SHIPPENSBURG - Many tents were destroyed or moved by the powerful winds and heavy rain that buffeted Seth Grove Stadium the night before, but it was Wade Endress, Nick Patton and Brian Leap that took the PIAA Track and Field Championships by storm on a scorching hot Saturday at Shippensburg University.
The trio of Blair County boys returned home after collecting two medals apiece in final-day competition at the state meet. Patton, the Tyrone Area High School junior, garnered a silver medal in the Class AA 200-meter dash and ran the second leg of a Golden Eagle 400 relay that came in sixth. Altoona's Endress, a senior who has signed with Penn State, captured a bronze medal in the Class AAA 800 run and placed fourth in the 1,600 meters. A senior at Bellwood-Antis, Leap posted seventh-place finishes in the Class AA long jump and as part of the seventh-place 1,600 relay team.
It was Leap's second and third medals from the weekend.
Tyrone’s Nick Patton finished second to Clairton’s Trenton Coles in the Class AA?200- meter dash on Saturday.
"It was great, coming out with three medals in four events,'' Leap said, smiling. "It should have been four events, but that's just how it worked out.''
Endress won three medals at last year's PIAA meet and finished his scholastic career with six. However, the bronze he picked up for finishing third in the half-mile run this year was his best individually.
"A lot of these guys are focusing primarily on one event. I pride myself on the ability to double or triple,'' Endress said. "Last year I tripled. This year I doubled. I came out with a fourth in the mile and a third in the eight with little time in between, so I'm happy.
"I got injured this year. I can't really do anything about it. I'm where I left off in indoors with my fitness level. I've got to end it on this, take two weeks off and get started for next year.''
Endress completed the half-mile in 1 minute, 53.76 seconds, just a little more than a second behind Wissahickon's Hong Cho and four-tenths of a second behind Cumberland Valley's Andy Flynn. Endress fell behind early and then had to weave his way through the pack, positioning himself to move up in the latter stages of the event.
"That was really the strategy. I knew I wasn't feeling 100 percent, and I was just coming off the mile,'' said Endress, who medaled in the event for the third year in a row. "I mainly let those guys work a little harder than I did, going out that first lap. I knew I could come back pretty strong if I came out a little slower. I just had to make my moves perfectly and make sure I could get up in between and have position to swing out around the outside.''
The 1,600 was an incredible race, and Endress was a major factor. The Penn State recruit was running second until he commandeered the lead at the beginning of the second lap and held it for the next 700 meters. He ran the first two laps in 2:05.
However, Upper Moreland's Drew Magaha caught him and pulled away in the last 300 meters to break the event record with a time of 4:07.32 seconds. Endress placed fourth despite his time of 4:13.77, separated from Magaha by Conrad Weiser's Nate McClafferty and Great Valley's Ned Willig.
"Drew has a great kick, probably the best kick of anybody here. Today, he closed his last lap in 58 seconds. The field knew if you were going to beat this kid you had to take him out fast and not let him have that kind of kick,'' Endress said. "Well, he was stronger than what we all thought.''
Even the usually unflappable Endress wasn't completely sure he'd be able to bounce back from the pace of the mile to perform in the 800.
"After the mile, I was throwing up, which is pretty standard for me after tough races,'' Endress said. "I was a little worried, but, I did the same thing last year after the mile. I got sick, but I still was able to come back. So, the doubt was there, but I knew I could run through it.''
Patton will head into his senior year with four state medals, three of which are in the top three, including a gold in the 200 dash as a sophomore. Only Clairton's Trenton Coles denied him another championship in the event, edging him out by five-hundredths of a second in the finals.
Patton ran a 22.38.
"That's fine. It was a good race,'' said Patton. "I knew it was going to be close from the beginning, so I just did what I could to get the place I did. Trenton ran an excellent race.''
Patton entered the meet seeded second to Coles. In the short sprints, it's difficult to make up ground unless someone pulls a major gaffe or just doesn't have it on a given day. On this day, Coles was fine.
"Since it's only half a lap, it's really a full-on sprint. There's not a lot of strategy you can put into it,'' Patton said. "You have to set your blocks at a little bit of an angle to get yourself right into the line, because you want to make it as short a distance as you possibly can. And you have to get a good start or it's over. Since it's such a short race, if you don't get off to a good start, you're done.''
Patton seemed just as excited, if not more so, with his 400 relay team's sixth-place finish. Patton took the handoff from Zach Burke for the second leg, then passed the baton to Derrick Emigh, who in turn gave it to Steve Franco. They ran a 43.40, five-hundredths of a second better than they did on Friday.
For Emigh, the medal was especially sweet. He didn't even know if he'd be able to compete in track this year after a major knee injury at the end of football season. Eighty percent of his ACL was torn as well as his meniscus. His therapy has extended into track season, and he still doesn't believe he's completely healthy.
"I feel great. This is the first four-by-100 team from our school to medal. That's special,'' Emigh said. "We just all ran great here. We wanted it more than anything.''
Patton said he might run at a couple of summer events and intends to participate in indoor track in the winter. However, his primary focus now will turn to football.
"I like them both. It's pretty much equal. There's no favorite,'' Patton said.
After winning the silver medal in the triple jump on Friday, Leap's second day began with a seventh-place showing in the long jump, where he matched his distance from the District 6 meet of 21-6. Schuylkill Valley's Derek Gaul won the event with a jump of 23-1, and Leap was just 3 inches out of fifth place.
"I was trying to get 22. That was the goal. But everyone else was jumping below what they were seeded, so it was pretty good for me to get what I was seeded,'' Leap said. "I was seeded 17th.''
Leap finished his meet by anchoring the Blue Devils' four-by-400 relay, where he, Seth Worthing, Andrew DeGol and Deryk Montgomery posted a 3:27.86 to take seventh as well. He had an opportunity to bring home four medals but fell short in the high jump Saturday afternoon, when he went out after making 6-2. He'd achieved 6-7 earlier this season and converted 6-4 at the District 6 meet 10 days earlier.
"I just didn't have the juice, I guess. I don't know. Maybe I was just tired,'' Leap said.
The Blue Devil relay didn't match its time from the preliminaries, when it ran 3:27.86, but only two teams cut time from prelims to the finals. Bellwood actually improved one spot from its premeet seeding.
"I felt pretty good about it. We had a little congestion on the second leg, which held us back a little bit. Other than that, we came out here and ran our race,'' Montgomery said.
Leap is going to Penn State and is in talks with the Nittany Lions about joining the team as a walk-on. An eighth-place medalist in the triple jump last season, he far exceeded his dreams for his senior season.
"I was just hoping to set a couple of school records and the main goal at the end is always states. I never could have imagined medaling in three,'' Leap said.
Leap didn't feel either Saturday medal was the highlight of his day.
"I think it's just the whole thing. How many guys we brought this year was just great. Coach [Nick] Lovrich said this is the most events we've been in as a team. We've been absolutely awesome this year,'' Leap said.