Montoursville’s Pauling breaks from pack in 800 to claim gold

MARK NANCE/Sun-Gazette Montoursville’s Raya Pauling, left, takes the lead during the final lap over Williamson’s Jules Jones in the girls Class AA 1,600 at Williamsport on Saturday on the second day of the District 4 track and field championships.

The last thing Raya Pauling wanted to do was play a rousing round of bumper cars. As things were beginning to get a little hairy in the final stages of the Class AA 800 at the District 4 track and field championships on Saturday, the Montoursville freshman made an abrupt move to the outside of the lead pack.

From there, Pauling found her opening. She dodged the elbows being thrown and avoided any potential catastrophes to break free and win the 800. It was her second win of the meet, following a win earlier in the day in the 1,600. For a runner who was hoping for a best-case-scenario of scraping by in the 800 to qualify for states on time, the reality of winning a pair of events still hadn’t set in for Pauling even with two gold medals to her name.

Pauling was one of six area girls to win an event during the final day of the district meet. And only she and Loyalsock’s Hailey Zurich won multiple events in the Class AA meet’s final day.

Zurich finished off a four-title meet with wins in the 100 and pole vault to go with Thursday’s title in the long jump and the Lancers’ 400 relay win. Megan Kendall added a win in the 100 hurdles for the Lancers, who won the first District 4 girls track team title in school history convincingly with 114 points. Lewisburg was second with 68. Loyalsock won despite returning state silver medalist Isabell Sagar finishing seventh in the 3,200 and scratching from the 1,600 because of an injury to her right leg which kept her from being at 100 percent.

Warrior Run’s Lauren Trapani (3,200), Hughesville’s Alex Snyder (javelin) and Wellsboro’s Dahlia Hosey (triple jump) also won championships yesterday, as did Lewisburg’s 1,600 relay team.

The injury to Sagar, who won’t compete at the state meet, actually is what helped set up Pauling for a two-win day. She was actually expecting to scratch from the race and put her focus into the 800. But when she saw Sagar struggling to get through the 3,200, she figured she would take a shot on running the mile.

It turned into a great decision as she turned in a final-lap split of 1 minute, 16 seconds to finish a PR run of 5:20.94 to win her first event of the day. That winning time bested her previous PR by nearly eight seconds, which she set at last week’s PHAC meet.

“I was so relieved when I won that,” Pauling said. “I knew I didn’t have to worry anymore about trying to get to states and if I somehow messed up in the 800 I was still going to states. It stinks that Isabell wasn’t in there because she’s such a great runner. But with her not being there, I think it opened up the door for other people.”

Pauling also saw a door open up in the 800 when she made her move to the outside with 300 meters to go. There was starting to be some bumping and some using of elbows to create space when Pauling made her move.

Prior to that, she had nestled herself in the back of the lead pack with Trapani, Mount Carmel’s Caroline Fletcher, Lewisburg’s Anna Batkowski and Hughesville’s Cierra Getz. She began her charge with 300 meters to go, and her final-lap split of 1:11 was the best of the lead pack, leading her to a PR by nearly 3 seconds.

And all of a sudden, the first-year track athlete was a two-time district champion.

“I still don’t think it’s really sunk in. I feel like maybe I’ll wake up at midnight and then it’ll all hit me,” Pauling said. “It was really getting tense with about 300 meters to go and I wanted to get out of there because I didn’t want to be the next person to go down. I usually rely on my kick. I always feel like I have a pretty good kick. So when I came around to the 200 mark, I was thinking this is actually going to happen.”

Snyder is finally getting healthy at the right time of the year, and she had recently been tinkering with her approach in the javelin. She’s been working with a coach from Williamsport on a crow-hop approach, and Saturday it helped Snyder to a 10-foot PR.

The sophomore’s throw of 129 feet, 9 inches topped the Class AA field by nearly 7 feet for her first district championship. It was the first 120-plus foot throw of her career and is the fourth-best throw in the state in Class AA this season.

“Honestly, I didn’t expect this,” Snyder said. “Everyone kept saying I could do this and my coach kept saying it, but I didn’t believe it. But it finally happened.”

In a two-day span in early April, Snyder had back-to-back results of 119 and 118 feet, at the time the two best throws of her career. But she struggled getting back to that level as she dealt with a hip injury which left her wary of letting loose on her throws.

Then last week, with her new approach, she popped another 119-foot throw at the PHAC meet to finish fourth. Her best throw yesterday topped the best throw of the three girls who finished in front of her last week.

“I’m glad I was able to peak at the end of the year like this instead of going completely downhill,” Snyder said. “This is great. It gives me more confidence and it’s great that I was able to bring a district championship to my school.”