SHIPPENSBURG South Williamsport's Griffin Molino hears about his short stride and lack of a closing kick in a joking manner from time to time from coach Ted Deljanovan.
Molino's will to win, however, is no joking matter.
There may be some truth about his short stride and lack of a closing kick, but Molino overcomes his shortcomings the only way he knows how.
"Really the only reason I'm good is the will to win and not giving up for anything," Molino said. "I'm going to try and accomplish what I want to accomplish and that's probably my strongest point. I have a pretty strong will."
He rode that will and determination to a fifth-place finish in the boys Class AA 3,200-meter run on Saturday at the PIAA Track and Field Championships. Molino's time was 9 minutes, 26.16 seconds.
Molino never envisioned himself on the medal stand at the state championships a year ago when he was running the 3,200 in more than 10 minutes. He didn't expect to improve to the point he did this year until a day late in the fall at the PIAA Cross Country Championships. There Molino proved he first belonged with the state's best by placing eighth in the boys Class AA race.
"That gave me a ton of confidence and it showed me if you keep working you can be pretty good at this," Molino said.
The South sophomore started Saturday's race on the outside and struggled to fight his way to a clean start. It has been something he said he struggled with all year, but falling behind allows him to pick off runners one-by-one, and he did so quickly.
Once he overcame his slow start, Molino settled into sixth place and comfortably maintained his positioning until the final 300 meters when he began to turn his legs over quicker and track down NE Bradford's Sam Williams. The NE Bradford senior paced Molino to the finish line at last week's District 4 Championships, edging him by 2 seconds.
He paced him for the majority of Saturday's race, too, but over the final 100 meters Molino pulled alongside Williams' right shoulder and passed him before the finish, beating the District 4 champion by just over a second.
"Sam was a guy I was looking for because last week I felt comfortable running with him and we ran similar times," Molino said. "It helped me a lot last week to run with him."
An emotional Molino crossed the line with a finger pointing in the air and a section of South fans sitting in the stands high above the finish line celebrated their school's newest PIAA medal-winner.
"To see that whole big group over there makes me happy and definitely makes it worth running as hard as I did to take fifth for all these people," Molino said.
Molino and Williams weren't the only two runners to sprint to the finish to decide position. There was a similar battle between North Schuylkill's Brendan Shearn and Rico Galassi of Holy Cross. Shearn controlled much of the race, but Galassi cruised past him over the final 50 meters to win in 9:12.48. Shearn was second in 9:13.33.
"The field was completely stacked and I think it was a great race overall and I was glad to be a part of it," Molino said.
The top four finishers and seven of the top eight were all seniors. The one athlete who will return next year will be Molino.
"I'm just a sophomore so I have a couple more years to see what I am able to do," Molino said.