Anything can happen when competitors are trying to track down a championship.
And not all of it is cause for celebration.
Just ask Payden Montana and Marc Minichello.
Both were at the top of their games last season — Berwick’s Montana in the Class 3A girls discus and Wyoming Area’s Minichello in the Class 3A boys javelin — and seeded first in their respective throwing events in the District 2 field. Then, somehow, in one strange way or another, everything suddenly went all wrong.
They both fouled out of a chance to not only win a District 2 gold medal, but from going on to compete in the PIAA championships in those events.
So both enter the 2018 District 2 Track and Field Championships, which open with the Class 3A girls and boys finals at 3 p.m. Monday at Scranton Memorial Stadium, chasing some vindication as well as the top spot on the medal stand.
“It’s pretty much a different mindset this year,” Montana said. “I’m just ready for the meet this year. I wasn’t quite ready last year.”
Montana actually made it to states in the shot put, where she finished first while setting a new District 2 record of 44-9 before winning PIAA girls Class 3A gold medal in that event.
But that lost opportunity to possibly pick up a second district and state gold in the discus still gnaws at her.
“That’s correct,” Montana said.
On a strange day, Montana twice hit the pole of the cage where discus throwers launch from at Scranton Memorial Stadium, resulting in scores of two fouls between her second heave of 93-1 that saddled her with a 12th-place district finish. The favorite to win that event going in, Montana said afterwards she had hit a pole maybe once all season.
“I hit the pole, it kind of just got in my head,” Montana said. “Just a bad day. I’m extremely more confident in myself this year.”
Minichello’s circumstances were a little different.
A heavy favorite to win the 2017 Class 3A boys javelin, Minichello was called for violations four straight times and wound up fouling out of the district competition without registering a score.
“Last year, I faulted by stepping over the line,” Minichello said. “I don’t know how it happened or why it happened, perhaps maybe the wind or maybe I was doing something wrong. This year, we haven’t been having those types of problems.
“Not a really big concern.”
Maybe that’s because Minichello’s longest throw of the season reached 202-2, llanding him a second-place spot on the Penn Relays medal stand. It was nearly 13 feet longer than No. 2 seed Joey Grula of Hazleton Area.
“This year, I definitely feel like I have put in the work to succeed,” Minichello said.
A host of athletes from the Wyoming Valley Conference have their sights set on big finishes.
Meyers star Nazir Dunell is seeded first in four events — the Class 2A 110 and 200 hurdles, the 100 dash and in the 400 relay — when the boys Class 2A championships go off Tuesday. Dallas sprinter Sam Mazula is seeded first in three Class 3A girls events — the 100 and 200 dashes and on the 400 relay team. Valley West’s Mitchell Forgash takes the fastest times in the 400 and 800 runs into the Class 3A boys races, while his Spartans teammate Ashley Blannard is the girls to beat in the Class 3A long jump and triple jump.
In Class 2A, Hanover Area’s Tyler Thomas is favored in the boys long jump and Holy Redeemer’s Dominic Capaci has the top times in the boys 800 run and in the 3,200 relay.
Montana, who will throw for Penn State next season, is favored in the shot put with a distance of 50-6 that won the Penn Relays. She’s also the top seed in the discus and would have been seeded second in the javelin if she hadn’t pulled out of that category while aiming for a couple of district records.
“The javelin, I’m not going to throw,” Montana said, “It’s not my best event. I broke the shot put record last year, I set it at 44-9 and I’ve been throwing over that the whole year. The discus record (of 148-6 set by Lake-Lehman’s Emily Johns in 2015), I have my sights set on that this year.”
Of course, head-turning success can come from anywhere during districts.
Former GAR sprinter Emmanuel Edoukou came from nowhere to win the District 2 Class 2A boys 100 dash last year, Dunell pulled a surprise by winning the 2017 110 hurdles and his Meyers teammate Najese Hood went from a dark horse to district gold by winning the triple jump.
And Minichello’s misfortune in last year’s javelin opened the door for Grula to win the Class 3A boys javelin. Minichello, a senior who will throw for Penn next season, doesn’t appear to have many obstacles in his path toward the top of the medal stand this time. But after last year, he’s taking no chances.
“I’m still not going in like it’s definitely going to be mine,” Minichello said. “There are a couple guys who can put up some good numbers. And I know they’re trying to knock me down and get the gold medal for themselves.”
Reach Paul Sokoloski at 570-991-6392 or on Twitter @TLPaulSokoloski