Altoona’s Mulhern, Wagner earn first medals

SHIPPENSBURG – The ghosts of the past paved the way for the medals of the present for a pair of Altoona Area High School senior girls in field events at the PIAA Track and Field Championships on Saturday at Seth Grove Stadium.

Pole vaulter Hannah Mulhern and triple jumper Abby Wagner both won the first PIAA medals of their career, and they might well have been worth waiting for. Mulhern claimed the silver medal, while Wagner finished fourth in her event by beating her previous personal record more than once.

Both were in Class AAA competition.

In all, five area girls reached the medal stand on the meet’s second and final day. Bellwood-Antis’ Ellen Crook placed fifth in the Class AA girls 1600-meter run, and Bishop Carroll’s Britt Krug and Penn Cambria’s Jadyn Tiracave finished fifth and seventh, respectively, in the Class AA javelin.

“I would never guess [when I started vaulting] that I’d ever be at the state meet competing as one of the top-seeded athletes. Coming out second is like a dream come true,” Mulhern said.

Mulhern’s top height was 12 feet. Hempfield’s Bridget Guy took home the gold with a 12-6 height; seven girls went out after making 12-0.

“It’s awesome,” Mulhern said. “This is something I’ve come back from last year. I had a really bad meet last year, so it’s good to come out runner-up this year.”

In 2013, Mulhern entered the meet seeded second. However, she was eliminated more than a foot lower than the 12-3 she jumped at the District 6 meet and wound up tied for 10th with five other girls, out of the medals.

Mulhern said she learned a lesson from that experience.

“I came into the meet last year way too confident. I was seeded second last year. I came in a little more relaxed this year. I knew that I had a good advantage, and I was up there with some of the other girls,” Mulhern said.

Although Mulhern was the top seed this year, she didn’t put too much stock into that. State seedings are based solely on performances at various district meets, which were skewered by the weather 10 days ago.

“I knew I couldn’t be too confident because I came in seeded 12-5, but other girls here had done 12-6 or 12-8. I calmed myself down and set myself up for that,” Mulhern said.

Mulhern, who has been pole vaulting since eighth grade, credited Rob Wahl’s instruction and her gymnastics background helping her to progress from what she called a “really bad” vaulter to a state runner-up. She felt like last year was a missed opportunity that she put right on Saturday.

“Last year, a state medal was way achievable for me. It just didn’t play out at this meet. It was really bad weather, and I just had a bad meet in general,” Mulhern said. “This year, I knew I could do it. I knew I could go up with the other girls.”

Wagner has been a regular at the PIAA meet, but, until Saturday, she had nothing to show for it unless you count lessons learned and disappointment. That all was washed away with her fourth place medal.

“It felt amazing,” Wagner said. “I’ve been here four years, and the past three years I haven’t medaled. To come out here, jump a PR and make the medal stand, it was just amazing.”

Wagner, who had only jumped more than 38 feet twice in her outdoor career coming in, surpassed that mark three times at states. Her medal effort of 38-8 1/4 in the prelims was almost 5 inches better than her previous personal record. She also jumped 38-5 and 38-4.

She said the past didn’t leave her hesitant about competing. She was eager to close any old wounds.

“I was really, really excited to come out and jump. I knew that I had a PR in me. I knew that I was going to be able to do well,” Wagner said. “It was good especially to see my coach, Rachel Gehret. We didn’t think she was going to be able to come down [because of a health situation]. Seeing her here was amazing. She’s a good coach and an inspiration.”

The second phase of Wagner’s triple always has been the part that’s held her back. She’s been hard at work correcting that, and it paid off.

“That was helping me get my foot flat so I could bounce and get a good jump in,” Wagner said. “I had a lot of confidence. Warming up on Thursday and warming up today, I just felt really good.”

Crook came in with a chance to medal in a pair of events, the mile and the half-mile. She did so in the 1600, but the increasingly warm conditions made it hard for the Pitt-bound senior to bounce back for the later race.

