By Ed Farrell
Herald Assistant Sports Editor
SHIPPENSBURG — Clay Allen said he had to explode out of the starting blocks for his 100-meter dash showdown with Hickory’s DeShawn Coleman. But Allen — all afternoon — was getting the jump on his competitors during the annual PIAA Track & Field Championships.
By approximately 2:30 p.m. Saturday at Shippensburg University, Allen annexed 4 gold medals — 100- and 200-meter dashes, long jump, and as part of the sprint-relay. The workload West Middlesex High’s senior exhibited enabled the Big Reds to record the Class AA commonwealth crown.
“I can’t begin to describe what this means to, us, the school, the program, the community,” 23rd-year Middlesex mentor Ed Pikna began. “We’ve been blessed, and these kids are just a gift from God. They’ve been outstanding for four straight years for us — Clay, ‘Seb,’ Luke, Jeremy, Trevor, Austin.
“This senior group, I’ll never coach — collectively — another group this talented,” Pikna continued, noting, “For a school our size to come down here and win a state championship, it’s just absolutely unbelievable.”
Celebrating his 18th birthday a day early, Allen singlehandedly produced 40 points as West Middlesex outdistanced Camp Hill-Trinity, 60-48.
According to available Herald archives, Allen’s accomplishment is a first in Mercer County annals.
“I’m kind’ve shocked. I can’t really believe it myself,” Allen admitted after his unprecedented performance. “I didn’t really expect to win four golds; I was really just going after the ‘1’ and the ‘2. Luck just came my way, I guess.
“I wanted to win the ‘1’ and the ‘2’, score some points in the long, and maybe our four-by-one get top-three, but everything just felt right,” continued Allen, adding, “We’ve been having bad luck all year. I think it was just, kind’ve, our day.”
The sunny, but blustery conditions at Seth Grove Stadium did not affect Allen, who admitted, “I like to be doing something all the time; if I sit around … I start to get a little tired, I tighten up. So I kind’ve like to be on my feet, keep moving,”
Allen anticipated duels with Coleman commenced in the morning 100-meter semifinals.
“I knew I had to get everybody out of the blocks, ’cause that’s my biggest weakness. Once I got out of the blocks, I kind’ve knew I was gonna have it because I know I’ve got a lot more top speed than the rest of the field, and I just kept pushin’ it all the way through the line,” Allen assessed after clocking a 10.72, eight-tenths ahead of Coleman in the finals.
Later, Allen added the 200 (22.29) and anchored the Big Reds’ 4x100-meter relay quartet to a title in 43.41. He was joined by Jeremy Jancso, pole-vault gold-medalist Luke Patten, and lead leg Sebastian Grasso.
“I’m proud of my team. I love those guys. It was my last race,” said senior Grasso, who is headed to Penn State-Behrend. “It flashed through my mind, ‘Last time ever wearing the Red and White,’ but we got it done, and glad to go out on top.”
Hickory’s sprint-relay team has gained a statewide reputation during the last few years; however, the Hornets had a mishandled baton exchange that rendered them irrelevant in the race.
“When I handed off (to Jancso), I usually gauge where we are ’cause I see how far Jeremy’s out in front. But you don’t wish that on anybody, that’s tough luck,” Grasso emphasized. “We’ve been here my sophomore year and junior year, too, and (the Hornets) have been here at states, too. It’s a rivalry, and we bring out the best in each other, so it’s definitely not good and I feel for them.”
Early on, Allen long-jumped a personal-best 23 feet to garner gold and give some giddy-up to the Big Reds’ state-championship aspirations.
“We had a lot of pressure on us going into that event; we were projected for only two points and ended up getting fourteen, so that was real big,” Allen assessed.
“The kids had six jumps in the long jump and five races (Saturday), and he ran three (Friday) — he’s just a workhorse,” Pikna praised. “Somebody at the college level is gonna wise up and snatch him up, and gonna be very happy with him for four years.
“He’s absolutely one of a kind, and there’s no quit in him,” Pikna continued. “He got a decent start in the hundred, but was behind and won it; was behind in the two-hundred and won it; we were behind in the four-by-one and he won it, and long-jumped twenty-three feet, a new school record. He won four golds. Absolutely unbelievable!”
