Three down, one to go: Morgan to compete today

SHIPPENSBURG — The three Punxsy athletes who were slated to compete at the PIAA Class AAA Track and Field Championships Friday in Shippensburg knew they had their work cut out for them with stiff competition from across the state converging on the meet.

And with the seed times, Punxsy knew it would be a long shot for any of its athletes to advance beyond the preliminary rounds.

And although none did advance, all three underclassmen — sophomores Juliann Boddorf and Kevin Hughes and junior Alexis Young — gained some valuable experience running in the big tourney.

With two Lady Chucks advancing to states, Punxsy head coach Barry Young reminded them to take it all in and enjoy themselves, as there is no guarantee they'll make the return trip next year.

"They were very good representatives for the town of Punxsutawney," he said. "They had a good time, too. You come here to compete, but you want to make it a good, positive experience, too. There are no guarantees about whether you'll make it back or not, so you want to enjoy it."

As for their performance on the track, Young said both girls did what they'd done all year: Ran consistent times.

Boddorf's time of 1:01.19 was consistent with the times she's been running throughout the year just one-tenth off her seed time.

And Young's time of 5:45.96 was just ten seconds off her seed time — a normal occurrence in hotter weather.

"Pretty much, they ran the times they've been running throughout the year," he said. "I don't know if the heat had any effect on them, but the competition's just great down here.

"They each ran their races, and it gave them something to be proud of."

Punxsy distance coach George Wehrle, who has worked with Young in cross country and track over the past three years, said the level of competition also put Young in a spot where she had to make a decision.

"Alexis went out a little too hard," Wehrle said. "But she almost had to, because if she hadn't, she'd have had a large gap to face from the start. To her credit, she tried to go with the pack, but she just couldn't hold it over more than a couple laps. She was at 2:40 for the half-mile mark, but faded a bit from there."

Wehrle said it was a catch-22 — that no matter which strategy Young chose, it could have come back to bite her.

"She'd have been last by a lot more from the beginning had she kept her normal pace," he said. "Run your own race, and you're out of it early. If you try to keep with them, they'll pull away at the end. So, she did the best she could under those circumstances."

Young had some experience at the state level with three trips to the PIAA Championships for cross country.

But Wehrle thought this taste of the track tournament might give her a bit of hunger to continue to work to get back.

"It's an eye-opener," he said. "The kids see just what kind of talent is out there, and it kind of helps them know what they need to do to get back here. I'm sure she wants to do better and keep pushing herself. But you start somewhere, and the first step was getting there. Now, she has the motivation to keep going."

Young also echoed the experience sentiment with both his performers being underclassmen.

"They were both fairly pleased with their performances," he said. "When you come down here, it's a whole different world. But they're both underclassmen, and they know what they need to do to perform at that level now. They can start working for that for next year. It might change their work habits and make them be able to compete at this level in the future."

Hughes also competed in the 400-meter dash for Punxsy, running a time of 52.26 — two full seconds behind his seed time. Punxsy boys' head coach John Smith attributed much of that to Hughes' start, though.

"He ended up in lane one, which was better for him, as he was supposed to run in lane eight," Smith said. "But he did have a little bit of a back-step to start, and just didn't get rolling. He knew it, and he just couldn't recover. But I chalk that up to experience, and hopefully, next year he'll have the experience under his belt to know what it's like to go up against some really stiff competition."

Smith also said being around the other competitors leading up to the race will benefit Hughes in the future.

"He knew he had to run his absolute best to even have a hope and a prayer to advance," Smith said. "He did pretty well, and it was really hot. But being around the others, he is learning the preparations that go into getting ready for a race on a day when it's hot like it was. This is just a stepping stone, and he has two more years."

Punxsy's final competitor will take to the field today when senior thrower Brody Morgan aims for a podium in the javelin.

The javelin competition is scheduled to take place in the 12:30 p.m. block of the championships.