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PIAA Championships: Record day for Dock Mennonite, big day for Reporter-area athletes

SHIPPENSBURG >> Maybe Nick Smith said it best.

“Coming from a small school and seeing all these big schools can be intimidating,” the Dock Mennonite senior said. “They got numbers on us. But we say, ‘we got Austin.’”

That would be Austin Kratz, who raced to a pair of gold medals and helped the amazing 4×100-meter relay team set a state record, part of a medal-loaded weekend for locals at hot and sunny Shippensburg University.

Also from the area, Central Bucks West pulled off a rare 4×8 sweep while Upper Dublin’s Madison Langley-Walker defended her title in the 300 hurdles, La Salle’s Jonathan Squadrito did the same in the high jump, and Norristown’s Jonae Cook wore the gold in the 100 dash.

Dock’s 4×1, collectively, was at its record-setting best.

“It means so much. Coming into the year, I knew we had a good 4×1,” Kratz said. “So the first thing I did was look at the 4×1 record at states. Seeing that it was a 42.23, I knew our team could do it. Our P.R. last year was a 44.1.

“All these guys worked their butt off in the offseason, in the winter, and we came out, we were running 43’s, we were running 42’s, and I knew we could go 41. Today, I wasn’t sure to be honest because we weren’t all feeling it. I thought I hurt myself a little bit in the 100. But we had amazing handoffs, we had people to push us, and we were able to come through with a new P.R. and a new state record.”

Praise Zoegar led off, followed by Nick Smith, Austin Nice and Kratz. The foursome combined for a 41.75, surpassing the previous record of 42.23 by Trinity in 2012.

“I’m just glad my boys got me out to do track,” said Zoegar, a key contributor over the past two seasons.

Said Nice: “They’re all seniors and I’m a junior so it’s gonna be weird next year. But while we had it, it’s been really fun.”

Kratz added gold medals in the 100 (10.57) and 200 (21.30).

During his individual events, a familiar announcement came over the loud speaker: “Austin Kratz against the clock.”

That’s all that was left, having pulled away from all his competition.

“One of my good friends from my summer team is (Downingtown West grad) Joshua McLemore,” Kratz said. “He came here two years ago and won the 200, 400 and 4×4. And I was always ‘man, I wanna do that too.’

“So it was really cool to get that.”

Dock had its finest finish ever in Class 2A, amassing 53 points for the runner-up spot, just behind Schuylkill Valley (56). Alex Martin added a silver in the shot put (53-5.5), Smith was an eighth-place medalist in the 300 hurdles (40.17) and Ian Anderson was sixth in the 800 (1:58.33) for coach Tim Eger’s crew.

“Since the end of winter, we were talking about winning a state title,” said Kratz, who motors off to Arizona State next year. “Even taking second, that’s the best Dock has ever done.”

4×8 Dominance

Wherever, whenever, the Central Bucks West 4×8 is ready to race.

“It really brings the nerves and takes away the nerves,” anchor man Jake Claricurzio said of the relay. “We’ve raced (rival Pennridge) all year, whether it’s three people in the stands at a dual meet or the way it is now.”

In front of a college-sized crowd at Shippensburg University, the Bucks were at their best, defending their state title with style. A foursome of Brian Baker, Ben Bunch, Luke Fehrman and Claricurzio brought it home in 7:42.95.

“It’s an indescribable feeling. It’s crazy. I think it’s pretty remarkable and I think it shows how good our coaches are,” Claricurzio said of the state title repeat. “We’ve won two in a row and switched up a member each time so it shows how deep and diverse our team is.”

The Bucks overcame a tremendous effort by the Rams (Bobby Brashear, Anderson Dimon, Luke Eissler, Matt Eissler, 7:46.27) to stand on the top of the podium for the second year in a row.

“It was awesome. We had big expectations coming in,” Fehrman said. “We weren’t worried about the time because we knew it was gonna be a race. We had that target on our back and I think that allowed us to run as well as we did.”

Ben Bunch stepped in for 2017 grad Alec Hofer this year and carved out his own place on the relay.

“There’s no better feeling, especially doing it with these three,” Bunch said. “I had some pretty big shoes to fill. Alec did amazing. He P.R.’d here, ran the best he ever had. And I wanted to do the same.”

By the time Baker approached the start, he knew he and the Bucks were not only going for a title defense but also a CB West sweep of the 48.

“It definitely pumped me up a lot, toeing the line,” Baker said. “It was definitely an emotional race because we have three seniors on this relay. I remember looking at these guys right before I was about to race and I got really emotional.

“We really wanted to go out with a bang. I knew my teammates were gonna have my back and I wanted them to know I was gonna have theirs.”

Coming down the stretch of the girls race, CB West was in good shape to take second, which was already a tremendous jump from last year’s sixth-place finish.

And then, Liz Simms, who had the lead for Butler, collapsed from exhaustion, just 10 meters or so from the finish.

“It was crazy. I was kind of closing on her by the 150 (mark) but I felt like she was out of reach,” West anchor Vanessa Barrow said. “So I was just trying to maintain second. And then in the last 20 meters of the race, she just collapsed, and I just sprinted by.”

