SHIPPENSBURG - Juniata County has one entrant from each high school in the PIAA Class AA track and field championships.
One of them was expected to be there. Actually, both of them were expected to be - until one was hurt midway through the season.
Neil Bodley went last year in the 200-meter dash, but an injured hamstring took that off the table. The advice he got after that may be cliche, but still is accurate under the circumstances.
"His dad had told him when he became injured that when you are handed lemons you make lemonade," Juniata coach Kim Hart said. "After he threw the discus at districts and I knew he had made it to states I told him I thought he could open a lemonade stand!"
Bodley, who was second in District 6, and East Juniata's David Brantley, the top 300-meter hurdler in District 4, both have the advantage of being natural athletes. Most coaches look at either of them and guess they would excel at any sport they tried.
Four area schools qualified at least one athlete for the small-school division of the meet. Joining Bodley and Brantley are Mount Union's Tynita White, who won the shot put in District 6, and a half dozen Greenwood athletes who came through District 3. Greenwood's entries include Emily Fisher, who won won the discus and placed second in the shot put in her district meet; high jumper Jen Campbell, who tied for second in the district; and the boys 4x100-meter relay team, which qualified on time.
Brantley won four medals in his district event, and the sign of what a competitor he is was the fact that he was unhappy after finishing third in the 110 hurdles. But his coach thinks that, for a first-time qualifier, focusing on one race will help Brantley do better.
"We can schedule our arrival to maximize his ability to relax and not worry about what to do for five hours," East Juniata coach Mark Ritzman said. "The 300s have been his best race this season and with the ability to focus on just them I think he can do very well."
And that's exactly what Ritzman expects of his junior hurdler.
"David thrives on good competition and is very excited to be running against such quality hurdlers. I think his lane draw is a very good one for him and we're looking forward to a good run," he said.
Bodley's accomplishment is astonishing enough in its own right - he never threw the discus before he was hurt - but add to that the fact that it varies so much from his natural ability as a sprinter, and it means even more, Hart said.
"A sprinter often relies on natural talent and doesn't necessarily have to have a great work ethic to be good," she said. "However, he is a sprinter with a great work ethic, incredible athletic ability and strength.
"He not only was willing to try the discus - which requires much technique - to become good," she said. "He wanted to be a legitimate contender in the event. He proved much to a lot of people."
Mount Union's thrower, like Bodley, wasn't able to get the best mark at districts, where rain impeded everyone's performance. To a sophomore, the environment at the state meet will be daunting, coach Bob Wydock admits.
"What we want to do is get her the experience in the environment at states, get comfortable at states," he said. "You never know. Hopefully you do your best. The adrenaline starts to flow down at states."
Wydock said he'd be satisfied nonetheless with improvement, a personal best, because he is confident this won't be the only trip White will make to Seth Grove Stadium.
"Certainly with her ability we see her capable of a return," he said.
Greenwood's relay quartet could be considered the odd man (men?) out in the meet, with a grouping that ran together for the first time at the District 3 meet.
"In fact, that was the first time Hunter Wirth ran a competitive 400," Greenwood coach Tom Magill noted. "I expect them to better their seed time. Figure they need to run under 3:26 - (a) tall order but doable."
Campbell, he said, needs to climb two inches to five feet without a miss to be in the range for a medal.
"She has done that before but now she needs to do it at the next level," he said.
Fisher is seeded in line for a discus medal, "But, like all track and field athletes, she won't be satisfied unless she PRs," Magill said. "The series of throws she had last week suggests that there are better throws in her immediate future."
All but Bodley and White will be in action Friday. Their events - and Fisher's second throw - will be on Saturday.