Sock’s program walks away with 5 medals

BRETT R. CROSSLEY/Sun-Gazette Correspondent Loyalsock’s Megan Kendall runs through the finish line during the 100 hurdles at the PIAA track and field championships at Shippensburg on Saturday.

SHIPPENSBURG — A smile widened across Hailey Zurich’s face as she walked off the podium in the middle of Shippensburg University’s Seth Grove Stadium. It was a smile which hid a myriad of feelings bundled up in the Loyalsock senior.

Finishing in second place in the Class AA pole vault wasn’t exactly what she had in mind when she came to the PIAA track and field championships. But clearing 12 feet, 6 inches was exactly what she had in mind for her final high school pole vault competition.

Zurich earned her fourth career medal in the pole vault Saturday, finishing second for the second time in her career. Her’s was the first of three medals won by the Loyalsock girls program Saturday, and one of the five the Lancers left the meet with. That performance was good enough to land Loyalsock in a tie for third place in the team standings despite bringing just five athletes to the state meet.

Zurich’s second medal of the meet — she won the long jump Friday — was accompanied by Megan Kendall’s fourth-place finish in the AA 100 hurdles and the 400 relay team’s fifth-place finish. Along with Sophia Gardner’s fourth-place finish in the long jump Friday, the Lancers scored 32 team points, tied with Girard College for third place. Neumann-Goretti (64) and South Park (36) were the only two teams to finish ahead of Loyalsock.

In all, seven local girls won individual medals and three relay teams placed in the top eight on the final day of the state meet.

Warrior Run’s Lauren Trapani (second, 3,200) and Rylie Mong (fifth, pole vault), Central Mountain’s Amelia McCloy (second, high jump), Montoursville’s Raya Pauling (seventh, 1,600) and Lewisburg’s Elena Malone (eighth, 400). Lewisburg’s 3,200 relay team of Anna Batkowski, Maggie Daly, Chloe Michaels and Selena Permyashkin took seventh. And the Lewisburg 1,600 relay team of Maggie Daly, Selena Permyashkin, Chloe Michaels and Malone finished fourth.

The weekend’s performance for Loyalsock was a bit of a coronation for a program, who at one point in the not so distant past, didn’t even have enough girls to field a team. But the Lancers won their first district team title a week ago, and the third-place finish yesterday marked their highest finish at the state meet.

Zurich was the ring leader of the entire crew the last two weekends. She won four gold medals at districts, then snapped the Lancers’ 30-year state title drought Friday when she surprisingly won the long jump.

She was in among the results Saturday, taking second in the pole vault and running the second leg on the 400 relay team. She was joined by Gardner, Kendall and Charlotte Neylon on the relay team which medaled for the second consecutive year at states.

“We’re all very proud of what we accomplished,” said Neylon, who will run next year at LaSalle. “Being little Loyalsock, we accomplished a lot with just a few girls and we keep making a name for ourselves here.”

Zurich had her mind set on gold, and only gold, in her signature event, the pole vault. Having previously finished fourth, second and third in the previous three seasons, gold was what she was determined to leave with. She did everything in her power to make it happen, clearing 12 feet, 6 inches for only the second time in her high school career. But Western Wayne’s Trina Barcarola also cleared 12-6, and did it with fewer misses to take the gold when neither she nor Zurich cleared 13 feet.

But the consolation of clearing the 12-6 mark is what left Zurich smiling. In her three previous trips to states, the best she could manage was 11 feet in each year. To clear 12-6, she gave herself the best chance she could to win, even if it didn’t eventually happen.

“This event is something I’m going to look back on and I’m going to be proud of where I came from,” said Zurich, who will jump at Penn State next year. “Jumping 11 feet every single year before this has been one of the most frustrating things. The ultimate goal was to get past that barrier and enjoy my last meet here. So even if it didn’t show up in the placement, it showed up in the height and I’m glad for that.”

Kendall carried a look of disappointment with her as she climbed off the podium with her fourth-place medal in the high hurdles. It was an almost confused look. The junior had run the best times of her life in the last two weeks heading into Saturday morning’s semifinals and later the final.

But with a stiff wind blowing in the runners’ faces, Kendall ran a 15.44 to reach the final, then clocked a 15.63 in the final to take fourth, her first state medal. But it was far from the 15.01 PR she ran to win the district meet a week ago, and Barcarola’s winning time of 15.31 was far above the best times Kendall has run this season.

“There’s a lot of disappointment. The first time I ran in the wind, I think it got in my head,” Kendall said. “I know I can do better than that.”

After making a living under 50 seconds for much of the last few weeks, the 400 relay team finished in 50.15 to take fourth place. It was a disappointing finish for a group which felt like it could come in and challenge for a state championship in the event, and all four runners were relatively quiet after finishing the race.

But the momentary disappointing feeling couldn’t overshadow the remarkable performance the Lancers have put on this year. Before an injury kept her from running her best at districts and qualify for states, Isabell Sagar was a must-see athlete every time she took the track. The same can be said for the five girls who earned state medals this weekend.

Even Maddie Fox, who failed to medal in the high jump Friday, reached the state meet a year after tearing her ACL and missing her junior season. It was an eye-opening year for a program which has been building to this moment for some time.

“We still made it to the finals and we still medaled and we still got to have this amazing opportunity, so I think we’re grateful for that,” Neylon said. “We can be upset. The outcome is what it is. But I think we’re all going to look back and be happy with what we did.”