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Bombers’ Walters jumps to gold Palmerton’s Burkett, Marian’s Rodino, Northwestern’s Nelson also earn medals at PIAA Track and Field Championships

SHIPPENSBURG - Nataly Walters made the PIAA Track and Field Championships her playground last season.

The Palmerton standout captured a pair of state titles, winning the long jump and triple jump, to punctuate a record-breaking sophomore season.

What would Walters do for an encore?

Win. And win big.

Walters soared to her third state championship with a leap of 18-8 3/4, to defend her Class 2A title and further cement an already incredible legacy.

“I did have the lead early,” said Walters. “My second jump was my best jump. But I’m not one to give up. I wanted to PR today, which would have been anything better than 19-1 1/2. But 18-8 3/4, I’m totally fine with that. I’m happy.”

The Palmerton junior’s win highlighted a day that saw a total of four individuals capture state medals and many others securing spots in today’s finals, and a position in the top eight.

Joining Walters in earning state medals on Friday were Palmerton’s Ryan Burkett and Marian’s Jesse Rodino - who finished third and fourth respectively in the Class 2A discus - and Northwestern’s Gavin Nelson who earned bronze in the 2A high jump.

Jump around

The defending champion and top seed with a mark of 18-6, Walters wasn’t taking anything for granted.

“It doesn’t hurt, but it doesn’t really help having the experience. You’re always going to be nervous,” said Walters. “This is a big stage. If you’re not nervous, I think there’s something wrong. Everyone I think is supposed to be nervous at states, and that’s why people do so good, because they have that extra adrenaline, the extra pep in their step, they want to do good on a big stage. So I think it helps.”

So does her focus and mindset as she approaches her events.

“I do a lot of self-talk, ‘You can do this, you know you can do this. Run the same way, jump the same way, you’ve done it a million times,’” Walters said of her routine. “I know that’s basic, but that’s what helps me.”

It’s kept her locked in as she balances a new event at states this year - the 400 relay. On Friday, she teamed up with Claire Thomas, Sarah Sabo and Erin Gombert to run the sixth-fastest time in prelims (49.29) and advance to the finals, which also guarantees them a medal.

The Bombers’ time was well below their school and district record time of 49.70 set last week.

“Today, the relay was at 12 p.m. and I knew we were the first heat,” said Walters. “As soon as I was done running, I couldn’t celebrate with the girls, I had to go right over and check in for jumping. .

“But once I got there, I made sure I was calm. The first jump, it’s always my most nerve-racking one. To get 18-3 on my first jump, it was kind of a little buffer and like, ‘OK, I hit 18-0, it’s only up from here.’ I moved up on my second jump because on the first one I was a little bit behind the board, and I jumped 18-8 3/4.”

Walters will now attempt to defend her state title in the triple jump today. She is seeded third.

Throwing down

Burkett’s throw of 159-3 helped him earn a bronze medal, while Rodino tossed a personal best 156-2 to finish fourth.

“It’s an amazing feeling, because this is the first time I’ve ever gone to states,” said Burkett. “I’ve never been here spectating, watching, or anything. And I was able to put up a good performance to place third. It’s also a big relief, because now I know what the atmosphere is like.”

A junior, Burkett acclimated well to his surroundings with his best mark coming on his first throw.

“As I went with my throws, I feel like I got progressively more tired,” he said. “It’s really hot out, so (I was) just sweaty and everything like that. I was mostly trying to work with my technique with my coach (Kris Hoffner) while everyone else was throwing. I was just trying to see if I could pull something out of thin air. I couldn’t do it, but it’s all right, I still got third.”

Burkett has enjoyed a breakout season, winning league and district titles in the discus.

“I would really just like to thank all of my coaches, my parents, everyone down at Palmerton Firehouse for always supporting me,” said Burkett. “Everyone, just, in our little town, we’re able to perform well in a big meet like this. It’s really awesome. It’s a great feeling.”

Burkett and Rodino were seeded second and third, respectively, in the discus.

“It really ends the season on a good note,” said Rodino. “I’m happy with the way I threw, and I’m happy that everybody came out to support me. I’m just happy I’m here. It’s a blessing to be here, and an even bigger blessing to medal. And I’ll be back here in late summer for football, so I think that’s really cool that I’m here now.”

A state qualifier last season, Rodino has had a remarkable career. He broke the school record of 149-11 - set by Joe Regalis in 1967 - at districts last week. Rodino will return to Shippensburg later this year to continue his football career.

“It’s awesome,” said Rodino. “I know freshman year I was throwing about 90 feet. I never would have thought breaking the record was even possible. I started to pick it up and get the hang of it. I talked to Coach Huegel about it, and he said, ‘It’s doable, it’s attainable. You just have to go get it.’”

“At the beginning of the season, I said I wanted to come back here, leave a mark, medal, and that’s what I did.”

Rodino got his best mark on his second throw.

