PIAA Track and Field: Brown conquers her fears to earn second states silver

The last thing Alexa Brown wanted Friday was a crisis of confidence. Yet that’s where the Strath Haven senior found herself after three attempts at the shot put at the PIAA Class 3A championships.

Instead of gold-medal contention, as she hoped to be, Brown hadn’t broken 40 feet in the first three rounds.

After what she called, “honestly the worst throws of my season,” she was closer to missing the cut for finals than to climbing the top step of the podium.

The adjustment she had to pull out on the fly was less in technique and more in mentality. And like the champion she has proven herself to be, Brown figured it out.

Brown’s fifth and penultimate attempt of 43 feet, 2.5 inches landed her a silver medal at states, the second straight year she’s done that.

“I put so much pressure on myself to do well, because it’s my last year,” Brown said. “And it’s like, I am going to a four-year university. I should not put this much pressure on myself. But I want every meet to be a good one and I wanted to try to win this meet.”

Brown fell short of her golden goal, which went to Hempfield Area’s Elizabeth Tapper for the second straight year. The senior University of Michigan signee threw 45-2 in her first attempt, an NFHS honor roll mark, and dared the field to chase her. None did.

But Brown may have let that throw get in her head a little more than she had wanted. After three attempts, when the field was cut from 24 throwers to nine, four girls had topped 40 feet. Brown was stuck on the 38-6.75 from her second attempt, good for just seventh.

Not worried about Tapper — “I think this was very much me vs. me,” Brown said — she focused on her fundamentals. And she reached into her past for inspiration.

“I remind myself why I started, and I think about how my younger self really never thought I’d be here,” she said. “I told myself, I never thought I’d be here, but if I knew I was would be here, I would try my best to do the best I possibly could because I wouldn’t want to waste this moment.”

The mental reset did the trick. Brown threw 41-9.5 in the fourth round, then unleashed a fifth-round 43-2.5. That vaulted her past Ericka Jackson of Harrisburg and into second. Haverford’s Mollie Carpenter finished fifth, with a best throw of 40-6.75.

Brown’s throw is short of her personal record of 44-5. But it’s nearly 3 feet farther than the 40-5 she had last year (Tapper won in 46-2.45 in 2022), and it’s a huge improvement from the 37-11.25 that earned her seventh in 2021.

“Our course I feel like I’ve definitely been more consistent this year, though it was been mentally and physically challenging,” Brown said. “I’m so proud of myself for rising to the occasion because I almost did it.”

Brown’s career will continue at the University of Kentucky. Through the emotional ringer that was her final day as a high school athlete, the perspective of her journey proved to be her salvation.

That young girl who wanted to be in her shoes some day now has three states medals to her name, two of the silver variety. Brown is sure her past self would be proud of that, not just the medals but the resilience that got her there.

“She’d be so proud,” she said. “I struggled a lot as a kid, just with my confidence, because I’ve always been bigger and I never really thought I could get into a sport like this and do so well with it.”

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Haverford’s Olivia Cieslak finished first in the 1,600-meter run in a time of 4:51.55 at the District 1 championships at Coatesville last week. (Pete Bannan – MediaNews Group)

Day 1 produced a states gold for Olivia Cieslak, the stellar sophomore who bossed the field in the 3A girls 1,600 to win in 4:49.01. It’s an NFHS honor roll time.

Cieslak went out strong, held 1:15s over the middle two laps and brought it home in 1:05.88. She finished 1.44 seconds up on Natalie McLean of Pine-Richland.

She’s the first Delco individual track champion since Grace Forbes of Strath Haven in 2019 and the first from Haverford since Samantha Bates won the girls 800 in 1991. The last Delco girl to win the 1,600 at states was Shannon Grady of Sun Valley in 1993.

Cieslak was 20th in the 1,600 last year, which bodes well, since she was fourth in the 800, with two seniors ahead of her.

• • •

In prelims track heats Friday, Lavar Jackson delivered a blistering performance in the 100-meter dash, the Upper Darby senior going 10.63. That’s a personal best and school record, improving the 10.77 he set at districts, and good for the second seed in Saturday’s final. He also went 21.58 to earn the third seed in the 200.

Chester’s Damira Allen set the top time in the 3A girls 100-meter hurdles at 14.48, 0.01 up on Oxford’s Macaela Walker. Third is Aubrey Leneweaver of Haverford in 14.53. Leneweaver also eased into the final of the 300 hurdles, going 44.45 for the fourth-fastest time. She anchored the Fords’ 4 x 400 relay (Morgan Elliott, Riona O’Neill, Cieslak) to third in 3:52.27 and a finals spot.

Chester made the girls 4 x 100 final, the team of Niya Jeffers, JaNasia Dearry, Allen and Alasia Mosley posting the third seed at 47.69. Dearry posted the fifth-fastest time in the 400 to make finals.

Penncrest scraped into the eighth and final spot in the girls 4 x 100. Zoe Clark, Olivia Clark, Regina Zizivilly and Maddux Morgan going 48.37 to edge Canon-McMillan by 0.03 second. The Lions were ninth, one spot out of finals, in the 4 x 400.

Walton Garnett of Chester and Strath Haven’s AJ Glavicic make it two Delco runners in the 3A boys 400 final. Garnett won his heat in 48.25. Glavicic went 48.23. Chester finished 11th in the 4 x 400, Strath Haven 12th.

Carroll’s Gabriel Cuffey made it back in the 2A boys 400, going 49.78 to set the second seed.

Penn Wood’s Terry Dweh was the unlucky ninth-place finisher in the boys 300 hurdles, going 40.03 to finish .08 seconds behind Roman Catholic’s Demetrius Bell for the eighth and final finals spot. Chester Charter Scholar Academy’s Mariam Koita was 10th in the 2A girls 200, .05 off a finals spot.

• • •

NOTES >>> Haverford’s Patrick Lawson scored in seventh places in the boys 1,600 with a time of 4:11.52. … Carroll’s Rodrigo Davis landed a leap of 21-6 in his third attempt to finish fourth in the long jump. … Sacred Heart’s Aly Albanese was 16th in the girls high jump. Archbishop Carroll’s Michael Glavin was 14th in the 2A boys 1,600. Hallie Kees of Delco Christian was 11th in the girls javelin with a best throw of 118-7.

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