PIAA TRACK AND FIELD: Palmyra, Crest relays, Rodriguez earn state finals berths
SHIPPENSBURG >> Miranda Salvo, Maria Tukis and Katie Dembrowski have enjoyed some unforgettable days at Shippensburg University's Seth Grove Stadium in the last few years.
They're looking for one more, thank you very much.
The three Palmyra seniors are taking part in the final event of their storied scholastic athletic careers, the PIAA Track and Field Championships, this weekend. Appropriately, the highly decorated trio's final memories will be of competing for a state championship.
Teaming with Katie's sophomore sister Jess Dembrowski, Salvo, Tukis and Dembrowski posted Friday's fourth-best qualifying time in the girls AAA 3200 relay and earned a spot in Saturday's championship finals.
It was a somewhat bittersweet accomplishment for the three, who were three-fourths of Palmyra's state title 3200 relay as sophomores in 2013.
They are, of course, thrilled to have another shot at state gold, but also a bit saddened that it will be their last event as the tight-knit group they've become.
"Oh wow, it's awesome," said Salvo, who will also compete in Saturday's AAA 3200 run. "Katie and Maria, they qualified for states all four years, and I joined the (relay) my sophomore year. Back then, we were a little naive. We thought it was pretty awesome, but this year it's just amazing. I can't believe I only have two more races left in my high school career.
"It's a little bittersweet, but I'm so excited to run tomorrow. I can't wait."
What comes after those last races is a bit less anticipated by Salvo and her teammates. Reality began to sink in at the end of their final practice on Thursday.
"None of us really mentioned it at all until the end," Salvo said. "Then it was like, 'Wow, this is really sad.' But we're just so happy to be running tomorrow. We want to beat the school record we set last year at states."
The Palmyra quartet won't be the only 3200 relay from the county going for gold on Saturday. The Cedar Crest team of Jared Glosser, Jordan Cruise, Matt Royer and Jesse Cruise sewed up their spot in the boys AAA finals by recording the third-best qualifying time from Friday's two heats, a 7:56.20 that was just two seconds off their district title-winning time from a week ago.
"We just did what we had to do," Jesse Cruise, the anchor, said. "We just wanted to get there in the top four (of the heat, to clinch a finals berth.) and do what we had to do to stay there."
Friday was also a successful day for Cedar Crest senior thrower Shanna Sweigart, who capped a distinguished career with a seventh-place medal in the girls AAA shot put with a top throw of 39 feet, seven inches. Albeit with mixed emotions similar to the ones experienced by the Palmyra 3200 relay.
"It's bittersweet, because I never medalled (at states) before, and it was my last throw" Sweigart, the 12th seed, said. "But I'm really happy that I got to end my season on a good note."
For Sweigart, who ironically will continue her throwing career at the collegiate level at Shippensburg, the medal was also a pleasant surprise, given a shaky start in the preliminaries that had her fearful of not making the medal finals.
"I was actually really stressed out on my last throw (of prelims) because I didn't think I made finals," she said. "And I was eighth going into finals. But the other girls didn't have good throws (early) either so it kinda worked in my favor."
Lebanon High senior sprinter Jeronimo Rodriguez gave himself a good shot to join Sweigart as a medal winner by winning his heat and qualifying for the boys AAA 400 dash finals on Friday. Running in the first heat, Rodriguez clocked a time of 49.41 seconds, seventh-best among Saturday's finalists.
"I knew it was a fast heat, so I just had to run fast," Rodriguez, fifth at last year's state meet, said. "Coach (Nick Watt) just said to go out and have fun and run hard."
Also on Friday, it was a rough day for Lebanon County's three boys AAA pole vault qualifiers — Northern Lebanon's Damian DiAngelis, and Lebanon's Eric Peiffer and Jesse Brownstein. All three were eliminated from medal contention early after failing to clear the opening height of 13 feet.
In addition, Annville-Cleona's Adam Fox, the District Three AA champ, struggled to a 16th place finish in the boys AA javelin, while Palmyra's Katy McClellan capped her career by taking 15th in the girls AAA javelin.
The Elco boys 1600 relay of Blaine Troutman, Chris Gilbertson, Ryan Rolon and Austin Eldridge closed out the day for Lebanon County competitors, placing fifth in their heat and not advancing to the finals.