A few days ago, I wrote the first 10 years of baseball coverage in the Valley in the VSR-era has boggled the mind. If you think that’s true, those same 10 years of track & field coverage have been mind-blowing.
The first decade of track & field has been dominated by this century’s (and millennium’s, for that matter) “First Family of Valley Track & Field” — the Gambrells, as well as by New York pole vaulters, especially the boys from Waverly.
Jarred Gambrell opened the decade by winning back-to-back gold medals in the triple jump to close out a three-peat in the event. (He also won gold in 2009). He finished his career with eight PIAA medals, including two silver medals, two fourth-place medals, a fifth-place medal, and a sixth-place medal.
Breana Gambrell closed out the decade by winning two gold medals and two silver medals in her fourth trip to Shippensburg, bringing her career total to 11, including six gold medals (four in the long jump), four silver medals, and one fifth-place medal.
Add to that, Ariana Gambrell won three PIAA medals, including a silver and a bronze.
Junior Benny Gambrell, who made his first trip Shippensburg last year, may have added to that total this spring, but now we’ll never know. Hopefully, next year.
The Gambrell girls also had company on the podium at the end of the decade — and lots of it.
Emily Lunger, who sat out her sophomore year, won five medals, including two silver and a bronze, and Rachel Hutchison won four, including a gold, a silver, and a bronze.
Put that all together, and the foursome of Breana Gambrell, Lunger, Hutchison, and Ariana Gambrell won 23 medals, including seven golds, eight silvers, and three bronze medals in a five-year span.
I thought I had a pretty good memory, but I have to admit as I dug through my archives I was overwhelmed by the amount of success the Valley track & field athletes had on the State stage in the first decade of VSR coverage.
Let’s take a look back.
Junior Jarred Gambrell won his second triple jump state title with a leap of 48-feet, 11 1/4-inches.
Athens senior Clay McCarty earned an eighth-place medal in the shot put.
Chris McCarty became the Waverly boys’ second pole vaulter to claim state gold, clearing the bar at 15-feet. Tyler Gutierrez was the first Waverly vaulter to win a state title.
Waverly’s Autumn Johnson and Erika Kisel each won three state medals.
Johnson won a silver medal in the pole vault with a school- and IAC-record vault of 11-feet, 9-inches. She also won a silver medal in the 100-meter hurdles.
Johnson and Johnson teamed with junior Mariah Brown, and 7th-grader Danielle Burkhart to win a fourth-place medal in the 400-meter relay.
Kisel and Brown teamed with Kayla Hager, and 7th-grader Kaylee Uhl to win a silver medal in the 1,600-meter relay in a time of 3:58.59.
Kisel won a fifth-place medal in the 400-meter dash. She also narrowly missed out on a fourth medal (by .004 seconds) in the 200-meter dash, finishing ninth.
In his final trip to Shippensburg, Gambrell, who went on to compete at Michigan State, pulled off the triple jump three-peat with a Class AA state-record hop, skip, and jump of 50-feet, 1 3/4-inches. The record still stands.
He also won silver in long jump, and a fifth-place medal in the 100-meter dash.
Kyle Pane finished seventh in the 110-meter hurdles.
The Waverly boys brought home four state medals, and the girls won two.
Sean Swartwood, Nick Puusalu, Ian McMahon, and Brian Tubbs teamed to win a silver medal in the 1,600-meter relay, while Cole Mensch finished sixth in the 400-meter hurdles, Puusalu was sixth in the long jump, and Jeff Mastrantuono was sixth in the pole vault.
For the girls, Mariah Brown won a pair of sixth-place medals. She was sixth in the 200-meter dash, and teamed with Liia Carpenter, Uhl, and Burkhart in the 1,600-meter relay.
The Athens 1,600-meter relay foursome of Tyler Birdsall, Corey Poklemba, Brad Sampson and Nick Carl teamed to win a sixth-place medal. In the semifinals, the Wildcat foursome broke the school record. The names wiped from the Athens record book on the 1997 relay team were then head coach David Gabriel, as well as his running mates Steve Angelo, Cory Baker, and Vinnie Watkins.
The thing you might not remember about the foursome’s medal-winning performance is they took second the previous week at the District 4 meet, despite dropping the baton.
The Waverly boys won four medals, and Tioga captured its first of the decade.
Jeff Mastrantuono won a gold medal in the pole vault, clearing the bar at 14-feet, becoming the second Waverly vaulter in three years to win state gold, and the third overall.
He also teamed with Puusalu, Swartwood, and Ryan McFarland to win a silver medal in the 400-meter relay.
Puusalu, Swartwood, and McFarland teamed with Mensch to win a fourth-place medal in the 1,600-meter relay.
Puusalu capped his career with sixth state medal, placing fifth in the 200-meter dash.
Tioga’s Charlsie Bowen, only a sophomore, won a fourth-place medal in the pole vault.
It was a lean year, with just one medal, although there were other Valley competitors at States.
Sayre’s Elyse Skerpon won a fifth-place medal in the 300-meter hurdles
Not a bad year, with four State medals coming back to the Valley.
Sayre junior Nick Sweet passed four competitors in the final 100 yards to finish fourth in the 1,600-meter run.
Skerpon won the second medal of her career, placing seventh in the 300-meter hurdles.
Charlsie Bowen, who missed out on States as a junior, won a silver medal in the pole vault, clearing the bar at a school-record height of 11-feet, 9-inches. She also finished seventh in the 400-meter hurdles.
Part II of the Gambrell Gold Medal Express began in 2015, and another Waverly vaulter claimed gold.