“My first throw (139-5) was a good way to start, but it was just one thing to flush the nerves out,” said Rodino. “The second throw was my best on the season and enough to get me to fourth.”

Bronze Tiger

Nelson has been tremendous in the high jump this season, and Friday was no different.

The junior was one of three left when the height went up to 6-8.

“It means everything,” said Nelson. “My coach for basketball (Patrick Wanamaker) even texted me, ‘Good luck today. You’ll do great.’ So I just really wanted to go into it positive and I was hoping to get 6-9, which is the school record. But 6-6 is still good.

“Overall, I’m very happy with myself and proud that I got 6-6. I’m proud that I got third. But there’s still some stuff I need to work on next year just to keep getting better and better. We’re just going to keep striving to reach my goals and what I know I can achieve.”

Nelson was a state qualifier last season, and captured league and district titles in the event this year.

“It just builds confidence up,” he said. “Next year, I know where I stand and I know what I can do. I know I can do this, I know I can keep getting better and I can set my goals higher for next year.”

Nelson, who was 16th at states last year, was seeded fifth at 6-5, and cleared 6-6 on his second attempt.

“So 6-7 is my PR, and when I cleared 6-6, I thought, ‘All right, I’ve already done multiple jumps.’ I felt like my legs were getting tired, and I thought if I got 6-7 I didn’t know if I could get 6-8. I tried to just think ahead and tried to be smart with it. Getting 6-8 would have been my new PR, and I really wanted it, but I just couldn’t quite get it. But I’ll work on that next year.”

Great start

Palmerton’s Matt Machalik ran an 11.03 in the Class 2A 100 prelims to advance to the 100 finals and secure a spot in the top eight and a state medal. Machalik’s time was the eighth-fastest among preliminary runners.

The senior was seeded eighth at 10.95.

Machalik returned with Bryson Walters, Ty Sander and Stephen Jones to run a school record time of 43.12, seventh-best in 2A 400 relay prelims, to advance to the finals and secure a medal.

“Just seeing the atmosphere, it’s amazing here,” said Machalik. “The stands are filled, the kids are all energized. It’s a big moment. And to be on this stage, it’s always a big moment.

“And these guys deserve that. We have a great group, and we’ve been working hard all year for that, and we finally got it, and we were able to do it here.”

Walters ran a 39.22, fourth-fastest in prelims, to advance to the 300 hurdle finals and secure a medal. He was seeded eighth at 39.56.

Along with Palmerton, the Northwestern squad of Sophia Schaffer, Carsyn Van Norman, Taylor Langley and Kaia Grantham (49.51) were seventh-best to advance to the 2A 400 relay finals and secure a medal.

Around the area

Northern Lehigh’s Evelina Mayak just missed making the top eight in the 2A 100 hurdles, running a 15.30 in the prelims, the ninth-fastest time. It also matched her school record.

Panther Valley’s Mikayla Yuricheck had a throw of 119-7 to place ninth in the 2A javelin.

In the field events, Northwestern’s Sadie Fenstermaker placed 11th in the 2A discus with a throw of 110-5, while Lehighton’s Lorah Thomas placed 13th in the 3A shot put with a throw of 35-6 1/4.

Thomas was seeded 23rd with a mark of 33-10 1/2.

Coming back

Action will resume for both field and track events at 9 a.m. today.


Day 1

Results of Times News Area Athletes


Class 2A

100 hurdles - Evelina Mayak, Northern Lehigh, 15.30 in prelims, does not advance to finals

400 relay - Palmerton 49.29 in prelims, advances to finals; Northwestern 49.51 in prelims, advances to finals

400 - Sophia Schaffer, Northwestern, 1:00.72, does not advance to finals

300 hurdles - Ruby Walters, Palmerton, 47.62, does not advance to finals

High jump - Emma Snyder, Palmerton, 5-0, tied for 14th overall

Long jump - Nataly Walters, Palmerton, 18-8.75, first overall

Discus - Sadie Fenstermaker, Northwestern, 110-5, 11th overall

Javelin - Mikayla Yuricheck, Panther Valley, 119-7, ninth overall

Class 3A

Shot put - Lorah Thomas, Lehighton, 35-6.25, 13th overall


Class 2A

110 hurdles - Bryson Walters, Palmerton, 15.55 in prelims, does not advance to finals

100 - Matthew Machalik, Palmerton, 11.03 in prelims, advances to finals

400 relay - Palmerton, 43.12 in prelims, advances to finals

300 hurdles - Bryson Walters, Palmerton, 39.22 in prelims, advances to finals

High jump - Gavin Nelson, Northwestern, 6-6, third overall

Discus - Ryan Burkett, Palmerton, 159-3, third overall ; Jesse Rodino, Marian, 156-2, fourth overall

Palmerton's Nataly Walters leaps to a gold medal in the long jump on Friday at the PIAA State Track and Field Championships. PATRICK MATSINKO/TIMES NEWS