Sometimes, the process is worth as much as the payoff at the PIAA Track and Field Championships.
And it doesn’t always take a gold medal to make an athlete feel great.
“Getting a state medal for the first time is a great accomplishment,” said Hazleton Area senior javelin thrower Joey Grula.
He finished eighth in the javelin throw Saturday.
But making it to the ceremony for state place winners, a spot that’s been just out of reach during his whole career, was especially gratifying to Grula since it came in the the javelin throw during the final event of his high school track and field career.
It almost made him forget about that heartbreaking, two-point overtime loss in the PIAA Class 6A basketball semifinals.
Well, maybe not.
“I don’t think anything can make up for that loss in the basketball states,” said Grula, a smooth shooter and reliable rebounder on that historical Hazleton Area boys basketball team. “That’s devastating.”
But it may have been just as crushing for Grula if he didn’t leave Shippensburg University with at least one state award from his illustrious high school track and field career.
“If I would have come out of here with no medals, that would have been a big disappointment,” Grula said.
He almost collected one the day before.
Grula finished ninth in the PIAA Class 3A boys triple jump Friday, leaving him one spot shy of making the state medal ceremony. That seemed like the story of his track and field life, as Grula proved himself as a prolific javelin thrower, high jumper, long jumper and triple jumper throughout his career for the Cougars who got tantalizingly close to past state awards ceremonies but never left with grabbed a parting gift.
His state heartbreak is over now, and maybe it’s fitting his anguish ended the discipline of javelin — an event he’ll be performing at Brown University next year.
“If I was medaling in other events,” Grula laughed, “I don’t know if I’d be doing the right event in college. Getting a state medal for the first time is a great accomplishment. It’s a great feeling.”
He wasn’t the only athlete from the WVC who found a feeling of elation just by making it to the state medal ceremony.
While Meyers hurdler Nazir Dunell, Wyoming Area javelin thrower Marc Minichello and Berwick thrower Payden Montana all won gold medals to lead the Wyoming Valley Conference’s march to the medal stand, other athletes from around the league found a spot on the steps just as gratifying.
The Lake-Lehman Class 2A girls 3,200 relay team of Jace Garnick, Olivia Vasey, Jade Fry and Abby Paczewski earned the school’s second straight PIAA medal in that event with a sixth-place finish off a No. 9 seed. Tunkhannock sophomore Trejon Turner, despite his frustration with the 85-degree heat and how his event was structured Saturday, relented that his fourth-place finish in the Class 3A boys high jump was an accomplishment.
Wyoming Area had never had a PIAA track and field winner until Minichello won the Class 3A boys javelin. Meyers had its second hurdles gold medal in three years when Dunell shrugged off an aching hamstring to win the Class 2A boys 110 hurdles. And Montana became Berwick’s first back-to-back Class 3A girls shot put state champion by setting a new state record of 50-4.25 Friday, then added a gold medal in discus to her collection of first-place state finishes before heading off to throw for Penn State next season.
“Those kids come around once in a lifetime,” Berwick coach Bob Calarco said.
Pittston Area’s prime-time pole vaulter Abby Norwillo had her sights set at the top, but found it hard to complain when she polished off her electric high school career with a second straight state silver medal and, after entering at No. 3, exceeded her seeding on the state awards stand for the third straight year.
“I don’t know if I would have changed anything,” said Norwillo, despite some disappointment at not finishing first. “I am very happy. I wanted to come here and have fun, I’ve had a great time through my career. This is a nice way to end it, back on the medal stand at Shippensburg.”
Then there’s Mitchell Forgash, who wasn’t supposed to be anywhere near it.
The Wyoming Valley West senior came to states as a 27th seed in the Class 3A boys 800 run and left with a fourth-place state medal.
“I kind of shocked myself,” Forgash said, “Might have shocked the guys here. Everybody here is a great athlete. I just tried to focus on not where I was on the heat sheets, but how I can run. I worked so hard over the years to get to this point.
Mark Minichello, Sr.`Wyoming Area`javelin`1`1
Mitchell Forgash, Sr.`Valley West`800 run`27`4
Trejon Turner, So.`Tunkhannock`high jump`1`4
Joe Grula, Sr.`Hazleton Area`javelin`8`8
Joe Grula, Sr.`Hazleton Area`triple jump`10`9
Mitchell Martin, Sr.`Berwick`3200 run`20`17
Dalton Yeust, So.`Tunkhannock`pole vault`22`T-18
Cole Horan, Sr.`Coughlin`long jump`21`21
Phil Cocco, Sr.`Berwick`shot put`23`22
Payden Montana, Sr.`Berwick`shot put`1`1
Payden Montana, Sr.`Berwick`discus`1`1
Abby Norwillo, Sr.`Pittston Area`pole vault`3`2
Ashley Blannard, Sr.`Valley West`long jump`9`9
Keturah LeGette, Jr.`Hazleton Area`shot put`7`9
Shelby Stackhouse, Sr.`Wyoming Area`high jump`T-5`T-12
Ashley Blannard, Sr.`Valley West`triple jump`10`16
Paige Bonin, Sr.`Hazleton Area`javelin`11`29
Abby Zolner, Sr.`Dallas`300 hurdles`20`23
Nazir Dunell, Jr.`Meyers`110 hurdles`8`1
Ethan Sorber, Sr.`Northwest`pole vault`T-11`T-11
Nazir Dunell, Jr.`Meyers`300 hurdles`18`12
Najese Hood, Jr.`Meyers`long jump`17`16
Tyler Thomas, Sr.`Hanover Area`triple jump`2`T-16
Curtis Smith, So.`GAR`high jump`15`T-21
Sarah Salus, So.`Lake-Lehman`javelin`24`11
Nicole Kerestes, Sr.`Holy Redeemer`high jump`T-8`T-14
Abby Korba, So.`Hanover Area`triple jump`10`17
Natasha Mihalko, Fr.`Lake-Lehman`triple jump`13`20
Caton Fahey, So.`Holy Redeemer`300 hurdles`21`24
Relay team; Seed; Place
Lake-Lehman girls Class 2A 3200 (Jace Garnick, Sr.-Olivia Vasey, Sr.-Jade Fry, Sr.-Abby Paczewski, So.); 9; 6
Coughlin boys Class 3A 400 (Marquis Silva, Sr-Rafael McCoy, So.-Cole Horan, Sr.-Vincent Todd, Sr.); 12; 15
Holy Redeemer boys Class 2A 3200 (Dominic Capaci, Jr.-Lukas Volpetti, Jr.-Scott Williams, Sr.-Bryce Zapusek, Jr.); 16; 18
Reach Paul Sokoloski at 570-991-6392 or on Twitter @TLPaulSokoloski