Loht leads pack of locals in college success
UNIVERSITY PARK — It’s been roughly four years since Laura Loht retired from throwing the javelin competitively, but that doesn’t mean her track and field career isn’t still soaring.
Now age 26, Loht is wrapping up her fifth year with the Penn State track and field program as the director of operations.
“Right now, I’m responsible for 100 student-athletes, six coaches and all of our other support staff,” the former Indian Valley High School and Penn State standout said. “I’m the person who is constantly on the move to make sure everything is running smoothly.”
Or at least give that perception, she jokes.
“As time goes by, I’ve gained more experience making things run more efficiently and being as organized as possible,” she said.
Loht helps with day-to-day tasks for the program, which includes various administrative roles, facility management, equipment distribution and alumni relations.
“I do enjoy where I’m at,” she said. “But, if an assistant coaching position opened up somewhere, I would probably look into the opportunity. I do foresee that being a role I would enjoy in the future.”
NCAA rules permit Division I track and field programs to have six full-time coaching positions. Serving as the program’s director of operations has enabled Loht to stay close to the sport that is near and dear to her.
“At this point, I can hold a stopwatch, but I can’t interact with the athletes as a coach,” she said.
Even without the coaching aspect, Loht has found the position extremely rewarding.
“I don’t know of a better way to give back to the program that helped me to grow up,” she said.
The McClure native graduated from Indian Valley in 2010 as a two-time PIAA Class 3A champion in the javelin, winning the title as a sophomore and again as a senior. During her four years at Penn State, Loht finished in the top five at the NCAA outdoor championships in 2012-14, with her highest finish coming in 2012 (third-place). She ended her NCAA career in the javelin by capturing the Penn State school record with a toss of 178-6.
At the Big Ten level, Loht tallied four podium finishes, including a first-place finish at the 2012 outdoor track and field championships. Loht captured the 2012 Big Ten javelin title in dramatic fashion as she posted a mark of 160-11 on her final attempt.
Loht graduated Penn State in 2014 with a bachelor’s degree in kinesiology, fitness studies. Prior to joining the Penn State track and field staff, she worked as an assistant supervisor at the Penn State fitness centers.
It was there when current Penn State head coach John Gondak asked Loht to join his staff. She started as the operations assistant in December 2014 before becoming the director in August 2015.
Loht also credits high school coaches Scott Gantz and Rob McKnight for her success – both as an athlete and administrator.
“I’ve had a lot of great mentors help me along the way,” said Loht, who admits she initially didn’t want to take up the event. “(Coach Gantz) basically put a javelin in my hand and told me I could be good at this, which is funny because it put me on my entire life track. I have been extremely fortunate to have the support of my parents, family and mentors over the years to follow my dreams.”
In the fall, Loht also serves at the director of operations for Penn State’s cross country program.
Loht’s track and field success became a career, but she’s not the only local high school graduate to excel at the sport at the college level.
Sydney Sheaffer (Port Royal/Juniata High School) might be a freshman at Division II Bloomsburg University, but she hasn’t wasted any time making a name for herself.
Sheaffer opened the spring season with a fifth-place showing in the high jump at the West Chester Quad Meet (with Bloomsburg, East Stroudsburg and Kutztown) on March 30. Her best effort was 1.48 meters.
She followed that up with the same mark at 37th Millersville Metrics. That placed her eighth overall.
“I think the biggest difference is the training,” said Sheaffer, comparing the high school and college sports. “We have a lot more workouts and we have a set schedule on when we practice and when we lift. It took some time to adjust.”
Sheaffer then took fourth in the high jump with a mark of 1.55 meters at the Johns Hopkins Invitational on April 12.
“I have been pretty consistent this year, but I would like to jump higher than what I have been,” she said.
On April 20, Sheaffer cleared 1.50 meters in the high jump and placed eighth overall at the Bucknell Team Challenge. That effort helped Bloomsburg finish seventh in the team standings.
She hit 1.48 meters in the high jump on April 27 at Bloomsburg’s own Maroon and Gold Invitational, which placed fifth.
Sheaffer’s main goal for her inaugural college campaign was to qualify for the Pennsylvania State Athletic Conference championships. She got close, needing about an inch more to reach the qualifying mark.
Brieanna Hess (Liverpool/Greenwood High School) might be a freshman at Division III Messiah College, but she certainly has gotten off to a flying start for the Falcons.
Hess ran a 2:26.74 in the 800 in her spring debut, which placed 17th overall at the Danny Curran Invitational at Widener University on March 30. She also was part of the 4×400 relay, which placed sixth with a 4:10.39.
