SHIPPENSBURG - Asked how she planned to spend the rest of her Memorial Day weekend, Maria Snyder took a few deep breaths and smiled.
"I'm going to relax. Maybe go for a run. A nice, relaxing run. No pressure,'' Snyder said.
Snyder earned it. The Northern Bedford County High School junior had an inconsistent track season after winning a silver medal last year, but she performed when it mattered most, posting her best time of 2012 and taking fourth place in the Class AA girls 3200-meter run on Saturday at the PIAA Track and Field Championships at a hot and muggy Seth Grove Memorial Stadium.
Central Cambria's Alyssa Brandis finished sixth in the same race, claiming her first individual state track medal. Brandis then came back to get a second medal, leading off the Lady Red Devils' 3200 relay team of Jordan Hayward, Katie Bracken and Sam Elkin, which came in eighth.
Snyder was seeded 20th in the 3200 after running 11:57.40 at the District 5 meet, but she had run 11:24 this season and recorded a 10:56.86 at states a year ago.
"Last year was a surprise. No one expected it. This year I came in like I wanted to medal. I didn't care which one. I just really wanted to medal,'' Snyder said. "I needed to prove to myself that I could still run with them.''
Snyder ran third for much of the race before getting passed by Hickory's Morgan Richards at the end and finishing with a time of 11 minutes, 5.24 seconds. St. Marys' Adair Gennocro kicked it in gear at the end to pull away from Boiling Springs' Meredith Speakman and win going away with a 10:36.62 time.
"I knew it was a much stronger field this year,'' Snyder said. "You can't really plan a race that's two miles long. You just have to let it come to you.''
Snyder has had a mixed bag of a school year. She won District 5 titles in cross country, tennis and the mile and two-mile runs in addition to the 3200 relay. However, she admittedly underachieved in the cross country at states after hitting her knee with a tennis racquet, something she kept quiet. It took her two months to come back from the injury, and she said it created even more of an impact psychologically.
Her times this spring weren't what they were last season, but she felt she could come back.
"I had a big support system telling me that I had it in me and that I could do it,'' Snyder said. "I just needed to finally do it, because, during the year, I let things get in the way and things didn't work out.''
Snyder got out quickly with some help from Brandis, who broke her own game plan and raced to an early lead. That set the wheels in motion for seven runners to get away from the pack quickly, which played to Snyder's strength.
"I got a really good start today. That really helped me,'' Snyder said. "Then [Speakman and Gennocro] went off on their own, and I had to find my own pace. I found it. That was the key, that I just kept calm. If I went with them I don't think I could have finished strong.
"I knew I had to get in the open. I can't run in small, tight spaces. It makes me nervous, and I tense up.''
Brandis was nearly speechless after winning her two medals.
"It feels really good,'' Brandis said. "I can't describe it.''
Brandis ran a personal-record 11:16.09 in the 3200. Her seeded time of 11:23.66 had her fifth coming in.
"I just wanted to stick with the group. I tried to stick with the fourth and fifth people,'' Brandis said. "At about the [start of] the second mile, I thought I was [going to medal], because I'm usually better the second mile.''
Brandis' relay medal was the second of her career; as a freshman in 2010, she was part of the team with Kelsey Seymour, Kendall Seymour and Ashley Stump - all Division I college runners eventually - that took the silver.
"I felt it on the second lap,'' Brandis said. "I just pushed through it.''
This time around, Brandis hung around on the edge of medal contention before Hayward, the only freshman on a team of juniors and Bracken's cousin, moved Central Cambria up to fourth. Bracken and Elkin then kept the Lady Devils in the top eight, Elkin holding off Towanda and St. Marys for the final position on the stand.
"I actually had no clue what place we were in, so I just decided to run my heart out and collapse after the finish line and hopefully not before,'' Elkin said. "During the district meet, I had [Homer-Center distance star] Angel [Piccirillo] behind me, and I decided to run like she was chasing me.''
After being switched from hurdles to the sprints midway through the season, Penn Cambria junior Carly Petney made the semifinals in the Class AA 100. Her trip to states ended there, however, as she ran a 13.26 in the first heat on Saturday, placing her eighth in that race.
Altoona's Abby Wagner took 17th place in the Class AAA triple jump with a distance of 35 feet, 9 inches. Her teammate, Katelyn Goodman, threw 93-11 and was 20th in the discus.
Everett's Theole Feuillet was 35th in the Class AA shot put, throwing 32-10.5.