whitney Blouch, Brianna Brubaker and Emily Blackshire, staked claim to a fifth place medal in the girls 4 X 400 relay with a time of 4:03.88.
All three times were good enough to clinch berths in next weekend’s PIAA State Meet held back at Shippensburg.
"I thought Mary ran a real nice 400 at Districts," Ephrata head coach John Keller said. "Her start was very nice and she put herself into contention right away, She was .06 of a second off her best time set last week at the league meet. We’ll shoot for a sub-58 at states, and I know that is what she is looking for. I just think it is an incredible feat that she has come the whole way back (from her injury) and is competing in three events this weekend."
Ephrata assistant Todd Ream echoed those thoughts.
"It’s been a really interesting spring for Mary, Ream said. "A month or more ago I would have never pictured Mary running at States. She’s done an amazing job rehabbing from a mid-season ankle injury. Her 300 hurdle event (Saturday) was one of her best of the year. She’s still not running a complete eight hurdles, but another week to prepare and, who knows? I’m really looking forward to States to see what she can do."
While Witmer was a given to be amongst the top performers in her individual events, both she and her relay teammates did pull off a bit of a surprise with their fifth-place performance considering they were seeded ninth.
"Originally I thought we were in the second heat (a top eight seed), but when we got there I realized we actually were the 9th seed and we would be the top seed in the first heat," Keller said. "I told the girls that we needed to go out and win the heat we were in big, then wait and see what happens. Well, Whitney got things started off with a 62.3 split and when she handed to Mary she only had to navigate past one or two athletes. Mary opened up a fairly large lead running a 58.3 split. Brianna and Emily really just poured it on in their two legs. Running with a big lead both ran the best split that they had ever run.
"When I saw they ran a 4:03.88, I could hardly believe my eyes because that is what our girls ran last year at Districts. When the second heat was complete, the coaches in the stands knew it was going to be real close for our girls to make states, and when that announcement came across the board, there was quite a celebration. Needless to say I was fired up; the joy to see what the girls just accomplished just overwhelmed me. Those four girls started the season back on November 30, and to see them qualify for the State Meet… Wow!"
Looking ahead to States, Keller added, "I told the girls what a huge accomplishment it was to have qualified for (States). "They will be the first girls’ 4 X 400 relay team from Ephrata to qualify for States and I do not think there has been an Ephrata athlete to qualify in three events as Mary has done in quite some time. I also told them, that as good as they felt on Saturday, we have to put that behind us for now and focus on trying to achieve a higher goal. We are going to try and put out our best performances of the season. If we can accomplish that, the results will take care of themselves. This meet is the pinnacle of our sport, and I could not be any more proud to take the girls up to ‘Shipp’ to compete."
In addition to the State qualifiers, there were several other noteworthy performances by Ephrata athletes.
Senior Kamau Njenga just missed a top-eight medal in the boys triple jump, finishing ninth overall. But he did break a school record that has stood since 1978. With his personal best leap of 44-6.25, he broke the mark of 44 feet, 1/4 inches set by Dave Wise in 1978.
"I am very pleased with Kamau’s performance," Ephrata assistant Matt White said. "We worked on the mechanics of his triple jump at practice and he responded by recording a personal best and new school record jump that has stood since 1978. Although this jump was a "State qualifying" jump, he finished 9th and was denied a medal, which was heartbreaking. District Three is the toughest district to qualify for field events in Pennsylvania. Of the top 10 triple jumpers in (PA), five are from District Three.
"Here at Ephrata, we don’t have the luxury of training individual athletes for a specific event. In order to maximize our chances of winning, Kamau was asked to compete in the 4 X 800 and 4 X 400 relays, and the open 400 and 800 races in addition to training for the triple jump. Always the unselfish team player, he did so without any second thoughts. So when you look at Kamau’s performance through this perspective, it makes his accomplishments all that more incredible. He has proven that we can go toe-to-toe in competition with perennial jumping powers such as Harrisburg, York, Cumberland Valley, Wilson etc. As a coach, what more could you ask for? I am proud of Kamau and it has been an honor to coach this young man."
Ephrata sophomore Emily Blackshire ran her best time of the season in the girls 1600 meter run, claiming 11th place in a time of 5:23.18.
"Emily ran a solid race," Ephrata assistant Greg Keller said. "Given she had been cross training in some different events throughout the season, it only goes to prove how talented an athlete she truly is."
In addition to the above-mentioned athletes, the Ephrata boys 4 X 400 relay squad took 13th in a time of 3:28.01; Quint Felak placed 15th in the boys 300 hurdles with a time of 41.35; and sprinter Nick Halerz was 17th in the boys 400, coming in with a time of 52.05. More WITMER, page B-3