SHIPPENSBURG - One raced to the finish line. The other competed alone for nearly a half hour. But when the dust settled, each wore a gold medal and stood higher than everyone else on the awards ceremony platform at Saturday's PIAA Track and Field Championships at Shippensburg University.
Coatesville senior Tra-c Davis took home first place in the high jump, clearing a 6-10 height - good for a school record. Davis was the only competitor to clear the 6-8 bar and failed on three attempts to throw himself over the 7-foot mark after eclipsing the 6-9 and 6-10 heights. The PIAA record was 7-00.75 set in 1985 by Plymouth Whitemarsh's Tyrone Smith.
Avon Grove sophomore McKenna Keegan had a bit more competition, winning the girls AAA 400-meter dash by just .45 seconds. Her time of 55.15 was a big improvement from her District 1-winning time of 55.99.
"I think there was about 50-meters left and I could hear lane four right on me,' Keegan said of the close finish. "That's when I knew I had to go because I knew she wasn't going to give up. I just pulled everything in me and just went for it.'
When Keegan crossed the finish line she put her hands on her head in a state of disbelief. She then turned around and congratulated her fellow competitors.
"It's really satisfying knowing that I was able to accomplish this,' she said. "I'm really proud of myself. I'm excited because I still have two more years to try to get another one.'
Henderson's Tony Russell, who had been a hopeful to win both the 3200-meter and the 1600-meter, was leading in the 3200 with about 75 meters to go but was upended by Council Rock North's Ross Wilson down the stretch to take silver.
"I looked back and it looked like I was good, but I kept on trying to move it in just in case,' Russell said. "The second time I looked back he was right on my [back] and it caught me off-guard.'
Both Russell and Wilson broke the previous PIAA record of 8:58.90 set in 1983 by Upper Perkiomen's Mike Connelly.
Unfortunately for Russell, he suffered an injured left ankle during the race, which he believes could be a stress fracture. He experienced the same injury on his right ankle last year. The injury on Saturday forced him to drop out of the 1600.
"Whenever you're running you don't really feel it until the end, or near the end of the race,' Russell said. "I'm happy finishing my season like this.'
Russell's departure in the 1600 opened the door for the rest of the field, seeing as he won the District 1 title last week by a full three seconds. Downingtown East senior Billy Caldwell took full advantage, taking silver with a time of 4:12.99, almost a seven second improvement from his second place finish at the district meet.
Caldwell led for a brief few seconds during the final lap but wasn't able to finish in front.
"I knew going into the last lap that I was top 3,' he said. "I tried to go for it with 300 to go and just kind of lost a little steam. I tried to make a big move and just didn't have it.'
When Davis stepped off of the podium, all he could muster was a, "wow.' Then he walked off of the field - the same field he'll compete at next year in college - and found assistant coach Carl Smith, who Davis credits with teaching him how to jump.
Smith embraced his prodigy and told Davis how proud he was.
"It's a dream come true,' Smith said, fighting back tears.
Davis came out for track just a year ago and his personal record after one season last year was 5-10. He said that the work he put in with Smith was the reason for his vast improvement.
Upon learning that his athlete had given some of the credit to him, Smith was again overwhelmed with emotion.
"You can't make chicken salad without chicken breast,' Smith said. "It's not about me, it's about them, and they listen.'
"We talked in January and said it would take 6-10 to win states,' he added. "Granted, he won it at 6-8. That's what we've talked about since January. What I'm most proud of is that he just continued to work. That sounds boring, but he just continued to work. We had some up and downs.'
One of those downs was a fourth place at last week's district meet when Davis would only clear 6-7. Smith told Coatesville's head boys coach Damien Henry that there was some coaching to be done over the week.
"The one thing we said on Monday is, I told [Davis] ' PIAT.' Put it all together. And he did. We also talked about staying clean. He went to 6-8 clean.'
Clean meaning that Davis cleared every bar on his first attempt until he reached the 6-8 height, which he soared over on his second attempt.
When Davis was going after the 7-foot bar for the final time, he urged - with the help of Smith and Henry - for the crowd to clap, feeding off of their energy to try to propel him one last time.
"It gets me more hype and makes me feel energetic,' Davis said.
Unfortunately for Davis, the energy wasn't enough. But winning gold at his future school was certainly a nice consolation prize.
"It feels great to do it at my home field next year,' he said. "I came here and I wanted to win and have no misses. I did that.'
Unionville senior Courtney Smith entered Saturday looking to repeat as state champion in the 3200-meter run. A number of injuries, including a stress fracture to her hip, forced Smith to miss significant time this year.
Smith finished eighth in the race, saying that her fitness level lacked since she'd only been running for the last six weeks.
"I was just happy that I gave it a shot just so I could find out where I stood,' she said. "Now I know that at this point in the season I wasn't ready to stay with them. I gave it my best shot. I'm happy with my last high school race.'
AAA BOYS CHAMPIONS
110-meter hurdles: Monate Nicholson, Gateway - 14.02; 100-meter dash: Demetrius Lanier, East Stroudsburg - 10.64; 200-meter dash: Christian Brissett, Cheltenham - 21.52: 300-meter hurdles: Chance Post, Conestoga Valley - 36.93; 400-meter dash: Malik Jones, Ridley - 47.52; 800-meter run: Kyle Francis, Bensalem - 1:49.57; 1600-meter run: Zach Brehm, Carlisle - 4:11.73; 3200-meter run: Ross Wilson, Council Rock North - 8:56.29; 4x100 relay: Gateway - 41.16: 4x400 relay: Cheltenham - 3:17.18; 4x800 relay: State College - 7:41.99; High Jump: Tra-c Davis, Coatesville - 6-10; Long Jump: Jordan Bryan, St. Joe's Prep - 24-00; Triple Jump: Deshawn Millington, Carlisle - 48-06.50; Shot put: Max Adams, Hempfield Area - 61-04.25: Discus: Max Adams, Hempfield Area - 198-03; Pole Vault: Ryan Wilkes, Valley View - 15-06; Javelin: Jhet Janis, Cocalico - 203-11.
AAA GIRLS CHAMPIONS
110-meter hurdles: Ciara Leonard, Cheltenham - 13.89; 100-meter dash: Katelyn Jackson, Cheltenham - 11.78; 200-meter dash: Katelyn Jackson, Cheltenham - 23.93; 300-meter hurdles: Maddie Holmberg, Hempfield - 42.73; 400-meter dash: McKenna Keegan, Avon Grove - 55.15; 800-meter run: Maddie Villalba, Central Bucks West - 2:09.65; 1600-meter run: Brianna Schwartz, Shaler Area - 4:46.95; 3200-meter run: Marissa Sheva, Pennridge - 10:25.85; 4x100 relay: Hempfield Area - 47.04;l 4x400 relay: Central Bucks West - 3:47.82; 4x800 relay: Central Bucks South - 8:51.49; High Jump: Cyre Virgo, Fleetwood - 5-09; Long Jump: Maddie Holmberg, Hempfield - 20-01.00; Triple Jump: Sierra Brabham-Lawrence, Harrisburg - 39-07; Shot Put: Courtney McCartney, Selinsgrove - 49-00.25; Discus: Taylor Hojnacki, Central Bucks South - 140-07; Pole Vault: Bridget Guy, Hempfield - 12-06; Javelin: Madison Wiltrout, Connellsville - 151-01.
AA Boys — Springfield Township
AAA Boys — Cheltenham
AA Girls — Paul Robeson
AAA Girls — Hempfield Area