PHOTO GALLERY | Penn Cambria's Stolarski strikes gold – twice – in PIAA boys meet

SHIPPENSBURG, Pa. – Penn Cambria’s Josh Stolarski successfully defended his state championship in the 400-meter dash while also adding a gold-medal performance in the 200 Saturday in the PIAA Track and Field Championship Meet.

In both races, Stolarski faced stiff challenges from area runners on the way to the top spot on the medal stand at Seth Grove Stadium.

“Three of us from D6 were in that race,” Stolarski said after winning his second 400-meter state championship in a personal best 47.10.

Bishop McCort Catholic’s Shakile Ferguson finished second with a Crimson Crushers program-record 48.98, and Richland’s Jude Mugerwa placed seventh in 49.91.

“Shakile is just one of those ones, put him in front of me in a track race and it’s going to be tooth-and-nail until one of us takes it,” said Stolarski, who won gold in last year’s 400-meter dash in 49.09. “He’s a good kid. I’m proud of him. I just needed to show who is the big dog in 2A.”

Ferguson stayed with Stolarski entering the stretch, but the Penn Cambria runner pulled in front, then held off the challenge.

“It was my last time getting to race Josh,” Ferguson said. “Josh has gotten me all year. I went out there and PR’d and got my first 48. The first 48 ever in Bishop McCort, a new school record.

“I tried to get him. Respectfully, he’s a stud. He respects me.”

Stolarski appreciated the friendly rivalry with Ferguson, especially in recent weeks at the Laurel Highlands Athletic Conference, Altoona Mountain Lion and District 6 Class 2A meets.

“We have a good relationship,” Ferguson said. “Last year I met him and he told me to keep on working. I saw what he was doing.

“This year we got a little closer. We text each other. We support each other. Mutual respect.”

Stolarski noticed the improvement Ferguson has made.

“Last year he was really an unknown character,” Stolarski said.

“From then, we really didn’t converse much over the summer. But when we first faced each other this season, he came out of the woods and scared me.

“He turned into one of those guys. Forty-eight is not something to sneeze at.”

Another area runner challenged Stolarski in the 200-meter dash.

Stolarski won in 21.98, with Meyersdale Area senior Tristin Ohler running second in 22.10. Ohler had the best preliminary time on Friday.

“Tristin is a good competitor,” Stolarski said. “He’s a good kid. When he ran 22.0 in prelims on Friday, I knew he was going to give me trouble, and he did. But to be able to come away with it is pretty important to me to end my senior year on a high note.”

Ohler said the grueling pace of two days in the heat at Shippensburg University takes a toll.

“It was just more about who had more stamina to go. I know we were both tired from races prior, but it was a good race,” said Ohler, a West Liberty University commit. “He had more juice left in the tank. That’s what it came down to in the end.

“It wasn’t what I was hoping for, but I was expected to go fourth (in the seedings) and I got better in both of my events, so I’m not complaining at all,” Ohler said.

Stolarski had set lofty goals entering the meet, especially in the 400.

“I really wanted 46.99, but I’ll take 47.1,” he said. “That makes top U.S. 50 list. That’s what I wanted at the beginning of this year. Just to have my name up there with the big dogs feels pretty important.”

Stolarski said he will prepare for a college career, with a visit to Penn State University scheduled this coming week.

Silver vault: Richland senior Logan Gossard recorded a top-two performance in the Class 2A pole vault for a third straight year.

Gossard placed second after clearing 15-0 late on Saturday afternoon. He had tied for second in 2023 and was the state champion in the event as a sophomore in 2022.

“Honestly, this competition really kept me on my toes,” said Gossard, who held the top spot after clearing 15-0, but missed on three attempts at 15-6. “The kid who took first, his PR was 14-3. So, a foot and 3 inches over his PR.

“That’s crazy. That’s a hell of a day. I wasn’t really expecting it.”

Schuylkill Valley senior Luke Martinez won after clearing 15-6 on his first try. Martinez missed on three attempts at 16-4.

“Just a little bit disappointed in myself,” Gossard said. “The last attempt, I took the bar off of my chin yet again. Can’t really do much about that. It is what it is.

“Second place. It’s all right. I like gold better, but I’ve got to live with it,” said Gossard, who will attend Slippery Rock University. “It is what it is. Off to college and a better future.”

His best shot: Central Cambria senior Christian Vasil started strong, then finished in fourth place with a shot put throw of 52-4 in the boys 2A competition.

Allentown Central Catholic junior Clark Gulycz placed first with a throw of 58-3 ¾.

“I honestly don’t know. I wasn’t expecting it,” Vasil said when asked about his medal-winning performance. “I definitely was coming in with some confidence from the earlier days practicing here. I’m really happy with what I was able to get here.”

Vasil twice threw for distances better than he had prior to Saturday’s competition.

“I hit it very early. On my first throw I hit 53-3 ¼,” Vasil said. “On my fifth throw I hit a 52-4. So, two PR’s in a singular meet.”

Pleasant surprise: Bedford junior A.J. Koontz even surprised himself with his medal in the 300-meter hurdles in 2A boys. Koontz placed seventh with a time of 40.52.

“Going into today, I didn’t think in a million years I’d ever get here,” Koontz said. “It’s truly just a great honor to compete in the state finals. Even just saying that, it sounds surreal.”

Slippery Rock’s Levi Prementine placed first at 38.63.

“It’s the best of the best,” Koontz said. “Not everyone really gets the opportunity to say they ran against the state champion. I had the opportunity to do that today.”

The Bisons hurdler gained valuable experience at the state meet.

“Now I have experience,” Koontz said. “Next year I’m going to know what the finals are like out here at Shippensburg. I won’t have anything to lose because it will be my senior year, probably my last race.”

Bisons relay: The Bedford 1600-meter relay squad placed fifth in a time of 3:25.75. The Bedford relay team included Cole Taylor, Joseph Brallier, Koontz and Jonathan Gresh.

Nativity Blessed Virgin Mary won in 3:20.91.

“Before we came into the preliminaries, our best time was around 3:27,” Taylor said. “We knew to make the finals we’d probably have to break the school record, which was 3:25. That was our plan. We got 3:24 (on Friday in the preliminaries) and made it to the finals. All the stress was gone.

“We just knew we had to run good and get a medal. It was a second away from our best time. We’re pretty happy.”

Gresh felt a top-5 finish was possible. The Bisons entered the final with the sixth-best preliminary time.

“Coming into it, the only thing I was worried about was some sort of disqualification,” Gresh said. “As soon as Cole started and there wasn’t a false start. I was pretty excited.

“It feels amazing. I wasn’t expecting to walk away with a medal.”

Brallier also was pleased by the medal performance.

“I never ever thought that I would become a state medalist,” Brallier said.

“Going into the start of the season we were not confident in ourselves at all. We came out here and did our best.”

Koontz said the tight-knit members of the relay pushed each other to succeed at the state level.

“We’re all super-psyched and happy,” Koontz said. “I wouldn’t want to do it with any other three guys. It’s truly been a blast this year. I love that I’m with my friends.”

Mike Mastovich is a sports reporter and columnist for The Tribune-Democrat. He can be reached at 814-532-5083. Follow him on Twitter @Masty81.