ATHENS - It was not quite dawn when the Tigers left East Juniata. Over at Midd-West, the Mustangs were also stretching for the long ride north.
With 39 schools competing in the District 4 track and field championships Saturday at Athens Area High School, there was no doubt that gold would be at a premium. Tickets to the state final are never easy.
"It was a bit of a hike, but well worth it," said East Juniata coach Mark Ritzman. "There was a lot happening, but you have to be able to deal with the big meet atmosphere because that's only a taste of next week's state meet."
And while there will be no Tigers or Mustangs heading to Shippensburg for this weekend's state finals, both schools managed to bring home a slew of medals from the district event.
"I was pleased all around," said Midd-West coach Jason Gemberling, whose team competes at the Class AAA level. "We had a lot of personal bests; the kids left everything on the track."
Jack Shaffer paced the Mustang boys with a third-place finish in discuss (129-10). Cody Mattern was fifth in the shot put (43-00.75), Dayton Kratzer fifth in the javelin (160-2) and Jacob Keister sixth in the triple jump (40-8). The boys' 4x800 meter Relay team Andrew Sassaman, Alex Lieberman, Tyler Herbster and Kogan Mitchell took sixth with a time of 8:52.91.
Taylor Mattern picked up three medals for the Midd-West girls. The senior was fourth in the 200-meter dash (27.91) and fifth in the long jump (15-5). Mattern also teamed with Janelle Arbogast, Hannah Stauffer and Kelsey Stuck for a seventh-place finish in the 4x400 relay (4:36.45). Topping that result, the relay team of Arbogast, Stauffer, Stuck and Maggie Snook took third in the 4x800 (10:35.63).
Not bad for a school that does not have an actual track.
"We have to practice our handoffs on the grass," said Stauffer, "so it's never the same."
Stauffer and Arbogast, both sophomores, would each end the day with three medals for the Mustangs. Arbogast was fifth in the 300-meter hurdles (51.06) and Stauffer notched a fifth-place finish in the 800-meter run (2:32.14).
"I'm happy with it," Stauffer said. "These girls are good."
In the ultra-crowded Class AA bracket, Cody Scholl led the East Juniata boys with two medals - sixth place in the 200-meter dash (23.32) and eighth in the 100 (11.53). Justin Murphy earned fifth in the high jump (5-10). Senior Jake Kauffman had 14 high jumpers ranked ahead of him coming in, but he cleared the bar at 5-8 to claim eighth place.
David Brantley's high hopes for the day were blistered by early misfortune when he was disqualified from the 110 hurdles on a false start.
"I was anxious ... my first time in districts and I wanted to give it my all," said the sophomore. "I don't know what happened. The only thing I remember is walking off the field with my head down. That was the worst."
"That can happen to anybody," Ritzman said. "You have to get past it and focus on the next thing."
Which is exactly what Brantley did in the 300 hurdles, winning his heat and finishing sixth overall with a personal best time of 41.42.
"I had a burning motivation to come back," Brantley said.
"He ran a great race," beamed Ritzman.
As did Amber Knouse and Amelia Spade on the girls side of the ledger, both capturing two medals for the Tigers. A ninth grader in her first district meet, Knouse finished fourth in the 100 (12.87) and fifth in the 200 (26.60). Spade, a senior, was fifth in the 100 hurdles (16.80) and eighth in the high jump (4-10).
In all, the Tigers claimed nine medals, an increase of seven over last season.