ALTOONA – As Ian McGinnis blew over the finish line in the boys 4×100-meter relay at the District 6 Class AAA track and field championships, he had an ear-to-ear smile plastered across his face.
Why not? McGinnis had just clinched the second of three gold medals he would pick up in the meet, putting together a devastating sprint that not only beat Altoona by a full second, but gave the Huskies a state-qualifying time that will mean a lot come seeding in Shippensburg.
“He is probably the best anchor leg off of any Pennsylvania team, by far,” lead runner Tim Beck said of McGinnis. “He’s a great teammate.”
In between those two, Michael Kline burned the back stretch and Nathan Baumgardner delivered a second turn run that put Mifflin County in contention. After a missed exchange in the same event here at the West Central Coaches meet, the quartet – who also qualified for states a year ago – wanted redemption.
“Coach (Scot) Sechler told us no workouts, no running, we weren’t doing anything but handoffs” to ready themselves for this, Beck explained. “That’s all we did this whole week, and obviously it worked.”
McGinnis went on to lead a trio of Huskies who finished in the three front spots in the 200-meter dash, his third qualifying event. Baumgardner won the 300 intermediate hurdles for a second event at the state meet.
Jon Colwell won both the 1,600 and the 3,200 runs, although he will run only in the former at states.
And for the girls, Megan Becker overcame her second seed to win the 400-meter dash, and helped deliver a state-qualifying runner-up 4×400 on time – the only Mifflin County qualifier that was on the standard instead of as a champion.
Only the winner automatically goes from this meet.
Also moving on individually is Makala Rearick in the shot put. The other three in the girls 4×400 are Erika Shawver, Kezia Loht and Elisabeth Eddy.
Both Mifflin County teams finished third in their respective team races. State College won the girls followed by Altoona; the two were reversed in the boys meet.
McGinnis made his individual wins look amazing if for no other reason than he always seemed to be catching up – in the 100 especially, he was trailing until the final 30 meters, maybe less.
“My start has always been my downfall,” he admitted. “I work on it hard. Sometimes I get it, sometimes I don’t. I just have to stay calm and realize that I can stick with these guys and catch up.”
But he had a season-best in that one, and had no problem crossing ahead of the pack in the 200 – but then, that was more fun because Beck and Kline were just 2/10 of a second behind him.
“I couldn’t ask for better competition here at districts,” he said. “It was great to race with those guys.”
Baumgardner didn’t get the finish he wanted in the Mid-Penn Conference championships. Under less than ideal conditions at the most distant track the Huskies travel to he was third in the 110-meter race and sixth in the 300.
Back at Mansion Park, he was looking to repeat his West Central Coaches’ effort, where he won both. Instead, he made lemonade. Altoona’s Uthman Hill, the third seed, won the 110 by a slim 1/100th of a second, knocking off the top-seeded Husky.
But Baumgardner apparently understands the importance of running the race you’re in like it’s your last – and because he did that in the 300 hurdles, it won’t be. He slid ahead of top seed John Smith of State College, and that got him a ride to Shippensburg.
“You never know what’s going to happen later in the day so you just go hard in every event, give it all you got,” he said. “If you make it in one event and don’t make it in the one you expected you’re still going.”
He tipped a hurdle in the 110, which likely was the difference – “either the third or fourth one,” he said.
“Overall, I ran pretty good. I ran better than my preliminary time,” he said. “I’m happy with it. If I had leaned just a little farther I might have had it.”
And he still gets to go in two events.
In the boys mile, Colwell already had a state-qualifying time for seeding – but he was second to State College’s Will Cather. Cather led the first two laps, but Colwell made his move on the back stretch and quickly put Cather in the back seat.
This time, it was personal.
“Last year he got me here in the mile by a step and I just didn’t want it to happen again,” he said. “It’s my last year here. He’s a great runner, he’s a smart runner. I really wanted to do something special and remember this race.”
Colwell was the top seed in the 3,200 and won it, but chose to scratch from that race rather than try and compete in both in Shippensburg.
“The mile was No. 1 on my list today, that’s for sure,” he said.
He is making his third appearance this school year in a state running event – he made it in cross country and indoor – putting him in a league with onetime teammate Alex Monroe, who is still having a stellar college career at Lock Haven.
“That’s great to be compared to him. What a great role model he was for me,” Colwell said. “I’d really like to have that effect on the younger kids. I don’t know where I’d be today without him.”
Sophomore Rearick won the shot put hands down with a personal best and state-qualifying throw of 38-2. Now she’ll visit the biggest meet in the state, a daunting task for a youngster.
“I’ll just try not to overthink it, try not to overanalyze it because then I’ll get really nervous and be all scrambled,” she said.
Becker, who has played as many as five sports in a school year – usually running – and will swim in college, achieved something she has been waiting in all of those activities to do: win a district medal.
She had to turn on the jets to do it.
“It definitely helped that I ran that race a million times in my head. I just was really confident going into it,” she said. “I’m going to regret not running next year now after a race like that.
“Of course, now it’s not my last – I get to run again.”
A pair of district records fell in the meet, both on the girls side. Hannah Mulhern of Altoona pole vaulted 12 feet, 3 inches, the best in the state this year. And Somerset’s Jayna Coyle broke the record in the triple jump at 39-1 1/2.