Merrifield looks to extend career in district track

HUGHESVILLE – Hannah Merrifield was “bummed” when her older sister, Cassidy, graduated from Hughesville High School last spring. There would be no more all-day invitationals, long bus rides or victories to celebrate together.

Older sister was gone to St. Francis in Loretto to join the Masters of Physician Assistant Program and it was time for Hannah to take on a new role, a new responsibility. It was her turn to play older sister to Heather who was entering her first year in the Hughesville program in 2013.

“Obviously it’s kind of weird and kind of different on being on the flipside of this,” Hannah said. “I think I kind of take after Cassidy in the sense that I’m trying to be the role model she was for me. I’m trying to do that for Heather.”

This Saturday Hannah will enter the District 4 Class AA Championships hoping to extend her career and maybe share one more moment with her younger sister, Heather, before moving on to Gannon University in Erie.

Hannah will run in the 1,600, 3,200 and a leg in the 1,600-meter relay on Saturday at Susquehanna University. She is seeded fourth in both her individual events and the Spartans are 10th in the 1,600-meter relay.

Heather will compete in the 100, 200, 100 hurdles and 300 hurdles. The freshman is seeded in the top four in all four events. She is second in the 300 hurdles, third in the 100 and 200 dashes and fourth in the 100 hurdles. The top two finishers and those among the top eight that reach the state qualifying mark advance to the PIAA Championships in Shippensburg on May 24-25.

“I’m just really excited to have the opportunity to go and we’ll just do our best and see what happens,” Heather said.

The Hughesville freshman sounds like a veteran runner – never seeming fazed by the magnitude of the situation surrounding her. Meets at Lock Haven, Mansfield and last week at the PHAC Championships have prepared her for what is ahead on Saturday. So, too, has watching Cassidy and Hannah compete at the highest levels.

Heather received an early introduction to track and field at St. Joseph School in Danville, where she competed in junior high track and field. There her interest grew and she learned more about the competitive side of the sport and how to prepare.

When Heather arrived to Hughesville and head coach Rick Glenwright, she came with a basic understanding of the sport because of her introduction to it at St. Joseph and watching two older sisters. But Glenwright, a veteran coach, fine-tuned her skill and turned her into one of the best freshman in District 4.

Her times and results prove it.

Heather, who finished second in the 300 hurdles and third in the 100 hurdles at last Saturday’s PHAC Championships, has run the 300 hurdles in 47.22 seconds and the 100-meter dash in 12.84. Her 300 hurdles time already places her fourth in school history and her 100-meter dash time is fifth. It’s easy to see why she is drawing comparisons to the likes of Rachel Houseknecht, a state champion hurdler at Hughesville in 2007 under Glenwright.

“He’s amazing,” Merrifield said about her head coach. “I’ve learned so much under him and he has a record of state champion hurdlers.”

Hannah shares the same adulation for Glenwright.

“We are so lucky to have him,” she said. “When people find out we run for Hughesville, they are like you are so lucky to have Dr. Glenwright. I have people that come up to me and be like, yeah he coached me like 10 years ago. There is nothing but good about him.”

It’s a mutual respect.

Glenwright lauds the Merrifields for being good kids, not just defined by the numbers on a stopwatch or computer screen. They are solid students and a teammate any athlete would want to have. Hannah takes multiple AP classes and Heather is an honor student.

“Not only are they working extremely hard at track, but they are doing so while juggling challenging school schedules,” oldest sister Cassidy said. “The dedication they have for school and track is inspiring.”

The numbers do stand out, however.

While Heather is just beginning to place her name amongst the best in Hughesville history – Hannah already has. The distance runner holds program records in the 1,600 and 3,200. She has run 5:23.16 in the mile and 11:57.86 in the 2-mile – as far from the sprints and her sisters Heather and Cassidy.

“It’s kind of weird they are both fantastic sprinters and I’m just kind of the random distance runner,” Hannah said on Tuesday as she and her sister continued to prepare for districts.

Truly, there is nothing random about it after taking a deeper look into the family history.

The matriarch of the family – Pat Merrifield – has been a distance runner and has competed in several marathons. It was at a young age when Hannah began running 5Ks with her mother that she became hooked to running. Need to understand where the motivation to succeed comes from for Hannah – just look at Pat who is also a Hughesville assistant coach.

“There are times when I do need her there and be my push,” Hannah said. “She is an excellent role model and she has a crazy work ethic and I just hope I can be like her.”

Hannah, who finished second in the 1,600 and sixth in the 3,200 at the PHAC Championships on Saturday, runs cross country in the fall, indoor track in the winter and for the Spartans in the spring. She likes to keep busy and while Heather sprints on the frontstretch of Hughesville’s all-weather track, Hannah keeps making 400-meter circles conditioning herself for days like Saturday when a season is defined.

“I’m just in awe of her,” Heather said. “I can’t imagine doing what she does everyday.”

One day soon Heather will be responsible for helping to keep the Merrifield name alive as Hannah graduates this spring. She, too, though will have an opportunity to serve as big sister as her only brother reaches high school next year.

Heather understands her last name is held in high regard within the Hughesville track and field program. Cassidy is a four-time state qualifier and Hannah is a school record holder in multiple events. The youngest Merrifield sister, though, is ready to carve her own niche.

“I have to live up to that reputation but I don’t want that to define me,” she said. “I want to be able to do my own thing in high school.”

One thing the sisters will never get a chance to do is to share the Hughesville track together as teammates – not that the thought hasn’t crossed their minds. Imagine a 1,600-meter relay team of Merrifield handing off to Merrifield to Merrifield for the final three legs with mother and little brother cheering and checking their watches. Cassidy even had the perfect nickname for the trio – the “triple threat”.

“I would have given anything to have gotten that chance,” Cassidy said. “Both Heather and Hannah have gotten to run the four by four-hundred relay this season, which I anchored all four years of high school. We constantly talk about how amazing it would have been to have three sisters on one relay.”

The “triple threat” will be together again on Saturday. Cassidy will be at Susquehanna University cheering, coaching, yelling splits and playing waterboy. Whatever her sisters need, she’ll lend a helping hand. It’s only fair after years of being the one competing while her younger sisters watched.

It’s what a family does. More specifically, it’s what a track family does.