Feeling Golden

ALTOONA – Scott Gantz talks about the large contingent of young athletes on Mifflin County’s track and field team, and what that means for the future of the program.

For Kelsie Kennedy, next year is too far away. The sophomore hurdler, running in the here and now, exemplified what track in Mifflin County has always been about: just going out and winning.

Kennedy opened the meet with a strong performance for the Huskies, placing third in the Class AAA girls 300-meter hurdles and seventh in the 100-meter event at the 65th West Central Coaches Invitational Friday. Then she ended the night on a placewinning relay.

“This is probably the biggest meet (I’ve run in), and I really wanted to bring it today,” she said. “The short race is really a lot of technique and the 300 is guts. You really have to let it out on the track.”

She’ll need to do that again in two weeks when she’s running for a state berth.

“I got a look at my competition today. I might have a shot,” she said.

It was a hurdler who topped the charts for Juniata, too. Nick Gilbert won the Class AA boys 300-meter race, in a state-qualifying time of 40.3 seconds. In that race, teammate Dakota McNemar also finished in the points, seventh overall after winning the third of four heats.

Gilbert ended with a three-medal afternoon, taking fourth place in both the 110 hurdles and the long jump.

And Juniata ended with a pair of golds when Lexie Zimmerman went over the bar at 9 feet even to win the pole vault.

Mifflin County had a pair of first-place finishes, including a big one from pole vaulter George Donahey, who went over the bar at a personal-best height for the second meet in a row, hitting 14 feet, 9 inches on is way to the gold medal.

Darrien Knudsen also took gold, winning the 3,200-meter run by a nearly 10-second margin.

Donahey is intent on getting to 15 feet, and has an idea what he needs to do to get there.

“I’ve just got to learn to drop my shoulders,” he said. “If I just drop my shoulders I’ll be over it.”

And, he said, a meet like this one – where about 60 schools are present with their best athletes – is right up his alley.

“That’s what I like,” he said. “I love competition – I just do better. It pushes me to work harder.”

Add a couple of medals for Juniata’s Jonathan Hummel and Neil Bodley in the throws, and it becomes a fairly successful outing for the Indians as they ramp up for the District 6 Class AA meet. Juniata coach Kim Hart said that was especially so for someone like Zimmerman, who won with a height below her best, and below what she wants to achieve.

“For mental visualization, experience, exposure to the place that you want to make something happen when it needs to happen – to be in first place today, that’s the great position,” Hart said.

She was especially impressed with Gilbert, who had to leave the meet as soon as he wrapped up competition.

“He was in a rush today because he had to get back and perform in a show tonight,” she explained. “He did awesome doing it all. In his mind, he wants to win both hurdles.”

Of all the kids, she said, “We are super glad that they placed high today, but we want them to be there or higher on May 13. That’s why we’re mostly here today.”

Other individual placewinners from Mifflin County were Makala Rearick, second in the shot put; Hannah Winters, third in the 400-meter dash; Zach Long, fourth in the javelin; Malik Sechler, sixth in the triple jump; Kyroon Carrington, seventh in the 200-meter dash; Caleb Smith, eighth in the shot put; and Maria Fowler, eighth in the 800 run.

Several relay teams placed. The girls were fifth in the 4×400 and eighth in the 4×100, while the boys were seventh in the 4×800 and were fifth in the 4×100, boosted by the disqualification of Altoona and State College.

Juniata’s only other placewinners came in the girls meet, where Janelle Swartz was eighth to cross the line in the 800 run, and the 4×800 relay team finished fifth.