The pressure of the state track and field championships can be a lot for high school athletes to take. It's the one and only chance each year to prove they are among the elite in their sport. If for some reason they don't do their best in that one meet, there's no other option than waiting until next year to try again.
For senior athletes there is no next year. It's their last chance to shine on their sport's biggest stage.
Palmerton's Lanny Buck and Northwestern's Joe Hall went to this year's state meet with just that kind of pressure riding on their performances. They both wanted to finish off great careers with one final great performance. And they both took advantage of their final chance to shine.
Buck took gold in pole vault, his only event at states. Hall earned medals in both his state meet events, taking fourth in javelin and eighth in high jump. Because of those performances, the two share this year's TIMES NEWS Athlete of the Year.
"I had three goals this season," said Buck. "To win states, break my school record and get the track athlete of the year."
Buck, a two-time district champ and three-time district medal winner, made three trips to states in his high school career. In both his sophomore and junior years he cleared 14 feet at districts and then did 13-6 at states. Both times it was good enough to tie for ninth place, one spot away from earning a medal.
Knowing he could have done better at states motivated him to work even harder for his senior season.
"I always push myself to my breaking point," he said. "Through summer and winter I trained harder to get faster and stronger."
It paid off. Buck cleared 15 feet for the first time in his career at a regular season meet in April. He knew that was a height that could win states. If he could repeat it when it counted most, he would achieve his goal of becoming a state champ. He cleared that height several times during the season, including invitationals at Shippensburg University and Allentown School District Stadium.
And when it counted at districts and states, he did it again. With his high school career behind him, Buck plans to pole vault at Kutztown University next year with hopes of transferring to Penn State the next year to compete in Division I.
Hall battled shin injuries that kept him from training as hard as he had in previous years. But it didn't stop him from throwing a career best 191-7 at districts and clearing 6 feet, 4 inches in high jump. At states he threw 185 feet for his javelin medal and cleared 6-4 to earn the high jump medal.
"Looking back," he said, "I don't think I could have done any better.
"During the meets I wasn't in any pain. The real problem arose in practice. It was hard to sprint and hard to train."
The injury didn't stop Hall from earning four league medals. He won the high jump and javelin at the Colonial League Championships, while taking second in shot put and discus.
He owes his accomplishments to great athleticism, a lot of hard work and solid guidance.
"I was lucky and got one of the best coaches you could ask for," Hall said of Mike MacLaughlin, a Northwestern assistant who worked with Hall in the weight room and through plyometric training and other exercises. "I owe a lot to him."
MacLaughlin believes if not for the injuries, Hall would have cleared seven feet this season. Although he wasn't able to do that, he'll have a chance to do it in college.
He has already secured athletic and academic scholarships to the University of South Florida. With a 3.9 grade point average, he has been accepted into the honors program at USF and plans to pursue a degree in economics and international business.
On a recruiting trip to the school he already examined their record board.
"I looked at the high jump and it was like 7-5," he said. "I was like 'I don't know about that.' Then I looked at jav and it was 207. I knew that was attainable."
A native of Jacksonville, FL, Hall is returning to his roots. He plans to do his best as a freshman while getting acclimated to the higher level of competition. After that, he expects to compete for medals and titles. "Sophomore year, it's time to go," he said.
Like Buck, he expects to do his best when the stakes are highest and the pressure is on. Just like they both did in their final year of high school.