Kendall’s rest helps Loyalsock become complete team

There hasn’t been an extra workout Loyalsock’s Megan Kendall has missed this year. Any time there was an opportunity to hone her craft as a hurdler, she was willing to put in the time.

That meant staying after practice. It meant taking on any and all comers at some of the toughest invitationals around only to often come up just short at the finish line.

But leading into the weekend’s District 4 Track and Field Championships at Williamsport’s STA Stadium, Kendall finally let her body rest. She wanted to be at her absolute best when the most was on the line. And it led to the two most impressive performances of her career in a Lancers uniform.

Kendall ran a PR in the 100 hurdles semifinals Thursday night, only to drop nearly another tenth of a second in Saturday’s final to earn her first District 4 100 hurdles title. Her contributions have largely gone unnoticed all season as other Lancers have set various PRs and meet records. But she served notice with her Saturday district meet performance of just how valuable she can be to a team which won its first district team title in school history by 46 points.

“To me, this proves that I contribute and what I’m doing really does count for the team,” said Kendall, who also finished second in the 300 hurdles and ran anchor for the championship 400 relay team.

Anyone who has been around the Loyalsock program this year knows its success goes far beyond any one person’s accomplishments. The sum of the Lancers’ individual parts made it one of the most potent teams at any invitational it showed up for.

They could dominate distance races with Isabell Sagar or the sprints with any combination of Hailey Zurich, Sophia Gardner or Charlotte Neylon. Maddie Fox was one of the best high jumpers in the district despite being a year removed from a torn ACL.

And then snuggled neatly behind those performances was Kendall. The Steady Eddie of the group who was always challenging for wins and bringing home big points at both dual meets and invitationals.

But nothing she accomplished this season quite met the magnitude of her first district championship. When she ran a 15.10 in Thursday’s 100 hurdles semifinal, it dropped her PR in the event by .46 seconds. Another nine-tenths drop from that time Saturday meant the junior had erased more than a half-second from her PR in just two races.

In a race where hundredths of a second can make all the difference, especially in the postseason, dropping multiple tenths of a second in such a short timeline is like giving yourself a headstart.

“I finally let myself rest and I let myself put it all together with the form,” Kendall said. “My second race Thursday I was a lot more loose and a lot more confident, and even my dad said I looked more confident and loose and that’s what let me run faster.”

“Seeing Megan excel is probably my favorite thing of the season so far,” said Zurich, who won four gold medals in the meet. “She’s so good, and for it all to pay off like that, I couldn’t be happier.”

Zurich can’t quite put her finger on why she always seems to perform so well at STA Stadium. The senior thinks it goes back to her freshman year when she hit her PR and qualified for the state meet. But there’s nothing in particular about the runway which makes her feel so comfortable.

But in each of the four district meets in which Zurich has competed at Williamsport, she’s established or matched her personal best. Saturday was no different as she cleared 12 feet, 6 1/4 inches to win district gold for the second consecutive season.

That mark was important to Zurich because it qualified her for the elite competition at the New Balance Outdoor Nationals for the first time.

“I feel like this stadium is my favorite jumping place,” Zurich said. “I think it’s just an extra confidence boost. I like competing here.”

An extra confidence boost is the last thing Zurich’s competitors want to see. It’s bad enough for them she’s found a combination of rhythm, timing and the right poles over the last few weeks which has pushed her from struggling to clear more than 11 feet to constantly making 12-foot jumps.

Her mark of 12-6 1/4 Saturday was the second-best jump in the state this year in Class AA, bested by only Waynesburg Central’s Taylor Shriver at the District 7 championships last week with a 13-foot jump.

Zurich doesn’t want to get ahead of herself and start thinking of the possibility of capping her brilliant career with a gold medal at the state meet in Shippensburg next week. But she’d be lying if she said it wasn’t a goal.

In three previous trips to Shippensburg, the Penn State recruit has finished third, second and fourth. She added a fourth-place finish last year as a member of the Lancers’ 400 relay team. She’ll have that event on her agenda next weekend along with the pole vault, the 100-meter dash and the long jump, all in which she earned a district championship.

It’s going to be a busy weekend for Zurich. But it’s a busy schedule she’s earned by PRing by more than a half-second in the 100 and by PRing by 2 feet in the long jump. Zurich never expected she’d have an opportunity to go to states in either event, let alone win a district title. But the addition of weight-lifting to her workout routine this year has provided her the kind of boost which has made her one of the most well-rounded athletes to ever compete for Loyalsock.

“I didn’t really think (lifting) would have that much of an effect on me,” Zurich said. “But when you PR by a half-second, you realize you’re doing the right things.”