Milton’s Leeser finishing strong in the distances

Tyler Leeser watched the race unfold in front of him, content to sit in the back of the lead pack and bide his time. The Milton junior wasn’t about to sprint to the front in the Class AA 3,200-meter run at Thursday’s District 4 Track and Field Champion­ships.

His plan was just to patient, make sure he maintained contact with the lead pack, then separate over the final two laps. Leeser executed the plan perfectly as he began his busy district meet with a gold medal in the 3,200, topping Loyal­sock’s Quinn Serfass by nearly 5 seconds.

On a day where the track at Williamsport High School felt like a oven ready to roast a turkey, Leeser didn’t want to expel all his energy in the first 800 meters chasing a couple pace-setters who broke from the pack early. He knew his strength was down the stretch and he wanted to make sure he was good to make his move.

“That’s kind of been the recurring theme of my races is a strong finish,” Lee­­ser said. “But I felt like I was pushing, too. I didn’t think I had a whole lot left at the end.”

He could have fooled anyone holding a stopwatch with that last statement. Leeser’s final 400 meters (1:09.39) were faster than his first 400 meters (1:10.75). His final 800 meters (2:20.50) were faster than his first 800 meters (2:24.87).

Serfass’ gameplan was similar to Leeser’s, sitting back off the leaders, allowing them to do the early grunt work of setting a pace before a late push. But when Leeser took off, well Serfass just didn’t have enough to run with him.

“In the midst of the race I’m thinking I have a chance (to win), and then all of a sudden he’s gone,” Serfass said. “I saw it coming. I knew it was coming. He’s so much fun to race.”

Thursday’s performance was a microcosm of Lee­ser’s season. He’s been a dominant runner who has yet to lose an individual race at any distance at an invitational this season. But at times, he’s a snake in the weeds, sitting back unnoticed just waiting for that last 400 or 800 meters to strike his opponents with a late kick which would make Kentucky Derby winner Always Dreaming jealous.

The new format of a two-day District 4 meet allowed Leeser the opportunity to go all out in the 3,200. If there wasn’t a two-day meet, Leeser said he probably wouldn’t have even run the event. But the two-day meet, in its first year, gave Leeser the opportunity to score 10 crucial points for a Milton team which hopes to defend last year’s district team title.

And with Friday’s off day, there was enough time for Leeser to let his body heal — he planned on an ice bath Thursday night — to be at 100 percent for both the 800, the 1,600 and a relay event.

“If I’m not 100 percent by (today), I’ll definitely be pretty close,” Leeser said. “I should be pretty fresh.”

A NICE SPRING DAY

Barely a bead of sweat dripped down the face of Wellsboro’s Dupree Hosey as he stepped off the awards podium Thursday. As everyone else around STA Stadium struggled with a early rush of summer heat, Hosey was happy to be immersed in it.

This was more like home for the Florida native, a nice spring day. Hosey and his family moved to Wellsboro from Florida last year, during his junior year. Prior to that, he had never competed in track and field.

Prior to Thursday, Hosey had never jumped 21 feet in competition, let alone the 21 feet, 7 inches he hit to finish second and earn his first trip to the PIAA meet next week. But the cauldron of heat he was jumping in Thursday was exactly the kind of weather Hosey likes.

“This heat doesn’t get to me as much as other people. I prefer it,” Hosey said. “I’ve been waiting for a number like this. The last few weeks have been good and I’ve been PRing because the competition has been getting better and better.”

A year ago, Hosey finished 12th at the district meet with a jump just under 19 feet. This year, he’s improved enough that he was coming off a 20-foot jump at last week’s Northern Tier League meet. But 21-7? Well, that was a touch of a surprise.

“I don’t know if I can describe the feeling when I saw that,” Hosey said. “I was really happy. I saw my mark, I looked at the tape and went over and jumped into my coach.”

Hosey marked himself as a title contender early in the event. Competing in the final flight, Hosey hit a jump of 21-3 early to put himself into contention heading into the finals. Then in the finals, he hit his biggest mark on his final jump to finish second behind Southern Columbia’s Julian Fleming (23-0) and secure his spot at states.

“You can definitely feel when it’s a good one,” Hosey said. “Everything has to work out for it to be a good jump, and I could feel that one.”

FEELING PREPARED

No race has been easy for Serfass this year. At any invitational the Loyalsock junior has participated in, there’s never been a chance for him to just coast. Thursday was much of the same in the 3,200 as he battled a lead group for six laps and had to be strong over the final two to finish second to Leeser and earn his spot at the state meet next week.

But it’s exactly that kind of competition Serfass believes is going to give him a chance to get on the podium in Shippensburg in a week.

“I’m going to work my hardest, but I know there’s some pretty tough competition,” Serfass said. “Zach Skolnekovich of Quaker Valley just dropped a 9:16, which is crazy. But it’s always good to have someone in front of you to push you.”

Serfass has succeeded all year despite the tough competition. His only invitational loss this year in the 3,200 prior to Thursday was at the Molly Dry Invitational in April. And that loss came to North Pocono’s David Haines, who has the sixth-best Class AAA time in the 3,200 in the state this season.

It’s all part of the preparation, though. It’s how he knew when to sit back and when to try to make a charge during Thursday’s final. Entering today’s final day for district tournaments around the state, Serfass’ best time in the 3,200 (9:40.66) is the fifth-best time in the state in AA.

“I think I’ll be in a pretty good place next week. I just have to pay attention to my workouts and make sure I’m not overdoing it,” Serfass said. “I think I should be fine by Saturday. I’m super excited.”

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