Athletes prepare for states

SHIPPENSBURG – If you’re looking for quantity at the PIAA track and field championships, look to the hurdles, where three athletes from three schools – all Tri-Valley League members – are entered into both the boys 110-meter hurdles and 300 hurdles in the Class AA meet.

If you’re looking for quality, it’s a pair of Class AAA boys who offer the most to watch, none more so than Mifflin County pole vaulter George Donahey, who at the District 6 meet last Friday went higher than anyone in a Class AAA district meet.

Donahey’s 15 feet, 1/2 inch vault garnered him the No. 1 seed headed into this afternoon’s competition at Shippensburg University’s Seth Grove Stadium, and now he’ll be in the limelight.

“Knowing George and the type of competitor he is, I think he will live up to the billing and relish being the top seed,” Mifflin County coach Scott Gantz said. “He loves the crowd, the excitement and the competition. I truly believe he is going to have the best meet of his career and I know he expects nothing more than a gold from Ship.”

There’s also a No. 2 in the region, where Midd-West’s Jacob Shaffer comes into the meet as the school’s first male qualifier in the discus. He has a high bar to the top, with a throw nearly 20 feet longer in the top spot.

“As far as him being seeded second, I am not looking at that at all and I don’t think Jacob is either,” Mustangs coach Jason Gemberling said. “When you get to states it comes down to your first three throws and making sure you get three more. Anything can happen.”

Shaffer, who owns the school record with his personal-best district toss, competes in the morning session today.

Juniata’s Nick Gilbert and East Juniata’s David Brantley have battled head to head in multiple meets this season, including the invitational held on the same track. Gilbert, who won both hurdle races in District 6, and Brantley, a returning qualifier out of District 4, are joined in the two events by Greenwood’s Gabe Schroff, who qualified through always-difficult District 3.

In the 110s, only Brantley is seeded into the top eight; only Schroff has to beat his seed to make the top 16, who advance to Saturday’s semifinal and a shot at medal status. Gilbert is a top-eight qualifier in the 300s, with Brantley in the low spot.

Brantley also qualified in the triple jump, and Gilbert, along with teammate and fellow three-event qualifier Neil Bodley, is in the 4×100-meter relay.

“Obviously, we’re very proud of David. He’s the first athlete this millennium to qualify for states in three events in the same year,” East Juniata coach Mark Ritzman said.

Brantley will have to work the hardest today due to the schedule – the shorter hurdle race and the jumps are both this morning.

“We aren’t really worried about the closeness of his events as he’s basically been practicing for this the entire season,” Ritzman said. “His goal was to get to states in more than one event and we’re quite happy he’s achieved that. Next goal, bring home medals.”

Greenwood’s first-year coach, Megan Albert, said Schroff succeeds because he works hard.

“He was very proud to be a district champ and you could tell that after winning second in the 110 hurdles that he was on Cloud Nine,” she said. “Gabe has always been that athlete that will do what he is asked and works on critique. … I know he has more in the tank.”

Outside of Gilbert, it will be an uphill battle for Juniata based on the seeds. Bodley, who missed the finals in the discus a year ago, is 10 feet off the hardware range in that event. Bodley will also compete in the 100-meter dash and the 4×100, which includes Will Manbeck and Dakota McNemar.

“The times on paper do not always predict the outcome. In that environment many dynamics come into play,” Juniata coach Kim Hart said. “All of our boys are entering this meet with a good perspective. They all have been beaten by someone at some point this year. However, they are resilient and have been able to bounce back.

“Mostly, there is only space for them to gain,” she said. “I will not allow any of them to count themselves out, and I surely do not personally count any of them out, either.”

Bodley only runs today; his discus event is Saturday.

The person who will be throwing the disc today is the area’s only female qualifier, Emily Fisher of Greenwood, who returns in both the shot put and the discus. She medaled in the discus a year ago.

“Emily has been a dedicated and driven soul all spring,” Albert said. “She has worked on a program that has demonstrated her progression and her throws are improving. She just threw another PR at districts in her discus with a 130-7 toss that was not by luck but from constant practice and discipline on her end.”

Fisher throws both days.

One final entrant will compete only on Saturday, Mifflin County’s Darien Knudsen, who is running in the second day’s first event, the 3,200-meter run. Knudsen alluded to the number of entrants who met the state qualifying standard after his District 6 run; in fact, as the 23rd seed, he is the first on the list who did not achieve the automatic qualifying time.

But, he’s only a couple seconds off that benchmark. The tougher thing to overcome will be the 30-second gap between his district time and the top seed.

“His battle is going to be a little more intense – 30 seconds off of the lead is big, but you have to understand that everything he has done this year has been done on his own,” Gantz explained. “He has not really been tested and now the level of competition increases dramatically. Darien is capable of running much faster than what he has shown.

“It is now a one-shot deal. One crack at your best effort of the season. This could result in a state medal, which I honestly believe Darien can achieve.”