The thrill of the hunt is what motivates a lot of younger track and field athletes to continue improving.
Gettysburg’s track and field coaches may have been concerned when sophomore Noah Sanders and junior Kelty Oaster landed in the slower heat in their respective events in the District 3 Class 3A Championships on Saturday.
Sanders had won nearly every race he entered in the 400 this season, including at the YAIAA Championships leading up to the D3 meet in Shippensburg. Oaster was met with a little more competition in her event, the 800, during the conference meet, but still was able to run her own race.
For most athletes, districts is a chance to enter fight or flight mode — to find a new gear as the competition begins to slip away. Sanders and Oaster were denied that opportunity, yet each powered through their respective races to set career bests while qualifying for the PIAA meet.
Oaster broke her own school record with a 2:18.11 two-lap trek for seventh place. Sanders cruised his single lap in a paltry 49.13 seconds, coming within .03 seconds of a 33-year school record for fourth place. He’s the first Gettysburg boy to qualify for states on the track since Bernard James, who also made the 400 in 2008.
Joe Pecaitis did so in the pole vault last year.
“I’m tired but I’m so excited, thinking about the future and what I could run,” Sanders said. “I knew I had a slight chance of making states this year, but I surprised myself coming out and doing this well.”
Sanders’ head bobbed with confidence every few paces as he finished his sprint well ahead of the second-heat competition. He looks forward to the competition at states, also held at Shippensburg, where he is currently ranked sixth.
“The better the competition, usually I start to up my game more and more,” he said.
The race is dreaded by most athletes as it forces the body into exhaustion, trying to make the best of both speed and endurance. Noah’s father, Darren Sanders, who ran long distance for Gettysburg, recommended the race for his son when he saw he had skills in both areas.
“All of my family has been a huge influence, supporting me every race,” he said. “Coach knew I could do it from the beginning.”
Sanders was referring to Gettysburg co-head coach Joe Kuhns, who helped him understand that finding the proper pace was a slow, purposeful grind that would require discipline.
“You can see in him a drive that separates him from the rest of the group,” Kuhns said. “He knows when to push and how hard to push. Sometimes I have to tone him down a bit because he takes it too far. He’s learned to understand that balance.”
Sanders benefitted from only having to run one event on Saturday. Oaster was needed as a leg for the Warriors 4x400 relay that broke a school record earlier this year. That group finished 13th at districts, three seconds slower than their seed.
Oaster will return as the first Gettysburg girl to makes states on the track since Ariana Camel qualified for the 100, 100 hurdles and high jump in 2014. Hannah Baddick qualified in 2016 in the triple jump.
“I was hoping to make it to states today,” she said after her event. “I wasn’t sure what place I would get but I knew if I got in the 2:18s that I’d probably make it.”
Oaster actually preferred to be in the slower heat. In the 800, several runners jockey for position at the start of the race, their elbows and knees clashing into one another as they fight their way to the inside lane.
She was pushed all the way to the finish by Hershey’s Olivia Wilson, who finished eighth .07 seconds behind.
“I worked a lot more in the offseason this year and it helped a lot,” she said.
Adams County’s all-time best mark (2:17.0) is held by Jordan Jenkins, a former New Oxford athlete versatile in all the distance runs. She continued her career at N.C. State.
Oaster hasn’t decided where she’d like to attend college. She’s just focused on bringing down her times.
“I hope I can bring it down at least a second or two going into next year,” she said. “I’d love to end senior year with a 2:16 or 2:17.”
MORE FOR THE MUSTANGS
South Western’s Kayla Brooks continued to pass the torch on Saturday, qualifying for the PIAA Class 3A Championships in the high jump. Just as she was in the triple jump by Zaiyah Marshall, Brooks was once again knocked down a peg by another up-and-coming Mustang, Maddie Lehker. Both made 5 foot, 1-inch leaps. Lehker took third while Brooks placed fifth based on misses.
Brooks was the only South Western girl to make states a year ago, so having some young blood along for the return trip to Shippensburg was a treat.
“I’m really excited to know that once I leave there will still be a lot going on,” she said. “I’m going to Ship, so I’m so excited to come watch when they come compete here. I’ll be here helping out and be able to cheer them on. Maddie told me to help with the high jump so I can give her some tips next year.”
Lehker made her first attempt at 5-1. It was the first time she’d accomplished the mark since the beginning of the year. Brooks was impressed, adding that she didn’t break 5-0 her freshman year.
“I was so stunned,” Brooks said. “I’m just glad to have someone to come with me. I watched her compete with my sister last year in middle school and knew she’d be coming up with some big jumps.”
WELCOME TO SHIPPENSBURG
A few months ago, South Western’s Dustin Edwards was a stranger to District 3 and Shippensburg University. Next weekend, he’ll be acting as an unofficial tour guide for some of his former teammates.
The sophomore transfer from Elizabeth Forward School District in Pittsburgh tied for sixth in the high jump with a make on the first attempt on 6-2, squeezing into the final PIAA qualifying spot for states.
“Their 4x800 made it and my friend in the javelin made it, so I’ll get a chance to meet back up with them,” said Edwards happily. “I’m thinking I’ll need a 6-4 next week.”
For a second year in a row, the New Oxford boys’ 4x800 relay went into the offseason thinking of what could of been. At the very least, the group, comprised of twins Dawaun and Tayshawn Golden, Noah Strausbaugh and Owen Kreeger, lowered its school-record time to a 8:06.80 while bringing home a D3-3A medal.
Though the Colonials finished fifth in the fast heat, they knew upon running it that they needed another six-second shave to top the Chambersburg team that surged out of the second heat for the sixth and final qualifying spot.
“On the way here, we were all shooting for states,” Dawaun Golden said. “We thought if we ran a good time, we’d get in. We ran a good time, but we fell short. It was a great year for our confidence. We upped our ability and proved we could go out and win big races. Next year we just have to go get it.”
The twins also ran in the 800. Tayshawn finished 10th (1:58.97) and Dawuan took 13th (2:01.23).
Adam Michael can be reached at email@example.com. Follow on Twitter at @GoodOldTwoNames