Among Mercer County’s medalists:
West Middlesex senior shot-putter Rachel DeMaria stood 2nd (40-1 1⁄2).
“I was actually a little disappointed in myself; I really wanted to go for my ‘PR’ (42-1/2) this fine day and maybe pull off a gold medal. But I’m so very happy with a silver. I mean, honestly, you can’t complain about being the state runnerup,” summarized DeMaria, who is bound for West Virginia Wesleyan University on an academic/athletic/musical scholarship.
Grove City High senior Daniel Jaskowak concluded his decorated scholastic career (7-time state qualifier in cross country and track) by placing 3rd in the Class AAA 1600-meter run (4:19.53).
“I was just trying to fight through the wind, maintain form and strength,” explained Jaskowak, following his finall scholastic race. “It was kind’ve do-or-die time. A couple points between the third and fourth laps I was like, ‘You’re not sitting in a very good spot right now, you’ve gotta go,’ and it ended up well for me after the (closing) kick.”
Sharon girls’ 4x4 foursome of Xsila Powell, Leonna Bell, Jessica Talbert-Kirsch and Z’hane’a Davis placed 3rd in a time of 4:05.60, changing up their order from Friday, according to assistant coach Charles Moss.
Lakeview boys (Blake Reddick, Devon Workman, Connor Stankovich, Billy Kinsey) finished 4th (8:12.88).
“We were going for top-five, but got fourth. We did as well as we could,” summarized senior spokesman Kinsey. “It’s pretty amazing! Last year we were fifteenth, so this is quite a jump from last year. … It’s really nice to end my (scholastic) career like this, coming out and getting fourth at the state track meet. It’s amazing!” Kinsey added.
Discus-throwers Jon Yohman of Wilmington (180-10), West Middlesex’s Trevor Harrison (166-2) and Hickory’s Jeremy Orlik (156-3) placed 2nd, 3rd and 5th, respectively. Also, Jancso (22-2 3⁄4) and Sharon’s Johnathon Jacoway (21-9 1⁄2) finished 5th and 6th, respectively, in the long jump, and intermediate hurdlers Kyle Trinch (39.57) of Grove City and Mercer’s Janette Berger (47.34) stood 6th and 7th. Wilmington’s Julie Falvo finished 7th in the shot (38-6).
“I was seeded tenth coming into this, so I had nothing to lose; I was just hoping to get a place,” Jancso related.
In addition to the Big Reds’ track team Jancso was part of the football team that played for the District 10 Class A championship and the AA basketball team that advanced to the regional title tilt.
“It’s been a good year for me. We had a long run in football, a long run in basketball, and track, and I’m excited to see what happens in the future,” summarized Jancso, who is headed to Kent State University to major in health/physical education and compete in track.
Those from the area aggregation who did not place:
West Middlesex’s Kristen White (12th, 11:30.45) and Chloe Tyillian (17th, 11:51.12) and Grove City’s Katie Jaskowak (25th, 11:54.56) in the 3200-meter run; Hickory’s Luke Lewis (disc), Lakeview triple-jumper Courtney King (33-6), and Middlesex javelin-thrower Sarah Lucich (16th, 107-7). High-hurdlers who did not advance to the finals included Mercer’s Berger (15.39) and Jarred Davis (15.19) and Grove City’s Kyle Trinch (14.83). Also not competing but not placing were Hickory boys’ 4x8 relay (Derek Work, Logan Griffen, Marcus Sonoga, Kevin Jancsar, 10th, 8:23.32); Grove City pole-vaulter Hailey Hall, high-jumper Jacoway (tied 10th, 6-2), Hickory’s Sophia Fustos (discus, 13th, 109-3).
Note: West Middlesex girls coach Bob Morris reported to the The Herald that Kristen White broke her own school record in the 3200 in a time of 11:30.45 in finishing 12th. Teammate Chloe Tyillian finished 17th in a PR of 11:51.12. ... See piaa.org for full results.