WHITEHALL Monty Szukics has always been the fastest guy. In races through childhood until now, the Palmerton senior remembers almost no one keeping up with him.
One of the few times he was ever beaten was last year's district meet. It motivated him to make sure it didn't happen again, committing himself to offseason speed training.
On the second day of this year's District 11 Track and Field Championships, Szukics was once again the fastest in every race he ran. He won three gold medals, sweeping the sprint races and leading his 4x100 relay team to first place.
"Last year I came up short at districts," he said. "I wanted a really big season this year and I knew I was going to have to train extremely hard. I feel like I did that."
As a junior Szukics was second in the 200 and disqualified in the 100 final. This year he won both easily, running 11.13 in the 100 to beat North Schuylkill's Daniel McSurdy (11.56) and setting a Class AA district record in the 200 at 21.95, well ahead of North Schuylkill's Ethan Motsney (22.47) in second.
"I go into every race wanting to win," he said. "I knew what I had to get done and I did it."
Sukics' cherished the relay win the most. He and his teammates (Travis Wolfe, Dallas Miata and Alex Vignone) had talked for years about going to states as seniors and they easily secured a spot.
"We were doing it for a friend that passed away (Nick Bockowski)," Sukics said. "It just felt good. He passed away our sophomore year. He was a football teammate of ours. He was just an all around good athlete. It felt good for everyone (to win in his honor). I could see it in their eyes that they were proud. I am proud of them too."
They beat their biggest rival, Catasauqua, by half a second.
"We figured they wanted to get back at us," Wolfe said. "We worked hard at practice to make sure we still had an edge on them. "
Sukics also ran in the 4x400 relay, but the Bombers took fourth place while Marian just missed a district record in the event.
Four other gold medals were earned by area athletes at Whitehall High School on Thursday.
Marian's foursome of John Julian, Nico Agosti, Paul Martin and Matt Grega ran the 1600-meter relay in 3:27.99, less than a second off the record (3:27.14). Undefeated the entire season, they beat second-place Northern Lehigh by just over two seconds for the Class AA gold.
"We came and ran hard," said Agosti. "We just wanted to finish first and make it to states. We wanted to get the record but we ran hard and that's all we can ask for."
Tamaqua thrower Tyler Hope was also hoping to get to states. He was a second-place finisher in javelin last year when only the event winners earned state berths in Class AA.
This year the top two earn berths to states, but Hope still wanted to win it all. He threw 182 feet, 5 inches for the Class AA title and redemption from last season.
"I was hoping to take home the gold today," said the Blue Raiders sophomore. "That was my goal. Last year I came in second and I was seeded first. This year I had to do it. "
He hit his winning throw on his third attempt. He's gotten over 192 feet in meets this season and is excited to see how he stacks up at the PIAA Championships, which will be held next Friday and Saturday at Shippensburg University.
Jim Thorpe's PJ Johnson also earned a bit of redemption. He hasn't been to states since running on a relay as a sophomore.
This year the Olympian senior was seeded first in Class AA long jump and won the event in 21-6 12.
He jumped 22-9 a week ago to win his league title and was hoping to get just a bit further at districts.
"I was trying to get the district record (23-2 12)," said Johnson.
He was happy just to be competing in jumps again after injuries limited him the past two seasons.
"I love jumping," he said. "It's my favorite. It motivates me when I see where I jump and I know I can get further."
He'll get just that chance next weekend.
Northern Lehigh's Caleb Johnson will be busy at states.
He won the high jump on the first day of districts and returned to win the 400-meter dash and earn a second place in the 4x400 relay. He plans to run in all three at states.
Johnson was in the lead of the Class AA 400 heading down the homestretch. He held off Marian's Grega (second at 51.28) and Agosti (third at 51.52) to win in 50.58.
"I used to wait to kick until the last stretch," Caleb Johnson said. "Recently I've been taking off a little harder. It's worked so far I guess."
Grega also qualified for states by finishing second.
Caleb Johnson makes his second trip to states, but for different events this time.
Johnson's 4x100 teammates are Kirk Bender, David Getz and Darien Middaugh.
Several other area athletes that did not win events were still good enough to earn a trip to states.
Pleasant Valley's Jack Wathan was seeded sixth in the Class AAA 1600 meter run at 4:33.36. He ran a career best 4:28.73 to break a school record, take second place and earn a trip to states.
"Of course I wish I got first, but second is up there," he said. "Cutting five seconds off my best time is great. There's a lot of great runners here. They pushed me."
Lehighton's Levi Haldeman was just outside of a state berth in the Class AAA discuss. On his penultimate throw he slung it 155 feet, 10 inches. It not only surpassed the state qualifying standard, but it also put him in second place, which garners an automatic qualification.
"I was getting a little worried for a while, then I hit a big one," he said.
Next week at states he'll shoot for a school record throw of 166 feet.
Pleasant Valley's Kegan Bray will make the "Trip to Ship" next week as he earned second place in the 200 at 22.16.
Tamaqua's Eric Herzog also qualified, running the 110 hurdles in 15.09 for second place.
Jim Thorpe's and Tamaqua's 4x100 relay teams both qualified for states by running faster than the qualifying standard.
The Olympian foursome, which took third place, includes Michael Harleston, Khaliq Lynch, Scott Lignor and P.J. Johnson. The Raider relay team of Zach Ruba, Hope, Lance Williams and Herzog took fifth place.
Other area athletes earning medals for third place include the Jim Thorpe's Ben Moore (javelin, 173-5) and Palmerton's John Snyder (shot put, 45-4).
Fourth place medals were earned by Pleasant Valley's Nich Corrales (800 meters, 2:00.03), Tamaqua's Hope (200 meters, 23.29), and the Palmerton 4x400 relay team (Caleb Muscavage, Austin Shupp, Gerald Pereira, Szukics).