TAMAQUA – Tamaqua head coach Tom Kanger might not have been wearing ruby slippers, but he could have just as well clicked the heels of his black asics sneakers three times while echoing the words, "There's no place like home ... there's no place like home ... there's no place like home."
For the first time in school history, the Schuylkill League Individual Track and Field Championships descended upon the Tamaqua Area All-Sports Complex, and while there where no signs of yellow (brick roads) or emerald (cities), there was certainly plenty of gold, silver and bronze seen around the necks of the Blue Raider thinclads.
There really is no place like home!
Tamaqua claimed 24 medals (11 gold, 8 silver and 5 bronze), as they dominated the rest of the Schuylkill League contingent. Pottsville took home 9 gold medals, while Blue Mountain and North Schuylkill both came away with six golds apiece.
"Knowing that we now have the capability of hosting big home events like this, the kids were really excited to show off what they could do," stated Kanger. "Tonight's meet had such a local feel to it with all their families and friends here, and I think that led to them putting even more expectations on themselves and on their performances."
Tamaqua doubled the amount of medals they won from last year's meet (12) and were paced by senior Zack Lakitsky and junior Kayla Hope, who both won four medals apiece, including three golds.
Lakitsky copped individual wins in the 100 (11.22) and 200 (22.99) and took part in the winning 400 relay team with Zach Ruba, Tyler Hope and Eric Hertzog (44.40). In addition, Lakitsky added a third-place finish in the long jump.
Ironically, Lakitsky came in seeded second in the three events he eventually won.
"I was kind of happy that I wasn't seeded first because I didn't want to have the pressure of having to win," said Lakitsky. "Yesterday I had a really bad practice, but today I came in mentally and physically ready and everything worked out perfectly. I couldn't have asked for a better day."
Hope's three victories came in the long jump (17-2 1/2), triple jump (34-6 1/2) and as part of the Lady Raiders 400 relay team with Taylor Gerber, Caitlin Trainer and Maria Streisel (51.44). Hope had a chance to take home a fourth gold medal in the 200, but was edged out by Jim Thorpe's Ashley Nicola at the finish line.
"I was coming off an injury and I just started practicing again, so I didn't exactly know what to expect," touted Hope. "I came in here hoping to do well and I was very pleased with how things worked out."
"I was a little gassed going into the 200 because I just finished up the triple jump, but I'm not going to use that as an excuse. It would have be nice to get that fourth gold medal but Ashley (Nicola) is an awesome runner and she had that extra push in her at the end."
The Tamaqua tandem of Eric Hertzog and Taylor Gerber also finished with multiple gold medals. As the top-seed, Hertzog captured the 110 high hurdles in a time of 15.44 in addition to his 400 relay win, while Gerber posted the top time in the 300 intermediate hurdles (48.56) to go along with her 400 relay victory.
"I was a little nervous at the beginning because I knew I was up against some good hurdlers," stated Hertzog. "As the top seed, you sometimes feel that extra pressure but I just went out and do what I normally do, which is try my best."
Gerber, entering as the third-seed in the 300 hurdles, posted her best time of the season at 48.56. Top-seeded Kaitlyn McSurdy (North Schuylkill) suffered an midrace hamstring injury and was unable to finish.
"I pretty much had the lead the entire race, before the other two girls caught up to me at the end," lauded Gerber. "I felt really bad for Kaitlyn (McSurdy). I came into this meet striving to beat her and it's just unfortunate that we didn't get a chance to see what the outcome would have been."
Tamaqua also posted a pair of gold medal performances in the throwing events.
Christine Streisel easily won the javelin with a toss of 147-5 (nearly 27 feet better than Blue Mountain Jill Grapsy). It marked the fifth straight time that a Tamaqua girl has won the javelin competition in the Schuylkill League meet. Allison Updike won the event in 2009 and 2010 while Casey Wager captured gold in 2007 and 2008.
"It's really amazing that Tamaqua has won this event for five straight years," stated Streisel, who also added a second-place finish in the shot put. "I'm just really happy to be a part of the history that they have made and that I was able to continue."
"I knew when Ally went down (with an ACL tear), I would have to step it up. She leaves big shoes to fill, but hopefully I'll continue to grow and live up to what she's done."
Meanwhile, Josh Turner had a career day in capturing the discus with a top throw of 141-5. Turner came into the event seeded third with a personal best of 134-7, but three of his four throws exceeded that mark as he bested Marian's Dylan Baranowksy by almost eight feet.
"My plants and my pullthroughs went smoothly and everything felt really good today," stated Turner.
Tamaqua's final gold medal was turned in by the girls 3200 relay team of Kelsey Patrick, Dana Ansbach, Cecily Kohlmeir and Amber Carroll with a time of 10:05.12. The quartet also finished second in the 1600 relay. In addition, Carroll added two individual second-place finishes in the 1600 and 3200, while Kohlmeir and Patrick placed second in the 400 and 800 respectively.
Tyler Hope also finished with a silver in the javelin.
The only other TIMES NEWS athlete to capture gold on the day was Jim Thorpe's Ashley Nicola in the 200 with a time of 26.56, her best of the season. The win in the 200 allowed Nicola to repeat as the Schuylkill League champion. Nicola also was trying to repeat as the champion of the 100, but finished second to Pottsville's Sasha Thomas.
"It feels really good. I'm proud of myself for all the hard work I put in, as well as my coaches for pushing me," said Nicola about her back-to-back championships. "I pulled ahead of Kayla (Hope) as we entered the straightaway and I knew she's be chasing me the rest of the way. I have to give her props though because she went right from jumping to the 200 and that's a really though thing to do."
Nicola also placed third in the long jump, while teammate Kayla Susko finished third in the 400.
Marian's Gillian Ferko was trying for the three-peat in the discus, but ended up finishing in third place. Other Marian athletes to medal included Dylan Baranowsky (second place in the discus) and Matt Grega (third place in the 400).