“I was drained. I could feel it. I knew before. I was feeling it, but I was going to try to give it my all,” Crook said. “I wanted to try and place, but it wasn’t there.”

When Crook felt she could assure herself of a medal in the first race, she decided to go for it rather than hold off to the 800 and diminish her chances. Crook beat her prelim times in the 1600 finals by finishing in 5:07.19. As Crook predicted on Friday, Elk County Catholic’s Kennedy Weisner won the event with a national honor roll time of 4:45.99. Crook fought back the temptation to try to run with her.

“It’s hard, because in my head I kind of have this ‘run your fact, try to PR, do what you can do.’ Four forty four is a crazy time to try and keep up with,” Crook said. “If I would have stayed with her in the two laps, I wouldn’t have had anything left in the last one. I didn’t want to play it dumb, because I knew I wasn’t capable of a 44. I think, if I start training more, I could get down to that eventually. But, as of now, I knew just to play it safe.”

Crook hoped to beat the school record in the 800, but she just didn’t have anything left in the tank after medaling in the mile. She ran a more than respectable 2:22.92, but that was only good enough for 11th.

She said she’d take the trade-off of the medal for the record, though.

“It makes up for it. It does,” Crook said. “To end my senior year with a medal, I can take that. To get fifth, too, it’s not bad. It was a good weekend. I got three PRs out of it. I PR’d twice in the mile, and I PR’d in the 800. Not big, but, in the 800, I’ll take a little bit off,” Crook said.

Weisner again paced the field, completing the two circuits in 2:09.46.

Krug and Tiracave are just freshmen from schools eight miles apart that both compete in the same conference, the Laurel Highlands. Both set personal records and met the PIAA qualifying standard in medaling.

Krug threw 131-8, bettering her previous best by 2 feet. Tiracave tossed it 127-1.

“I didn’t even think I was going to be coming to states,” Krug said. “Seeded ninth, I didn’t ever think I’d get a fifth-place medal. I gave what I had and did everything my coach told me. It’s just crazy, because I’m going to be coming back next year. I’m going to working harder and getting stronger and, hopefully, doing a lifting thing over the summer and improve.”

There’s reason to believe she has a promising future. Krug’s only been throwing for a year.

“I really never had any interest in track and field one time and decided I’d try to throw it,” Krug said. “I just ended up loving it.”

Krug said she needed help keeping calm leading up to and during the event.

“I was pretty nervous. I just looked over to my coach and talked to Jadyn a lot,” Krug said. “We talked about how cool it was to be here as freshmen. We realized we might not getting another opportunity like this. Hopefully, we come here next year, but we just [wanted] to live in the moment while we’re here.”

Tiracave, who has received coaching from Lady Panther javelin greats Carrie Karabinos and Jess Delic, said Krug’s been a lot of help getting to where she is now.

“It’s great. Britt really inspires me and to push myself better when I throw. I have a great relationship with her, and we love throwing against each other,” Tiracave said.

Tiracave originally was a high jumper but thought the javelin looked fun and started throwing four years ago.

“Four years later, here I am,” Tiracave said. “Coming into states, I was just happy to be here. I didn’t really care how I did. I was hoping for top 10, but, to medal, I’m just really happy.”

Several other area girls competed on Saturday but were locked out of the medals.

Central Cambria’s Samantha Koss finished 16th – a spot she held most of the race – in the Class AA 3200 meters. Koss’s time was 11:39.78. Koss also was a member of the Lady Red Devils’ 3200 relay that finished 12th with a time of 9:57.42. Koss was joined on the team by Jackie Bracken, Hannah Swope and Emma Wess.

Huntingdon’s Mackenzie Garner took 16th in the Class AA shot put. Garner threw a 35-8. Hollidaysburg’s Madelyn Betar took 26th in the Class AAA discus with a best throw of 92-2.