Policy rules out Mifflin County

Changing rules mean qualifier is not enough

Sentinel photo by JEFF FISHBEIN
Mifflin County’s Jordan Fisher leaps for the long jump event at the State College indoor track and field meet on Thursday, in University Park.

UNIVERSITY PARK — Last time the Huskies were here, it appeared as though a pair of athletes qualified for the PTFCA indoor track and field state championships.

When Mifflin County arrived Thursday at Penn State’s Ashenfelter Complex for the final regular-season meet, coach Scott Gantz knew that was not the case thanks to the organization’s rules, kids who met the state standard were not going to get in because the coaches association caps the number of entries regardless of qualification standard.

The PIAA, which does not hold indoor track championships, has a minimum number of qualifiers for the spring outdoor season, then allows additional entries based on performance within the state standard.

“We knew that there was a standard. We didn’t know it wasn’t an automatic qualifier,” Gantz explained. “It’s changed over the years. You just never really know what’s going on.”

Closest to going was shot putter Lauryn Sunderland, who threw the state distance of 38 feet at the previous meet here — but was 16th in line for what the state meet sponsor decided would be a 15-entry event.

“She needed to improve on what she did and just couldn’t get to tonight,” Gantz said.

Seth Phillips, a distance runner who went to states in cross country, also was shut out after going under the minimum time in the 800-meter run. And for others who hoped to go, the pressure became greater.

“At the beginning of the season we would have never even considered mentioning states,” Gantz said. “That was something that was out there.”

But it seemed within reach as the winter progressed. Several jumpers — boys and girls, an area where Mifflin County is strong — had hopes; one of them, Jordan Fisher, placed at states a year ago.

But when the meet ended Thursday, the highlight reel showed only Andrew Bennett, whose shot put effort was 49 feet, 8 3/4 inches — a school and county indoor record.

The indoor season is always one in which any postseason competition is dessert — albeit ahead of the main dish, which is the season that runs through April and May. Mifflin County changed its approach to indoor this winter, foregoing distant invitationals and sticking to meets closer to home.

In fact, all four of the Huskies’ competitions have been at Penn State, which Gantz is quick to identify as a good thing.

“It’s the best facility on the East Coast –at least one of the best facilities,” he said. “When you have something like that in your own back yard I guess you’re smart to take advantage of it.

Three of the four trips over the Seven Mountains are for meets like Thursday’s — the first two dominated by District 6 and other nearby programs, which gives the coaches an advance look at the competition the team will see in the district meet at Altoona in May.

They attend the Kevin Dare Invitational, one of the state’s larger indoor meets for high schools, then closed out the season with State College’s so-called Mid-Penn meet, which draws a number of schools from the conference both the Little Lions and the Huskies compete it.

“We’re getting a good look at the Mid-Penn kids. There are a few other schools that are here, like Hickory — Hickory’s always strong in the throws,” Gantz explained. It’s top notch competition but we also get a sneak peek at what’s to come in the coming months.”

And, he and the rest of the coaching staff have had a good look at their own kids, and have been able to do so in a relatively injury-free season — also a bright spot, Gantz said.

“I’m thinking that might be a plus coming into the outdoor season for us,” he said. “It’s been an interesting year. We’ve had a lot of kids that have stood out.”

Not what he expected.

“At the beginning of the season we were kind of skeptical as to what we had. We had a lot of young kids, a lot of kids (that were) inexperienced,” he said. “But out older kids took them under their wing and these kids have flourished over the past couple months.”