Simms did manage to finish and at least got Butler eighth and a place on the medal stand.

The Bucks’ team of Stephanie Hiltpold, Emmi Simon, Piper Wilson and Barrow chased down their dream.

“This whole season, we’ve been pushing ourselves, trying to go faster and faster,” Wilson said. “I didn’t expect this to be the outcome but I’ll take it. It just feels so surreal.”

Hiltpold, a transfer from CB South, had to battle through some adversity but kept the Bucks close enough on the opening leg.

“I was nervous going in and then when the girl hit the baton out of my hand,” she said with a smile afterwards, “it just made it even worse because I got put so far back. I trusted all of my teammates to pick it up.”

Simon, just a ninth grader, got going. The Bucks kept moving up and Barrow hammered it to the finish.

“Everything’s new this year. Everyone always says your freshman year is the most exciting and they’re right because being able to come here, it’s such a cool experience,” Simon said afterwards. “This is just the cherry on top.”

“We lost two really good seniors from last year and we weren’t sure how we were gonna put a 4×8 together,” Barrow said. “It’s a miracle that Emmi and Steph came onto this team and we were able to pick up where we left off. I know we’re gonna be strong next year and for years to come.”

Going Out on Top

Madison Langley-Walker heads off to Oklahoma next year as a two-time champion in the 300 hurdles, thanks to her 41.94 on Saturday.

“It meant a lot because I’m a senior, and I wanted to run faster than I did last year,” she said. “And I came out here and did just that. I’ve been working on it all year with my coach, especially running the last 50 because I have a tendency to not run to the line so I was practicing running to the line, getting a certain time.

“So coming out here was a big goal of mine and I’m really happy. So the next step is college and I can’t wait to see what I do at Oklahoma.”

Langley-Walker added a bronze in the 100 hurdles and a bronze in the long jump, giving her four state medals for the weekend.

There Goes Cook

Jonae Cook brought her Norristown career to a climactic finish, winning the 100 dash in 12 seconds even.

“I shocked myself,” she said with a big smile. “I’ve been saying all week that I wanna win and I did so I’m really happy. Just running my own race (made the difference), not worrying about anybody else, and being patient.

“And that’s what got me in the lead. I was pretty confident knowing I ran 11.89 at districts, coming in here.”

Cook was fastest in a tremendous field, as she held off Avonworth’s Hayden Robinson (12.06) to capture the gold.

She also pushed to third in the 200 later in the day, with a 24.41.

Title Defense for Squadrito

It was two in a row for Jonathon Squadrito, as the La Salle senior cleared 6-8 to win his second straight title in the high jump.

“It meant the world to me, honestly,” Squadrito said of going back-to-back. “It’s very difficult (to win two in a row). The competition was a little better this year because no one had to worry about slipping or anything (like in 2017). So it did ramp it up and you really had to make sure you got everything on the first attempt.”

Squadrito will be high jumping at Auburn next year.

Asked what he’ll do with his gold medal, the senior said: “Gonna keep it in the case and never let anything happen to it.”

Big Day for Knights

North Penn’s Ariana Gardizy came in as the No. 12 seed in the 3A 3,200 and came away with a sixth-place medal.

“I didn’t really run the two mile that much this season and districts wasn’t that great of a race either for me. I ran basically 11 minutes in that,” said the Knights’ senior. “I wanted to beat my sophomore time of 10:40, which I did at districts that year, but I did that with a lot of competition. So I’ve been struggling running by myself for most races.”

Added to that, Gardizy battled through shin splints towards the end of April. With a whole lot of icing and determination, she saw her way through.

She smashed her seed time by 13 seconds, making her final states appearance a memorable one. Gardizy heads to Penn next year, being reunited with former teammate Uche Nwogwugwu along with two other local products, Ariana Przybylowski (Pennridge) and Maddie Villalba (CB West).

“I saw the clock at the mile mark and I knew what I was capable of coming back in. And I just tried to keep the girls in front of me,” said Gardizy, who crossed in 10:46.42. “I tried my best to stay with them.

“I’m one that runs off of a lot of confidence in workouts and (shin splints) was kind of a killer for me at the end of the season. I ran the mile a lot this year, trying to get sub-five, trying to break the school record. I didn’t quite get that but I knew I wanted to do the two mile here and then run on the 4×8.”

Onto the 4×8, where Jenna Webb, Amelia Eshraghi, Rachel Ahlmark and Gardizy dropped 11 seconds off their P.R., claiming fifth in the state.

Said Webb: “We all knew if we ran our best we could achieve something like this.”

North Penn also raced to a fourth-place finish in the 4×100 relay, a team of Alayna Faison, Cynthia Sheehy, Nicole Noel and Anais Williams going 48.28.

Williams also raced to sixth in the 300 hurdles with a 45.03.

Natalie Kwortnik, meanwhile, placed fifth in the 400 and also long jumped to fourth, helping the Knights finish third in the team scoring in Class 3A.

The other team titles went to the Neumann-Goretti (2A) and Avonworth-Northgate (3A) girls, and in Class 3A boys, Bishop Shanahan and North Allegheny are co-champs, each with 32 points.

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