Meterko: 'I'm living the dream'

BROOKVILLE — Punxsy senior A.J. Meterko is living his dream.

Ever since he was a freshman, the Chucks' long-distance runner had the goal of running in the 1,600-meter run at states.

After his performance Thursday in Brookville during the District IX Class AAA Track and Field Championships, he'll have more to look forward to than just the 1,600.

Meterko ran a 1:57 during the final leg of Punxsy's 4x800-meter relay win, won both the 800 and 1,600 runs and finished second in the 3,200. He had the opportunity to compete at states in the former three events, but decided to focus on the 4x800 and 1,600. He gave DuBois' J.J. Clinchoc, the second-place finisher in the 800, his spot at states.

The ultra-confident Meterko, who was seeded first in both the 800 and 1,600 this year, finished second to Bradford twin brothers Matt and Mike White last season. This year, now that both Whites graduated, he wasn't going to settle for runner-up.

"I've been close every single year I've ran it. I wanted it every single year," Meterko said. "This year, going into it, I knew I wanted it more than anyone else. I knew there was absolutely nothing anybody was going to do that was going to stop me from reaching my goal.

"My dream as a freshman was to run the mile at states, and finally, I'm living the dream," he said.

Upon winning the 800, Meterko yelled "Yes!" as he raised his arms in the air. For the past year, his loss to Mike White by 0.57 seconds in the 800 was in the back of his mind. Winning the 800 Thursday was the ultimate satisfaction for the Punxsy senior.

Thursday, Meterko led the 800 from wire-to-wire, though Clinchoc made it interesting. Meterko held on late for the victory with a time of 2:02.04, or eight-tenths of a second better than Clinchoc.

"This year, it came down to the wire again in the 800, and just the fact that we won the 4x8 as a team and I won the mile finally (was the reason for celebrating)," Meterko said. "Just to win the 800 after that emotional loss last year, it was just like, 'I finally did it.' I was just so happy."

Punxsy head coach John Smith wasn't surprised about Meterko's success in the final district meet of his high school career. Meterko ran four competitive miles on the track Thursday, and he won two individual events, helped win a relay and finished second in the longest run of the day — the 3,200.

"He's a guy who I knew would rise to the occasion. When you think of all the athletes we've had over the years, he makes it in that top-quality group," Smith said. "It's an amazing accomplishment. I think people have to realize how much it takes to train to do that and to accomplish that. A lot of people can train to do it, but very, very few rarely accomplish that."

Punxsy freshman Kevin Hughes, who was the second leg of Punxsy's winning 4x800, said that Meterko is a runner the rest of the team looks up to.

"He is the best runner that we've seen," Hughes said. "He's just always supported us and always told us that we can do it. It's going to be hard to fill in for him when he leaves. His legacy is going to live on in all of us."

Hughes was put in an interesting situation at districts as a freshman. He had run the 4x800 just twice earlier in the season, but Smith had confidence in the first-year varsity athlete to put him in the 4x800 lineup.

Hughes didn't get a wink of sleep the night before districts and couldn't eat breakfast due to the nerves that were brewing inside. But once it was his turn to run two laps around the track with the baton Thursday, he was locked in.

Hughes ran a 2:01.31, which Smith said is the best 4x800 split by a PAHS freshman in school history.

"I knew that I had to step up to fill the gap," Hughes said. "I did my best, and it worked out."

Punxsy had one runner from each grade competing in the 4x800. Meterko and Hughes were joined by junior Derick Kelly and sophomore Nathan Ward. Smith said he received compliments from fellow coaches for the confidence he had to use underclassmen.

"I had a hunch who was going to hit it at the right time," Smith said. "I had to make my decision and stand by it."

The Chucks won the event in 8:12.04, a time that was nearly five seconds better than DuBois after the teams were neck-and-neck during the first 3,000 meters. Punxsy's seeded time entering districts was 8:28.24.

As Meterko was making the final turn, he pulled away for Punxsy's win, which was a relief for Hughes.

"I was just nervous the whole time," Hughes said. "I think it was more mental than anything. It was physically taxing, but it was just getting ready for it. We all knew we had it in us. Pulling it out of us was the hard part."

Even though he was the only upperclassman, Meterko never doubted his supporting cast in the 4x800.

"We pulled a good group of guys together. They were ready for it," Meterko said. "I believed in them. They believed in me. We did it."