East Juniata's Book, Midd-West 4x800 win gold

May 25—SHIPPENSBURG — Thousands of athletes come out for track and field every year, but only a small percentage earn the opportunity to compete at the state meet.

Even a smaller percentage find their way to the top of the medal podium as gold medalists at the end of the season. For five Class 2A boys athletes, the dream of winning a state title became a reality as East Juniata's Josef Book and the four members of Midd-West's 4x800 relay team on Saturday during the PIAA track and field championships at Shippensburg's Seth Grove Stadium.

Book ran a 14.34 in the 110-meter high hurdles to take first while the Mustangs' quartet of Anden Aitkins, Ben Hummel, Connor Stoltzfus and Wyatt Nelson clocked in a 7:54.27. Book added a bronze in the 300 intermediates later in the day.

"Overall, it feels amazing," Nelson said. "This is exactly what we wanted to do here, and we worked for each other. So it means a lot."

Midd-West's 7:54.27 was more than five seconds better than second-place Notre Dame-Green Pond. Midd-West and Notre Dame-Green Pond were neck-and-neck after the first leg, but things changed when Hummel was handed the baton. Hummel's 1:54.93 split was about 10 seconds faster than that of the Crusaders.

From there, the Mustangs coasted to first place as Stoltzfus and Nelson finished it off during the final two legs.

"Just with our training and looking at all of our times — we had three guys that went 1:55 in the open (800) at districts," Aitkins said. "So we just knew with our teamwork we had it."

The first-place showing improves upon the eighth place medal the quartet received last season. There, the Mustangs ran an 8:07.42.

The relay was especially motivated as Aitkins, the group's only senior, was running in his last high school meet.

"Eighth never feels good," Hummel said. "So this year we knew we'd all be back, and we just kept fighting. We knew that (this) year that this was gonna be a gold right here. So we just kept telling ourselves 'We don't wanna end up like last year.' So we just kept fighting, and we got a better result."

The same four Mustangs also took eighth in the 4x400 after running a 3:37.87. Individually, Nelson, Hummel and Aitkins ran in the 800, but none of them medalled. Nelson had the best placing at 11th while Hummel and Aitkins were 12th and 19th, respectively.

As for Book, he had a photo finish with Central Columbia's Cole Bradley, but the Tigers senior ended up on top. Bradley ran a 14.47 to take silver.

"A lot of hard work and dedication to this sport is what I really try to put in," Book said. "I ran a good time and got that gold."

In the 300, Book ran a 39.21. The two runners who placed above him were both from Slippery Rock, which easily won the 2A team title. Levi Prementine and Eli Anderson went 1-2 with times of 38.63 and 39.05, respectively.

"It feels pretty good overall, but that 300 race (I) could've done a little better," Book said. "But the top three in both races is definitely nothing to sneeze at."

Book's top three finishes were a vast improvement from last season when he took eighth in the 300 while being eliminated in the preliminaries of the high hurdles.

"It definitely feels really good to make those improvements," Book said. "Definitely surprised myself with how I was able to run this season and how I was able to run today.

"It feels pretty good considering I came out here and ended as champion and third place, which I never ever would've thought I'd have been able to do. I'm just really thankful for it all."