Fast friends: Shady Side Academy’s Riggins, Freeport’s Shemanski finish 1-2 in PIAA Class AA 800

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Saturday, May 26, 2018 | 8:10 PM


SHIPPENSBURG — As rival runners go, Freeport's Sidney Shemanski and Shady Side Academy's Melissa Riggins are closer than most.

How close?

Only 17-hundredths of a second separated them Saturday. The talented middle-distance runners finished first and second in the girls 800 meters at the PIAA Class AA Track and Field Championships in Shippensburg.

Riggins won gold in 2:16.38, and a split-second later, Shemanski took silver in 2:16.55.

But their rivalry is anything but bitter.

“We always talk before and after every event,” Riggins said. “She's my track friend from another team. They say don't fraternize with the enemy, but it's hard when she's so nice.”

Shemansky agreed.

“I enjoy it,” Shemanski said. “There's always someone that's going to be against you, that you want to push you to make yourself better.”

Shemanski is a sophomore and Riggins is a freshman, so the two young runners should have two more years of head-to-head races.

Saturday's 800-meters final was their fourth this season. They share the same section, raced at the Freeport Invitational and again in the WPIAL finals.

“We're going to have this the rest of our high school careers together,” Shemanski said. “I'll definitely be after her for the next couple of years.”

Shemanski improved on her fifth-place state finish from last season and recorded a personal-best time, but Saturday's race was tough for both WPIAL stars.

The pair was quickly boxed into a crowd and trapped behind two runners from Neumann-Goretti. As the pack rounded the final curve, Riggins found an opening to the front. Shemanski was forced wide to get around Neumann-Goretti's Dasia Wilson and Kami Joi Hickson.

“It's all about strategy. You have to know, when is the right time to pass a girl?” Shemanski said. “… I had to actually move over and waste a lot of my energy to get on the outside lane.”

Said Riggins: “In the last curve, people started spreading out and they left a gap, so I was able to get through. That's how I was able to make my move.”

Wilson finished third (2:17.12) and Hickson was fourth (2:17.89).

“I felt them slowing down, so I really wanted to pass them,” Shemanski said. “If I wasn't boxed in, if I was able to get past them, I definitely think I would have had a better time.”

Still, down the stretch, it was close.

The rival runners have similar postures and both have long strides, Shemanski said. Riggins runs longer distance races and also won the PIAA 1,600 meters Saturday, making her one of three double-winners from the WPIAL.

They're both strong closers who charge to the finish line in the final 300 meters. But being trapped behind multiple competitors isn't a situation they'd battled before.

Against teammates from Philadelphia, they found a way to the front.

“It's hard not to want to give her a big hug afterward,” Riggins said, “because we both dealt with being boxed-in. That definitely affected our times. To see that she got out and could still come get second made me so happy.

“That's the first time I ever dealt with being boxed in. Seeing that she could deal with it too made me really happy. I was like: ‘Yes, Sidney!' ”

Shemanski and Riggins ran in separate 800-meter heats Friday and posted the two fastest semifinal times in the state. Shemanski won the first heat in 2:16.92 and Riggins won the second in 2:17.95.

Riggins won the WPIAL title last week by exactly one second.

“I love running against her because she pushes me,” Riggins said. “You know how you can feel someone on your back or you see them in the corner of your eye? It's Sidney. She's coming.”

Two Deer Lakes juniors left Shippensburg with PIAA medals.

WPIAL champion Kiera Cutright finished sixth in the 300 hurdles in Class AA girls. Her 45.60-second mark was three-tenths faster than her WPIAL winning time.

Josh Yourish placed eighth in the 800 meters in 1:59.72. Yourish was the highest finisher from the WPIAL in the Class AA boys event. WPIAL champion Gordon Pollock of Winchester Thurston did not compete in the 800 in Shippensburg.

Plum junior Hunter Linhart finished 10th in the Class AAA boys discus. Linhart threw 147 feet, 7 inches in the finals.

Chris Harlan is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at charlan@tribweb.com or via Twitter @CHarlan_Trib.

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