SHIPPENSBURG - The Altoona Area High School boys relays teams came into the second day of the PIAA track and field championships on a mission, somehow fitting for a Memorial Day weekend.
It turned out to be more than a job. It was an adventure.
The Mountain Lions were heavily favored in both the Class AAA four-by-100-meter and four-by-400-meter relays entering this weekend's PIAA track and field championships, but the Mountain Lions decided to keep things interesting via an injury to stalwart senior Aaron Nadolsky, a nearly-botched handoff in the 400 and an apparent second-place finish in the 1,600.
Mirror photos by Patrick Waksmunski
Altoona’s Mike Treese (left) and Aaron?Nadolsky celebrate winning the gold medal in the 400 relay Saturday.
However, upon entering the awards tent, the despondent Altoona four-by-four runners learned apparent champion Abington had been disqualified, giving the Lions the gold in both events.
"It's just spectacular,'' Nadolsky said. "The main goal was to get the team championship, but we got second. But these two golds is just awesome.
"We've been winning relays all year, but here at states is where it counts.''
The Lions' 36 team points put them two points behind Hempfield, but no one could fault the relay team members for their contributions. Nadolsky, Brady Gehret and Mike Treese are on both teams. Gehret also took home an individual silver medal with his 21.61-second, second-place time in the 200 dash and finished eighth in the long jump with a best effort of 22 feet, 6 inches.
Chris Carper, who runs the second leg of the four-by-four, used a throw of 189-9 to place seventh in the javelin. D.J. Greene rounded out the four-by-one team.
"This is unbelievable,'' Treese said when asked to describe his feelings on the double gold. "I know winning the four-by-four and four-by-two in indoor is nothing compared to this. Winning here against the very best of everybody feels incredible.''
Altoona clocked 41.44 in the 400, with Lancaster McCaskey coming in second at 41.90. The Lions' time in the 1,600 was 3 minutes, 16.42 seconds, 36-hundredths of a second ahead of Cheltenham.
Nadolsky and Gehret called the 400 relay the highlight of their day, but it didn't start off too auspiciously. Gehret had trouble taking the baton from leadoff runner Treese in the four-by-one finals. In such a short race, such a misstep is usually fatal.
"He missed the first time, and I just grabbed it from him,'' Gehret said.
Gehret more than recovered for the near-gaffe, and Nadolsky held the Lions' advantage down the stretch to exorcise the demons of 2007. That year, Altoona had been seeded first but was disqualified because one of the team members forgot to remove an earring before the race.
"I'm so happy, I wanted that ever since 10th grade, and I finally got it,'' Nadolsky said.
Nadolsky and Gehret's desire was apparent in the 1,600 relay as well. Altoona was in seventh place after two laps and off-stride after a near collision following the second handoff. Nadolsky, running with a heavily-taped hamstring he injured in practice Monday but looking much smoother than he did in Friday's preliminary heats, pulled the Lions into third before handing off to Gehret for the anchor.
"It's feeing terrible,'' Nadolsky said. "I had it taped, and it still felt terrible before I ran the four-by-one. I just grabbed a roll of tape and tied it as tight as I could. It felt good after that, though.''
Gehret, despite getting boxed in early, passed everyone by Abington before the finish.
"Brady and Aaron really stepped it up. They did amazing today,'' Treese said.
Treese held his head in his hands after the finish, then went to console Carper.
However, things turned once they got into the tent. Abington was disqualified for running outside of its lane. A PIAA official said three officials called the violation, making Altoona the gold medalist.
It wasn't popular with Abington or some of the other teams.
"Some people were booing us. There's nothing we could do,'' Treese said.
Carper had mixed emotions.
"I'm happy we got the gold medal,'' Carper said, "but I'd rather we finished first.''
Gehret was just happy his day was over. Between 11:30 a.m. and 3 p.m., the Lion junior had run four races covering 900 meters and long jumped six times.
"I'm exhausted. Very exhausted,'' Gehret said. "I wish all the prelims and everything were [Friday], so I could have a little bit more for the finals in the 200. I was just dead.''
Even at that, Gehret nearly pulled it out. He just couldn't catch Peabody's Pierre Carr at the tape. Carr ran a 21.35.
Gehret posted the best time in the semifinals, 21.12. He said he paced himself Friday, but that was not the case Saturday afternoon.
"Not in the finals. I just didn't have anything left.''
Gehret was seeded first in the 200 meters and third in the long jump coming into the weekend. Belle Vernon's Matt Green ended up winning the long jump with a distance of 23-7.
Carper, meanwhile, was ranked 10th going into the javelin. However, his very last attempt was good enough to get him seventh.
"It was determination. [Coach Mike Adams] told me the night before we needed points wherever we could get it. He pulled me aside and talked to me, and said it was big that I get points in the jav,'' Carper said. "I just was trying to wail it. I didn't hit my PR this year, but I'm glad to get the medal.''
The only real disappointment for the Lions was the narrow loss for the overall team title which they won in 2008.
"It's disappointing,'' Nadolsky said, "but we gave it everything we had.''