PIAAFreshman Breana Gambrell won a gold medal in the long jump at 18-feet, 4-inches, and a silver medal in the 100-meter dash. Fellow freshman Emily Lunger won a fourth-place medal in the 400-meter dash.
Sayre senior Joey Galizia won a sixth-place medal in the triple jump.
Junior Josh Mastrantuono follows in his brother’s footsteps to win a gold medal in the pole vault, clearing the bar at 14-feet. He became the fourth pole vault state champ, to go along with five state runners-up.
Breana Gambrell won her second long jump gold medal with a school-record leap of 19-feet, 3 3/4-inches — eclipsing her previous record (set earlier in the day) by 5 3/4-inches.
Breana Gambrell teamed with younger sister freshman Ariana Gambrell, freshman Rachel Hutchinson, and senior Shannel Baglini to win a fifth-place medal in the 400-meter relay. They set a school record in the semifinals.
Josh Mastrantuono and Tioga’s Gage Lubertowicz finished third and fourth, respectively, in the pole vault — both at 14-feet, 3-inches.
Tioga’s Malley Bowen won a bronze medal in the 100-meter hurdles. She ran a school-record time of 15.29 in the preliminaries.
Waverly sophomore Kate Oteng-Bediako, who moved out of the school district shortly after States, won a fifth-place medal in the triple jump with an effort of 37-feet, 5 3/4-inches.
Breana Gambrell, who earlier in the season set an unofficial state record with a leap of 20-feet, 8-inches, made it a three-peat in long jump with an effort of 19-feet, 5-inches. She also broke through in her third try with a gold medal in the triple jump with a hop, skip, and jump of 38-feet, 8 3/4-inches.
Breana Gambrell also won the second silver medal of her career in the 100-meter dash.
Lunger, after a year away from the sport, returned to place sixth in the 200-meter dash
Ariana Gambrell, Baglini, Hutchinson, and Lunger teamed to win a bronze medal in the 1,600-meter relay in a school-record time of 4:02.34.
Running the event for just the 12th time in his career, Tioga senior Jonny Polo Rankin won a sixth-place medal in the 400-meter hurdles in 57.38 seconds. He set the school record at 56.83 seconds a week earlier.
Gambrell won her fourth triple jump gold medal with a state-record jump of 19-feet, 11-inches. She also repeated as triple jump gold medalist at 38-feet, 3 1/4-inches.
She won her third silver medal in the 100-meter dash, finishing second to three-time state champ and PIAA record-holder Thelma Davies of Girard College.
Lunger finally broke through in the high jump, winning a silver medal in her third trip to States in the event.
Running a close second to Breana Gambrell’s smashing success in her final trip to Shippensburg in terms of impact was the silver-medal performance of the 400-meter relay foursome of Ariana Gambrell, Hutchison, Lunger, and Breana Gambrell, who teamed to shatter their own school record by 0.6 seconds, clocking in at 47.75 seconds.
What made the story so compelling is the same foursome had one of the fastest times in the state the previous year, and were well ahead of the field at the District 4 championship meet when a drop of the baton resulted in a bitter disappointment.
In the only real low-light of the weekend, Hutchison tripped over the first hurdle in the 300-meter hurdles, and did not advance to the finals. She did get up to finish fifth in the heat.
The Lady Wildcats were state runners-up in the team standings, trailing only state powerhouse Neumann-Goretti.
Isaac Chandler became the first Waverly pole vaulter to qualify for States as a sophomore, and won a seventh-place medal.
In the redemption story of the decade, Hutchison, who clipped the first hurdle in the 300-meter hurdles the previous year, returned to Shippensburg and won a gold medal in the event in a school-record time of 44.69 seconds.
Ariana Gambrell narrowly missed a medal in the 100-meter hurdles, and finished ninth. She also qualified in the long jump.
Isaac Chandler won a bronze medal in the pole vault, and an 8th-place medal in the 110-meter hurdles.
Waverly’s 3,200-meter relay team of juniors Sheridan Talada, Cora Smith, Elizabeth Fritzen, and freshman Olivia Nittinger won a sixth-place medal in a school-record time of 9:45.54.
The precautions taken in light of the Covid-19 pandemic have caused the cancellation of the PIAA postseason, and will likely result in the same fate for the New York State postseason.
It’s quite a shame because 2020 was poised to be another big year, especially for Waverly, with Chandler set to take aim on pole vaulting gold, and a strong pack of Lady Wolverine seniors ready to bring home a cache of state hardware.
Athens senior Cassidy Stackpole (javelin), junior Benny Gambrell, and Damian Hudson, who qualified in two events, were returning state qualifiers in individual events, while three — senior Sam Markle, junior Emma Roe, and sophomore Hannah Walker — of the four members of the Lady Wildcats 1,600-meter relay team were back.
Sayre senior Kayla Hughey, a cross country state qualifier in the fall, was a contender for States in the 3,2000, and sophomore sprinter Roz Haney was as well.
Chandler, a two-time state place-finisher, was looking to improve on last year’s third-place finish in the pole vault, and 8th-place finish in the 110-meter hurdles, while junior Collin Wright was poised for a return trip to the State stage as well.
Waverly’s 3,200-meter relay team of Talada, Smith, Fritzen and Nittinger, which placed sixth at States last year was back for another shot at gold, while Smith and Ortiz were looking to improve on last year’s performances at States.
Talada, Marissa Eisenhower, Fritzen, and Caden Wheeler were also poised to make the trip to States for the Wolverines in individual events.
Unfortunately, the sacrifices the aforementioned high school seniors — and all high school seniors for that matter — have made extend beyond the loss of their spring sports season. They could quite possibly go without a graduation ceremony, which is truly a shame. My heart goes out to everyone of them, athlete or not.