“The biggest difference for me between high school and college track would have to be the training,” Hess said. “It has been a huge adjustment from high school with the longer workouts and lifts, but I can tell it’s making us stronger.”
Hess followed that up at the 37th Millersville Metrics on April 6, with a 1:03.04 in the 400, which placed 18th, then ran a leg of the 4×400 relay, which finished 15th in 4:26.86.
“The source of my success in this spring season would be from God’s power through this Messiah team that I am part of,” Hess explained. “I have great coaches who are so encouraging and supportive, pushing me and all my teammates to do the best we can do.
At the Messiah Invitational, which was held on April 11 and 13, Hess placed fourth in the 800 in 2:24.38. She also was part of the Messiah “A” relay team which won the 4×400 in 4:11.96. Her efforts in the 800 and the relay helped Messiah capture the team title.
Hess was one of three freshmen on that relay team, which looks to have a very bright future at the college level. She has taken her early success in stride.
On April 17 at the Shippensburg Invitational, Hess ran a 27.96 to take 15th in the 200 and 1:02.54, which placed 14th in the 400. Her 4×400 relay team also placed 11th in 4:38.88.
On April 27 at the Paul Kaiser Invitational at Shippensburg, Hess turned in a 2:24.32, which placed 13th in the 800.
“Some of my goals for this freshman season are to keep my academics up while in season, to PR (personal record) in my events, put smiles on my teammates’ faces and hopefully be a part of Messiah winning the outdoor MAC championship,” Hess said.
Mission accomplished: On May 2, Hess ran the anchor leg of the 4×800 which placed second at the MAC championships. Individually, Hess ran a 2:20.23 in the 800-preliminary round. That fourth-place showing got her to the finals where she placed sixth overall with a 2:20.63.
Junior Kelsie Kennedy (Lewistown/Mifflin County High School) is also listed on Messiah’s roster as a hurdler. Kennedy wrapped up the indoor season at the NYC Division III Invitational on February 1. She placed 22nd in the 200 in 27.87.
On April 17 at the outdoor Shippensburg Invitational, Kennedy was 10th in the 400 in 1:01.72.
At the Paul Kaiser Invitational of April 27, Kennedy won her prelim in the 400 hurdles in 1:06.68 then finished fifth in the final in 1:06.08.
At the MACs, Kennedy was fifth in the 400 hurdle prelims in 1:06.59. In the final, she was fifth again with a 1:05.66.
Emily Clark (Mifflintown/Juniata) has started the outdoor season with a pair of strong showings for Division III York College. Clark, who is a junior, placed 14th in the high jump with a mark of 1.35 meters at Susquehanna University’s Jim Taylor Invitational on March 30. She also turned in a 17th-place showing in the triple jump with a 9.2-meter effort.
Clark then placed 15th in the high jump with a mark of 1.38 meters at the 37th Millersville Metrics on April 6. She also finished 17th in the triple jump with 9.59 meters.
On April 13 at the Messiah Invitational, Clark hit 9.84 meters to take sixth overall in the triple jump and cleared 1.38 meters to place 13th in the high jump. She followed that up with a fifth-place showing in the high jump with a 1.36-meters mark and a sixth place in the triple jump at 9.77 meters at the YCP Twilight Meet on April 17. She was also 10th in the long jump at 4.24 meters.
At the Paul Kaiser Invitational at Shippensburg on April 27, Clark placed 21st in the triple jump with a 9.61. She also competed in the high jump, but she did not score.
York finished sixth in the team standings at the Capital Athletic Conference Outdoor Championships on May 3-4 at Christopher Newport University in Newport News, Virginia.
On Day 1, Clark fouled on her three attempts in the triple jump. She rebounded on the second day to place 10th in the high jump by clearing 1.37 meters.
Katie Lock (Mifflintown/Juniata) decided to come out for the sport for her sophomore season at Division III Elizabethtown College. She certainly is off to a respectable start. At the 37th Millersville Metrics, held on April 6, Lock placed 39th in the 100-meter dash in a time of 14.47 and 29th in the long jump with a mark of 4.33 meters.
At the YCP Twilight Meet on April 17, Lock was eighth in the triple jump at 9.29 meters and 12th in the long jump at 4.10 meters.
Yajaira Perez (Mifflintown/Juniata) is a sophomore on the outdoor track and field roster for Division II Shippensburg University but chose to red-shirt this spring, according to the school’s Sports Information Department.