SHIPPENSBURG - When this season started, Dallastown's 400-meter relay wasn't supposed to look the way it did.
Isaiah Ward started the season as the team's second-leg runner, and an injury in early April looked as though it might derail a promising season for the ambitious relay team. But Justin Tracy, Kalen Patterson and Edgar Centeno didn't doubt what they could accomplish. They knew they had other teammates who could step up and fill the role.
But even they never expected this much success.
The Wildcats sprinted to a third-place at the PIAA Class AAA track and field championships in 42.32 seconds Saturday.
Justin Atwood has been running the second leg of the relay since Ward's injury, and the team has worked on handoffs endlessly since he joined on the way to breaking and re-breaking the school record and winning league and district titles. The state medal, though, is the first for all four members of the relay and their proudest accomplishment.
“We got lucky," Centeno said of how things worked out after Ward's injury. "Usually when you lose a guy, you don’t make it this far.”
The medals are also a parting gift for Tracy and Patterson as the team's seniors.
“It just feels great to go out like this,” Tracy said.
Smith earns second state medal
New Oxford junior Madi Smith knows as well as anyone that one throw can make a world of difference in the javelin.
Last year, she jumped several spots by unleashing a throw of 135 feet, 2 inches on her last attempt to earn second place at states. This year, a throw by one of her competitors — a 164-1 toss by defending champion Madison Wiltrout, of Connellsville — vaulted Wiltrout into first and bounced Smith down a spot from second to third.
But don't let her drop in placing deceive you. Smith's best throw of 146-1 is just 11 inches off her personal record and nearly 11 feet better than her best throw at the same time last year.
“The competition is so much stronger, which is awesome," Smith said. “I’m very happy. I don’t care about the place dropping, I’m way more proud of the throw.”
The throw was the best throw of her career on a runway. Most of her previous best throws came on grass, conditions in which she typically wears colorful one-inch spikes.
“They allow my momentum to stop and all the energy to go with the javelin," she said of the spikes. "I’m just teaching my body to do the same thing when I’m on the runway and those spikes aren’t on my shoes.”
Smith's second medal came with the support of a posse of more than a dozen family and friends who set up two tents to cheer her on.
“They’re the best," she said with a big grin. "They’re funny, they all have different advice. I hear a lot of different things.”
Fairfield's Phillips "awesome"
"Awesome" was the word of the day for Fairfield sophomore Cierra Phillips after her first appearance at the state championships.
A new personal record of 11 feet in the pole vault? Awesome.
Her first PIAA medal, after taking eighth place in Class AA? Awesome.
The experience of competing in front of thousands filling the Seth Grove Stadium bleachers? Awesome.
It was the perfect word to describe the best performance of her pole vaulting career. She had never cleared higher than 10 feet, 9 inches — even in practice — and pumped her fists after landing in the pit. She had narrowly cleared 11 feet for the first time to secure a medal.
“We had really good competition today," Phillips said. "That’s what drives me to be better. I love all the cheering and everything, it just helps me. My goal (this year) was to go to states and I knew 10-6 was the cutoff from districts. That gave me the determination to make it to states, and I knew I had a chance to medal.”