Canton’s Hess is 1 of 9 local boys to claim gold

BRETT R. CROSSLEY/For The Sun-Gazette Williamsport’s Allen Taylor competes in the hurdles at Saturday’s District 4 Class AAA Track and Field Championships on Saturday at Williamsport High School.

When Connor Hess’ foot planted in front of the high jump pit, it slipped ever so slightly. Normally, this would be enough to throw off any high jumper. The Canton senior powered through it.

Hess propelled himself well over the crossbar 6 feet, 4 inches off the ground Saturday afternoon and landed clean in the red mat on his first attempt at the height. It was a jump which may not have been pretty but was good enough to hand him his first District 4 Track and Field Championship.

Hess was one of nine local athletes to claim gold at STA Stadium in Williamsport yesterday in the boys portion of the district meet. He was also one of 21 individuals or relay teams to earn a spot at next week’s PIAA Track and Field Championships at Shippensburg University.

Joining Hess as champions in the Class AA meet were Lewisburg’s Zach Bedell (110 hurdles), Milton’s Tyler Leeser (800 and 1,600) and Loyalsock’s Sam Newton (100) and Quinn Serfass (3,200). Winning in the Class AAA meet were Williamsport’s Allen Taylor (110 and 300 hurdles) and Jared Thompson (400 and 800) and Jersey Shore’s Isaac Davis (3,200) and Kevin Titus (high jump).

For Hess, this is is second consecutive trip to the state meet and his second consecutive District 4 championship. And he came out of this win with even more confidence than he had a year ago after winning gold. On a day where where rain pelted the early events of the meet causing a wet high jump runway, Hess ignored the poor conditions and cleared each of his five heights on his first attempt.

BRETT R. CROSSLEY/For The Sun-Gazette Milton’s Tyler Leeser runs the 800 during the District 4 Track and Field Championships at Williamsport on Saturday.

His first miss didn’t come until he attempted to match his personal best at 6-6, and by then he was already guaranteed the district championship. He took only two attempts at 6-6, forgoing his final attempt after his heel began to hurt from his slip at 6-4.

“The first couple of jumps I had great traction,” Hess said. “I was focusing on my plan and my technique to the bar and it helped a lot.”

Event workers were constantly sweeping away water from the takeoff area in front of the pit, and only one jumper lost a jump to a slip and fall because of the wet conditions in the Class AA boys event. Hess said the water didn’t bother him until the slip at 6-4, and even then he still completed the jump.

With conditions less than ideal for getting his best height of the season, Hess said he gained confidence by still clearing 6-4. It should put him in good standing for next week’s state meet on the seeding sheet, and he’s already got the confidence of having cleared 6-6 in a dual meet on May 1.

An athlete who began his career as a distance runner before finding success in the high jump, Hess said he never much cared before this season about the number of misses he incurred as he competed in the event. But his coach stressed to him how those number of misses could hurt him in case of a tie on a bad weather day like Saturday.

By being clean through 5-8, 5-10, 6-0 and 6-2, it put Hess ahead of Montoursville’s Dom Caputo, who eventually finished second and earned a spot in the state meet.

“Early in my career I was just trying to get over the bar and I didn’t care about the misses,” Hess said. “But my coach stressed to make sure to get those first couple heights right off the bat. Clearing each jump on my first attempt was something I wanted to do.”

Hess feels he’s much better prepared for the state meet this year than he was a year ago. As a junior, he finished tied for 10th clearing just 6-feet, which was four inches below his seed height. Clearing his seed height of 6-4 would have put him in the top five of the event.

Now, he’s better prepared to handle the adjustments he’ll have to make during the event so that he can jump at his best. Also, the early forecast for next weekend is 80 degrees and sunny, which would be a nice change.

“I feel like I’ll be ready to go,” Hess said. “It’s always been a dream of mine to get a medal at states. I thought I was a distance runner way back when, but it’s changed and I’m thankful for it. Now I’ve got a shot to get that state medal.”

The sound from the top of the podium was unmistakable for Williamsport’s Jared Thompson. He could see his mother standing at the fence at the bottom of the grandstands cheering louder than anybody as the second gold medal of the day was draped around his neck.

“That’s my mom,” he told the other 800-meter runners on the podium with a smile on his face wider than the football field behind him.

Thompson put together a great individual performance Saturday, winning both the Class AAA 400 and 800 a year after failing to qualify for states in any individual event.

“I’ve been training this whole entire year with one goal in mind, which was to come back and dominate,” Thompson said. “I made a really good accomplishment here today and I put my name in stone to be remembered.”

The race he put together in his signature event, the 400, was sublime. His winning time of 50.17 seconds was better than two seconds ahead of the second-place finisher and the best recorded time of his career.

The pace he set in the 200 led to both he and second-place finisher Chase Carpenter of Jersey Shore qualifying for the state meet as they both finished in under 1:57.

“Something deep down inside me told me I could do something special in this event,” Thompson said of the 800, which he had run just four times year before last week’s league meet. “Once I broke that two-minute mark, I knew there was more I could do to keep grinding and keep pushing to get me to states.”