Joy, pain for Hampton track team at WPIAL meet
Saturday, May 22, 2021 | 11:01 AM
Two Hampton seniors showed at the WPIAL Class AAA track and field championships that a fraction of an inch or a hundredth of a second can be the difference between elation and heartache.
Gage Galuska shocked Butler star Guinness Brown to win the 400-meter title by one-hundredth of a second, but classmate Hannah Schepner saw her goal of reaching the PIAA championships for the first time denied by one-half inch in the triple jump.
Galuska’s come-from-behind victory at Slippery Rock University in the WPIAL 400 finals highlighted a day of personal bests, school records and shattered dreams for the Talbots.
“I put in a lot of work this year, and I knew that it would pay off,” Galuska said, “and it did.”
Galuska rallied down the stretch, out-leaning Brown at the wire with a time of 48.89 seconds. Brown, who won the 100 and 200 WPIAL titles, finished in 48.90.
Galuska, whose previous best this season was 50.69, broke Mike England’s 43-year-old school record of 48.8, which converts to a fully automated time of 49.04.
With a large crowd at sun-baked Milhalik-Thompson Stadium cheering louder as Galuska gained on the Butler junior speedster, the 6-foot-2 Edinboro football recruit leaned to the wire and tumbled to the ground after the finish line.
“I needed everything I could at the end,” Galuska said. “I fell over and did a forward roll and looked up at the screen and saw I was in first. I was pretty excited.”
Hampton coach Derek Brinkley called the race “fantastic.”
“That last 80 meters was unbelievable. I lost my voice over it yelling,” Brinkley said. “Gage just kept coming. Guinness was tired and he hit a wall a little bit, and Gage was just so much stronger.”
Galuska reached the PIAA Class AAA championships Saturday at Shippensburg, and he was joined by several fellow Talbots.
Galuska anchored the state-qualifying 1,600 relay team, which finished third with a time of 3:24.18. The quartet of Joey Mayer, Matt DeMatteo, Corey Letterle and Galuska broke the school record of 3:25.7 set in 1973.
DeMatteo qualified for states in the triple jump (fourth, 42 feet, 11 inches) and the 300 hurdles (fifth, 40.18), and on the girls side, freshman Kat Milon reached the PIAA meet with a sixth-place finish in the 400 after a state-qualifying time of 58.43.
“It was so cool,” Milon said. “It was so much fun. I’m really proud of myself. I didn’t think I would do this well.”
Schepner had her sights on the PIAA championships, competing in all three jumping events, but fell short. She finished tied for seventh in the high jump at 4-11, missing the cut, and then took sixth in the triple jump with a distance of 36-51⁄2.
The top four finishers in each event, plus as many as four additional athletes who make the state qualifying standard, advance to the PIAAs.
The triple jump qualifying standard is 36-6.
“It sucks, because I know I can make that mark,” Schepner said. “I’ve made in the past, and I made it in practice this week. I’ve worked really hard, and to come that close and miss it really sucks. It’s disappointing.”
Schepner still had a chance to reach states in her last event, the long jump. But she finished ninth with a leap of 16-91⁄2.
After her final jump in the meet’s final event of the day, Schepner sat alone in near darkness on the grass next to the long jump runway, in a mostly empty stadium, removing her track spikes for the last time.
Schepner, who earlier this month won the vault title at the USA Gymnastics Level 9 Eastern Championships in College Park, Ga., will attend Dayton but doesn’t plan to compete in sports.
“It’s really sad, because I came in here anticipating making states and coming away with not doing that is really upsetting,” she said. “I wasn’t ready to be done yet.”
Other WPIAL competitors for the Talbots were the 400 relay team of Mayer, DeMatteo, Letterle and Galuska, which placed seventh with a school-record time of 43.50; Mayer (19th, 110 hurdles); Logan Schwartz (17th, javelin) and Nick Schwartz (DNF, high jump).
For the girls, sophomore Ava Vitiello placed 11th in the 1,600 with a personal-best time of 5:24.67, and the 1,600 relay team of Biz Watson, Kendall Solkovy, Morgan Killian and Milon, who entered the meet seeded 23rd out of 24 schools, finished 18th with a season-best time of 4:19.26.
Vitiello saw her freshman season robbed by the covid pandemic and never had broken six minutes in the 1,600 before this season. She ended the year as a top-12 runner in the WPIAL Class AAA.
“This season has been crazy,” she said. “I didn’t think I would get here, to be honest. I had tendinitis at the beginning of the season. I really didn’t think about (getting to WPIALs). It always just seemed like this faraway idea, and the fact that it happened is just insane. It’s been a really good season.”
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