Witmer’s State Meet story has silver ending
By: TODD RUTH Review Sports Editor firstname.lastname@example.org, Staff Writer
When it was all said and done at the PIAA State Track Meet Saturday afternoon in Shippensburg, Ephrata’s Mary Witmer was satisfied, gracious and a little worn out.
The oppressive heat had something to do with the latter, as did the fact that Witmer literally competed in two events simultaneously.
But despite those obstacles, the Ephrata junior posted her second best time this year in the 300 hurdles, finishing in a time of 43.95. And while Dannah Hayward of Coughlin was a little better on this day, winning the gold in a time of 43.37, all things considered, Witmer was happy to be taking home a silver medal.
"To break 44 on a day like this…It’s ridiculously hot and I’m just glad I got second," Witmer said. "It was awesome being up on that podium. It was incredible. Gold was my priority but (Hayward) had an amazing race. I mean her time was very good. She came out of the blocks very fast and got a good lead. I think that was the part where I kind of lost some of my momentum. I wasn’t as fast as I normally am, coming out of the blocks. I’m happy for her. She was a really nice girl."
Witmer’s afternoon began Saturday with her other event, the triple jump, which she would go on to place 15th with a jump of 35-11. She got off one jump before changing shoes and quickly heading to the track for the hurdles. Following that race, she collected her medal before changing shoes again to complete her jumps in the triple jump.
The Ephrata junior admitted that competing in both events at the same time was difficult to do in such a big meet.
"I’m used to doing that in a regular meet but then trying to do it on a day like today where it is so hot and the competition is so high up there…It was a little tough," she said.
According to Ephrata Head Coach John Keller, if anything it may have had a mental effect on her.
"How can you be disappointed in a silver at the State Meet? You can’t, but that being said things just did not align well for Mary at States," he said. "She ran her second best time of the season but her hurdle race was not as clean as I would have liked to see it. I just think playing those two events at the very same time at that meet did have some effect. It probably shifted her focus some, and unfortunately at that level the slightest mistakes can be costly. Her starts in the 300 hurdles this year have been tremendous, and I just did not see that from her coming out of the blocks (on Saturday)."
Matt White, who coaches Witmer in the triple jump, said she was caught in a tough position.
"Mary drew a tough hand," he said. "Unlike other athletes who can specialize in a field event, or a track event, she was not only asked to do both, but to do them at the same time. Although excelling in both events would have been ideal, the game plan was that if we had to pick one event to focus on, it was the 300 hurdles. In that race, she was tremendous. But when she came back to the triple, her steps were off and she was just gassed. At this meet the margin for error is not slim, it is non-existent. All year, Mary has delivered for us in multiple events. Time and time again, she has answered the bell when it did not seem like she would be able to. I cannot express how proud I am of her and what a privilege it is to be her position coach. We will learn from this experience and make the necessary corrections to prepare for next year."
Keller was asked if he had it to do over again, would they have made the decision to pull Witmer from the triple jump and put all her focus on the hurdles?
"No I would not drop her out of the triple jump if I had to do it again," he said. "That is track and field and those are the types of things that athletes deal with all season long. What I would do the next time is try and move her up to the first flight. She would have been able to get her three jumps in before her race. The down side of that is she would not be jumping against the better jumpers. We did talk about that, but the decision was made to let it play out without trying to move her flight."
Despite the disappointment of not winning gold, Witmer said she was satisfied with the silver medal in the 300 hurdles and reflected on how far she has come in that event.
"I would have never guessed that would have been the event I placed highest this year," she said. "Looking back to my freshman year I didn’t even think I’d be doing hurdles. That wasn’t something I was doing at all my freshman year. It’s awesome. I’m real happy about it."
Keller added, "I still am so very proud of her and what she has accomplished this season. She is a remarkable athlete and had a great run this spring, and any time you are competing in track and field at 1:30 on Saturday afternoon of Memorial Day weekend, you have been doing something right to be in that position."
Keller was asked to sum up her junior season in which she set four new school records in the 800 (2:19.2), triple jump (37-11 1/2), 300 hurdles (43.80) and 100 hurdles (14.96), and broke another school mark as part of the 4 X 400 relay team. She also won three District medals, including gold in the 300 hurdles, and took three firsts at the L-L Meet.
"Mary just had an extraordinary season," he said. "Day in and day out she competed in four events for the team and competed well. This is arguably the best season that any one athlete from Ephrata High School has ever had in this sport. She has re-written the record books time and again and has done so with class. Mary is so humble and such a good teammate and throw in the fact of how good a student she is in the classroom… I feel so privileged that I am in the position to be her coach. It was just an amazing ride, one I will never forget, and one I might add will continue next season."
Joining Witmer at States was the rest of her 4 X 400 relay squad which included freshmen Kelly Liebl, Erica Voigt and Andrea Castillo. Those four finished with a time of 4:01.10 in Friday’s preliminaries but did not advance to the finals.
Also competing in her first State Meet for Ephrata was sophomore thrower Crystal Hartman, who placed 24th in the javelin with a throw of 103-3. More WITMER, page B-4