Class 2A champ Danville seeks to further track prowess

Mar. 29—Defending a state title is tough. Having to do it while replacing two Division I runners is even tougher.

That's exactly what the Danville track and field is dealing with entering this season. The Ironmen are looking for their second consecutive Class 2A title and third overall. Danville won its first state championship in 2006.

Sprinter Jackson Clarke and distance-runner Rory Lieberman were two huge components of the Ironmen's title-winning team last season. Danville scored 45 points overall to win first place, which was five more points than second-place Slippery Rock.

Lieberman and Clarke exited Shippensburg with two medals apiece. Lieberman won the state title in the 3,200 while picking up a bronze in the 1,600. Clarke was the runner-up in the 100 and 200, losing both races to Conemaugh Township's Ethan Black. Black is currently a Penn State wide receiver.

Lieberman and Clarke are both running for Ivy League schools — Lieberman is competing for the University of Pennsylvania while Clarke is at Princeton.

On its current roster, Danville has plenty of athletes with state and district experience. One of them is Bronson Krainak, who is coming off a second-place finish at states last season. Krainak's toss of 197 feet, 10 inches was only surpassed by Southern Columbia's Tyler Arnold, who won first with a throw of 205 feet, 4 inches. Arnold is currently throwing at the University of Tennessee.

Krainak, who committed to Wichita State in January, smashed his previous personal record with a throw of 211-8 during Thursday's Breslin Invitational at Mount Carmel. His throw won the gold medal by only seven inches. Fellow state-medalist Lincoln Huber of Central Columbia earned second with a mark of 211-1, which set the school record at Central Columbia.

"It feels great having the weight off my shoulders making a (college) decision," Krainak said on Thursday. "Now I feel like I can just focus, just throw some, have fun with everyone — it should be a good season."

Gavin Holcombe (pole vault), Frank Walley (4x100), Gavin Fry (4x100), Wyatt Brady (4x800) and Dane Spahr (4x800 and 3,200) also have experience competing at Shippensburg for Jon Vella's squad. Holcombe medalled in the pole vault after earning fifth.

Lewisburg is another team from the Heartland Athletic Conference-Division II that's seeking to send as many athletes to Shippensburg as possible. The Green Dragons sent five athletes to last year's state meet, but didn't bring home any medals.

The Green Dragons will have to replace Thomas Hess, who's currently running at Virginia Commonwealth University. Last season, Hess was the district champion in the 800 with a time of 1:53.58, shattering his own record that he set the year prior. However, an injury sustained earlier in the season prevented Hess from running at the state meet.

Hess was also a part of the Green Dragons' 4x800 relay team that ran a time of 7:48.30, which broke a district record Lewisburg had set two years earlier.

The Green Dragons will return two members of the quartet, Kieran Murray and Jonathan Hess. Jonathan Hess won both the 1,600 and 3,200 at districts last season.

Lewisburg coach Ron Hess also expects Justin Nolt (distance), Haneef Shavers (hurdles), Tyler Kitchens (hurdles), Kris Edwards (hurdles), Michael Hernandez (pole vault), Ezra Zook (pole vault), Jacob Gose (throws), Grayson Wynings (jumps) and Jake Weis (sprints) to have an impact on the team this year.

"We have a lot of returning sophomores that were point-scorers last year, so that group of young athletes will be one year stronger," Ron Hess said. "I'm excited to see these athletes build on their previous experience and successes."

Like Lewisburg, Shamokin is another HAC-II team that will compete in Class 3A this season. The Indians will have to replace current Penn State runner Colton Lynch, but they return a lot of firepower to this year's team. Chase Pensyl and Benny Delbaugh are both back after being a part of the Indians' 4x800 relay squad that earned eighth at states. Pensyl also collected a sixth-place medal in the high jump with a mark of 6 feet, 5 inches.

Shamokin coach Mike Rogers is also expecting big things from Blake Hockenbroch (throws), Jace Shipe (hurdles and relays), Noah Kerstetter (mid-distance, relays), Tyler Kerstetter (distance and relays), Landen Brown (distance and relays), Jayce Ginck (sprints, hurdles, pole vault) and Jason Alderson (sprints, jumps, relays). Alderson won the district title in the triple jump with a mark of 43-8.

Midd-West also left Shippensburg with a medal in a relay. The Mustangs are returning three members of their 4x400 quartet that earned eighth in the 2A race. Ben Hummel, Wyatt Nelson and Anden Aitkins are coming back.

"Every year, we talk to our kids about setting goals individually and from a relay standpoint," said Midd-West coach Jason Gemberling. "We don't have the numbers to win dual meets, so we look at things a little differently. Our goal is to get as many kids to districts and then through to states. Last year, we had our best year at districts and from that group we have a majority of the kids back."

Like Midd-West, Mifflinburg is also contending with a small roster. However, the Wildcats still boast some talent. One of their top returnees is senior Collin Dreese, who ran in the 1,600 at states and will compete at Saint Francis University next year. Bryant Groff also went to Shippensburg as part of Mifflinburg's 4x400 relay squad along with Dreese.

Mifflinburg coach Mark Reitz also expects Kellon Brubaker (mid-distance), Ben Reitz (sprints and relays), Landon Murray (sprints, jumps, pole vault) and Simon Snook (jumps and throws) to be leaders on the team this season.

"We will still have some events that we will struggle with in dual meets," Mark Reitz said. "Still under 30 guys on the team, but more than last year."