She was poised to power her way to state glory throughout her whole track and field high school career.
Then Emily Johns crumpled from the pain of a ligament tear in her foot.
It might as well have torn a hole in her heart.
Not only did the injury leave Johns limping through most of her junior season, it crippled her chances of winning three straight state medals by knocking the talented Lake-Lehman thrower out of the 2016 PIAA track and field championships.
“It was very difficult,” said Johns, now a Lake-Lehman senior. “Because I knew I was positioned to exceed my best performance last year. But missing that was really very tough.”
The tough times are over.
For the first time since her sophomore season, Johns returns to the state championships Friday as the favorite once again to win the Class 2A girls javelin — by a lot — when competition opens at 9 a.m. at Shippensburg University’s Seth Grove Stadium.
“Being seeded first isn’t an unfamiliar position to me,” Johns said.
The District 2 record-holder in both Class 2A and 3A girls discus was the top seed in the 2015 girls Class 3A state discus championships, but fell to fourth. It was her first, and only, PIAA medal, but it came with some disappointment.
“Two years ago, I felt there was a lot of pressure on me, as a sophomore, to come out number one,” Johns said. “I really felt like it was something I definitely needed to do.”
She learned from it.
“Now, I feel some pressure,” Johns said, “but it’s more like I’m just hoping to throw it better than I did then. Back then, I thought if you were seeded first, you should finish first. After a few meets since then, I realized that is not always the case. I feel more relaxed, and somewhat more self-assured. I’ve been more consistent with my training and my throws.”
She’s not the only Wyoming Valley Conference representative who will enter states with a shot of confidence and a chance at gold.
Berwick’s Payden Montana is the top seed in the Class 3A girls shot put, Coughlin’s Madisyn Hawkins is seeded second in a pole vault that has Pittston Area’s returning state medalist Abby Norwillo seeded fourth.
Meyers sophomore Nazir Dunell is the No. 3 seed in the Class 2A boys 110 hurdles.
Returning state silver medalist Kayla Merkel of Hazleton Area is seeded fourth in the Class 3A girls javelin, while Pittston Area’s Taryn Ashby enters at No. 8 in that event.
In Class 3A boys action, Pittston Area’s Paul Moska is also at No. 8 in the high jump and Hazleton Area’s Joe Grula is No. 8 in the javelin. Holy Redeemer senior Autumn Kaminski has a chance to contend for a medal at No. 9 in the Class 2A girls 100 hurdles, while Meyers sends 300 hurdler Janssen Wilborn and long jumper Je’Vondre McClair are both No. 14 seeds in Class 2A boys competition.
Then there’s Meyers senior speedster Nalasjia Harris-Johnson, who has earned a state medal in each of her previous three trips to the PIAA championships. She’s seeded 14th in the Class 2A girls 100-meter dash — the same spot she started in last season before finishing sixth in the event — and is slotted 20th in the long jump while anchoring a 400 relay team that’s seeded eighth.
Perhaps it’s a sense of maturity setting in for Johns, who is also seeded 13th in the Class 2A girls shot put and will throw in field events for Harvard next season.
Or maybe it’s simply an appreciation of a chance for Johns to compete in her final high school throwing events.
She tore a ligament in her foot on April 24 — that date is still at the tip of her tongue — while practicing for the Penn Relays.
“A Sunday morning,” Johns said. “I was starting to do specific things for the Penn Relays that year. I did everything normal. On my last throw, I slipped at the end and ended up falling. I ended up tearing a ligament in my foot.”
Her recovery included four weeks in a surgical boot and then slowly easing back into routine activities, all the while doing rehab for the injury three times each week.
It wasn’t until late fall when Johns began feeling almost fully healthy again, and her recovery left her with little interest in attending a state championship meet she couldn’t be part of last season.
“I didn’t even go to districts,” Johns said. “It was time for me to focus on not what I couldn’t do, but what I could — rehabbing my injury.”
She’s back to nearly 100 percent, despite still feeling some tightness in her foot every now and again.
Johns proved it by smashing the District 2 Class 2A record last week with a discus distance of 150-2. That bested the District 2 Class 3A record of 148-6 she set in 2015, giving Johns two new district marks and setting the Lake-Lehman school record both times during the final two times she participated in the district championships.
“In Triple-A I was able to get the record, and to have the record in Double-A is a great feeling,” Johns said. “Just because I know I kind of left a little bit of a legacy in the area. I’m happy I was able to throws that were both PRs (personal records) for me at the time.
“I’m happy I was able to leave my mark.”
Now, she’ll try to make one more, if not on the state field, than in her own mind.
“I’m really just hoping to better myself,” Johns said. “I’m hoping to have a performance that’s consistent with how I’ve been throwing.”