Gateway 1st-year hurdler Derrick Jones earns trip to PIAA championship meet

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Sunday, May 21, 2023 | 11:01 AM


A couple of months ago, a hurdle was a foreign object to Gateway senior Derrick Jones.

The first-year member of the Gators boys track and field team gave the event a try, and he quickly made strides, both figuratively and literally as he got more and more comfortable sailing over the hurdle.

Modestly seeded for the WPIAL championships May 17 at Slippery Rock University, he produced a pair of top-four finishes, won two WPIAL medals, and secured a trip to the PIAA meet March 26-27 at Shippensburg.

“It was difficult at first,” said Jones concerning giving the hurdles a try at the start of the season. “But the coaches saw that I was kind of a natural going over the hurdles, so they put me in there. Physically, I am a clean runner, so I just kind of took off with it. As soon as I got the three-step down, I was good from there.”

Jones began his WPIAL meet in the prelims of the 110-meter high hurdles. He came in seeded 19th with a best time of 16.23 seconds.

But given the opportunity to better that time, he raced to third place in the prelims and went under 16 seconds with a time of 15.59.

Jones went even faster in the finals, finishing with a 15.40. He landed in fourth overall. The top four finishers in each Class 3A event automatically qualified for states.

“In the finals, I was just trying to do the same thing with the same approach as (the preliminaries),” Jones said.

“I felt really springy. I was doing good most of the race, and I was right up there in first or second, and I kicked over the last hurdle, and three people went right by me.”

Jones came back about 90 minutes later in the 300 hurdles. With one shot to make it happen, he moved up from the 12th seed (41.44) to a third-place bronze medal in a personal-best time of 40.08.

“At the beginning of the season, I didn’t think I was going to make it (to WPIALs). I am blessed to be here, and I am going to try my best to do better at states,” Jones said.

Leg issues from impact on the track during training and competition made rest a necessity after the Norwin Last Chance Meet on May 11.

“I was surprised he ran as well as he did,” Gateway coach Tom LaBuff said. “I wasn’t sure what to expect. He seemed to have recovered well, obviously. We were very pleased. This season has been an amazing accomplishment for him.”

Jones will run a pair of preliminary races at states at 11 a.m. and 2 p.m. Friday, respectively. The finals will be Saturday for the 110 (10:15 a.m.) and 300 (1:25 p.m.).

“You never know what can happen at states,” LaBuff said. “He’s been dropping time, so there’s no reason to think he can’t do it again. Even though he’s so inexperienced, even at this stage, you don’t want to put a cap on what might happen. He went from hitting 10 hurdles (May 11) to two clean runs in the 110 highs in one week without any practice in between. For him, at this point, there is nothing to lose. He’s excited, and we’re excited for him to go up to states and perform.”

Senior Daniella Garner and junior Kiki Pitts both made return trips to WPIALs with the hopes of moving up the ladder.

Garner came in seeded ninth in the 100 hurdles (15.90) with the goal of earning a WPIAL medal and challenging for a trip to states. Her time in the preliminaries slipped slightly to 16.06, and she finished 12th overall.

She then placed 20th in the 300 hurdles (49.74), down from her 15th seed.

Pitts held her seed placement in the 100 hurdles, finishing 16th in a time of 16.53. She moved up from a 17th seed in the 300 to finish 12th (48.25).

“Both Daniella and Kiki didn’t have a good day for whatever reason,” LaBuff said. “I felt so bad for them. I didn’t know what to say to them. I know they were really emotionally distraught. They prepared and warmed up properly. It was just one of those things.”

Senior Lois Otti-Boating was the 18th seed for the girls long jump with a top attempt of 17 feet, 1 inch.

She didn’t reach her PR, settling instead for a top leap of 16-4. But she moved up seven places to 11th overall.

A 17-1 distance would’ve put her in sixth as several others had off days.

“Lois was only a couple of inches below her PR,” LaBuff said. “She was disappointed. We were hoping she could’ve pop a big one, but she wasn’t able to. “

Junior Caleb Bell made his WPIAL debut in the 400. He held his seed placement and finished 21st with a time of 53.12, slightly higher than his season best of 52.24.

“Caleb did what he’s been doing the past couple of weeks,” LaBuff said. “He didn’t run as fast as he had hoped, but he was happy to be there competing.”

Michael Love is a TribLive reporter covering sports in the Alle-Kiski Valley and the eastern suburbs of Pittsburgh. A Clearfield native and a graduate of Westminster (Pa.), he joined the Trib in 2002 after spending five years at the Clearfield Progress. He can be reached at mlove@triblive.com.

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