MC’s Donahey has record-setting day

ALTOONA – It took until after 8 p.m. – toward the end of the District 6 Class AAA track and field championships – until Mifflin County had a state qualifier.

George Donahey made it worth the wait.

The Husky pole vaulter, who already had a state medal from the indoor season and had been pushing the envelope all season long, cleared 15 feet to not only win the event, but to etch his name in the school and county record books in the event.

He’ll be joined by Darien Knudsen, a distance runner who took advantage of an opportunity presented him to win the 3,200-meter run and get a chance to run the race again in Shippensburg.

Knudsen pretty much knew he needed a win – his seed time was eight seconds off the state standard and nearly 15 seconds away from top seed Will Cather of State College. But he caught a break – two actually – because Cather was focused on other races, and the Little Lions were focused on something else entirely.

“My friend Jay Ciccolini was talking to Cather, and he said he wasn’t going to race as hard because he really wanted to win the 800,” Knudsen explained. “They were trying to win districts as a team. I knew he wasn’t going to be that much of a challenge – he wasn’t worried about the two mile, he was worried about beating Altoona.”

State College did beat the Mountain Lions, winning both team titles; the boys’ was the first after an 18-year run of Altoona wins.

Cather may have been out of the picture, but one of his teammates wasn’t.

“I realized (Matt) Beyerle was with me during the race. I didn’t expect him to be there,” Knudsen said. “If he took my spot, he was going to states. I started to get worried.”

After five laps, Knudsen started to pick up his pace, and for the final two he was solidly in the lead. His win in 9:33.14 punches his ticket for the state meet.

“It’s going to take a lot of mental preparation,” he said. “Coming into this race I was set. States is just going to be another level. The goal up there is to go and get a medal, but I’ll be happy just to run a fast time.”

Donahey felt a bit of pressure coming in because of what happened at the Mid-Penn meet – he failed to get a successful jump in at his usual 13-foot starting height, and knew this was his only chance.

“It’s my last year here. I’ve got to make it big – you can’t just get a no-height,” he said. “You’ve got to show your full potential.”

When the bar went to 14 feet, 3 inches and he made it, he was headed to states. When it went above 15 feet, he cleared again.

“It’s just another bar. You’ve got to go for bars. That’s all that really matters,” he said. “Fifteen (feet) was great today – got way over it. Still hit it a little bit coming down. I feel pretty good for states.”

The bottom end, he stressed, was more important than the top. The last height cleared by No. 2 jumper Jake Russo of Altoona was 13-3; Donahey elected to skip an attempt at 15-3 because he felt the conditions were not right.

“I was tired because I came in at 12,” he said. “I had to make sure I’m on, so I came in really, really low. I’ve never come in that low ever.”

Now he has a chance to vault in front of a capacity crowd in Shippensburg.

“I love a lot of people there,” he said. “It makes me do better – I don’t want to be a disappointment. I want to jump high.”

With a young team and after a rough season, Mifflin County had tempered hopes that turned into disappointment several times. A number of the Huskies’ top contenders came up shy of state qualification.

There was Nathan Baumgardner, a state qualifier in the hurdles in the indoor season, who finished third in the 110-meter race here – and sixth in the 300 hurdles; Kelsey Kennedy was third in the latter event for girls.

Zach Long came up short in the javelin, finishing as the runner-up – the same position as Makenzie Rearick, second in the discus, the same place her twin, Makala, took in the shot put.

Hanna Winters had a chance in the 400, but also ended in the bronze position.

Only the winner advances automatically; everyone else needs to meet the state standard.

The good news is, most of them will be back.

Two records were broken at the meet, including one that had stood for more than 30 years. State College’s boys 4×800 relay team cut two seconds off the time posted by their ancestors in 1981. And Altoona’s Hannah Mulhern broke her own one-year-old girls pole vault record by two inches.