Hempfield’s Tapper uses indoor reps to hone talents in throws, pole vault

Monday, January 17, 2022 | 9:46 AM

Elizabeth Tapper made history last season at Hempfield as the first female from a Pennsylvania high school to qualify simultaneously for a throwing event and the dissimilar pole vault competition at the PIAA Outdoor Track and Field Championships.

Is she fazed by the feat?

Spartans coach Dave Murray is.

“She’s a state qualifier in the pole vault,” Murray said. “I’d say that’s pretty impressive for a thrower.”

The second event was almost an afterthought at one point.

“I pole vaulted in sixth, seventh and eighth grades,” Tapper said. “When I got to high school — you have to do two events in indoor and outdoor track — they didn’t want me to run. So, in my freshman year, I didn’t have a second event and coach Murray said, ‘You should stick with pole vaulting. You’d be pretty good at it.’ I tried it, thinking I couldn’t be that good at it at this level.”

She was wrong.

While Tapper’s forte, indeed, is in the throwing events, she said the decision to stay active in the pole vault has boosted her mental toughness while at times helping the team’s score.

“It was a complete surprise that I picked it up so quickly,” she said. “Throwing and vaulting are completely different elements. They do not go together whatsoever. With throwing, it’s all about strength and getting bigger. With pole vaulting, it’s staying lean and small.”

At the 2021 PIAA outdoor meet, Tapper captured third place in the state in the shot put and discus but her name avoided the leaders in the pole vault. Still, she got a kick out of the weekend trip last May to Shippensburg University in Cumberland County, which annually hosts the event.

“They were golf-carting me across campus, back and forth from the pole vault to the shot and discus. I was running all over the place,” Tapper said.

She appears to have a future in throwing events, but Tapper’s ceiling is yet to be known as she navigates through her junior year at Hempfield. In the current indoor season, Tapper was ranked second in the state and fourth nationally in the girls shot put before the start of the week and still owned the sixth-best mark in the state in the pole vault.

Hempfield sophomore Peyton Murray, the coach’s son, was ranked fourth in the state in the boys shot put, where last season he rated No. 2 in the nation among freshmen.

The Spartans opened the season by winning the Franklin & Marshall Invitational, where Tapper won the shot put and pole vault, and Peyton Murray finished second in the shot put behind teammate JP Gera.

Other Hempfield winners included Cydney Blahovec in the 800-meter run; the boys 3,200 relay team of Owen DeMatt, Tyler Miller, Antonio Tuttoilomondo and Francisco Diaz Lopez; and the girls 3,200 relay team of Blahovec, Lily Murphy, Julia Snider and Alicia Weimer.

In outdoor meets, Tapper competes in four events, including the pole vault.

“I’m more focused on the shot, discus and weight throw. I’ve gotten a lot better at throwing than I have at the pole vault. Once I got bigger, it got a little harder. I just do it now to score for the team.”

And with conviction no less, if not just to prove she actually can still do it.

Tapper, who also plays volleyball at Hempfield, has added 30 pounds and grown three inches since her freshman year, and she’s using the indoor program to stay sharp.

“Indoors is more laid back. Outdoors is the real thing,” she said.

Tapper gives a nod to Murray for talking her into exploring the finer points of pole vaulting, where she managed to place at the WPIAL meet to qualify for the state meet.

“She’s working hard, as are others here,” Murray said. “But Liz? Well, she’s a big-time recruit.”

It’s the throwing events that has Tapper invested as major college programs monitor her progress. The pole vault, she said, eventually will be the odd event out.

The No. 2 ranking in the shot put means little at this point, she said.

“I’m not satisfied. I definitely want to go farther than I am. I want to be No. 1, of course. But I also think that comes with time and improvement and strength and working on yourself, also.”

Dave Murray, a former Division III All-American shot-putter at Allegheny in Meadville in Crawford County, has been coaching track and field at Hempfield for 23 years. His assistant, LaRoyal Wilson, is legendary with the program, having been on the staff for 44 seasons and counting.

“We’ve had an official indoor team for 11 years,” Murray said. “A lot of schools in Westmoreland County don’t have a team. Most of the schools in Allegheny County sponsor a team. It gives you a chance to be competitive for another 4 or 5 months. The schools with indoor teams are the ones that are going to be the better teams in the outdoor season.

“I tell my kids, ‘If you want to be very good, you do the indoor circuit.’ ”

Tapper, among others, has taken Murray’s advice. She said she hopes to become a Division I athlete but had yet to receive any official offers.

“Coach Murray is a tough coach, and I know he wants the best for all of us,” Tapper said. “I’ve known him since my sixth-grade year. The weightlifting sessions are brutal. High reps, explosive work, a lot of running. He’s behind it all. I don’t know if there’s much else I can do. I just want to make him proud and know that I didn’t waste his time.”


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