SHIPPENSBURG — The decision was an extremely difficult one.
Ultimately, Payden Montana chose to give up playing basketball this winter and turn her full attention to a blossoming track and field career, but the move tugged at her heart. Especially since she was one of the top three players on a Berwick girls basketball team that wound up playing for a District 2 Class 4A title and making it to the second round of states without her.
“For sure, it was hard,” Montana said. “I definitely missed the season, and my teammates. I know they had a great year. I’ve been playing basketball for a long time. But my sister (Taylor) graduated, and she was a big part of the team for me.
“I felt it was time to move on.”
It moved her to the top of the state medal stand.
Montana threw the discus 47 feet, 3 inches Friday to win the girls Class 3A gold medal at the PIAA Track and Field Championships, kicking off a big opening day for the Wyoming Valley Conference at Shippensburg University’s Seth Grove Stadium.
Lake-Lehman senior shot put thrower Emily Johns, Meyers long jumper Je’Vondrea McClair and Pittston Area pole vaulter Abby Norwillo all earned silver medals, while Coughlin’s Madisyn Hawkins collected a seventh-place state medal in the pole vault.
McClair pulled the shock of the day, coming from a No. 14 seed to register a distance of 21-11 on his second attempt to take second place in the boys Class 2A long jump.
“That 21-11 came out of nowhere,” said McClair, who won the District 2 title with a long jump of 21-9.5. “I did what I could.”
Everyone knew what Montana could do, after the junior set Berwick records in the shot put, discus and javelin while leading the Bulldogs to a tie with Lake-Lehman for the WVC Division 2 girls title this season.
But she felt she had a point to prove, after double-faulting during the district discus competition and missing an opportunity to compete in that event at states.
“Obviously, I’m still disappointed about discus.” Montana said. “The last meet of the regular season, I didn’t throw well. I fouled a couple of times. I think I got it in my head. At districts, I hit the upright. Twice. I haven’t hit the upright since my freshman year! I know I could have medaled in that, too, if not get a gold.
“It was a big disappointment.”
Maybe it was a blessing in disguise.
Because without two events to worry about at states, Montana turned her full attention to throwing the shot put.
“I focused completely on shot put,” Montana said.
Add to the fact that while her friends were having fun on the basketball court this past season, Montana was experiencing a sense of frustration during the state shot put finals of the indoor track and field season.
“I made it to indoor states and ended up finishing second. By two inches,” Montana said.
Not this time.
Montana warmed up with a toss of 46 feet Friday, and improved her distance on nearly all of her ensuing throws to finish with a long mark of 47-3. That easily bested silver medalist Jenay Faulkner of Greencastle-Antrim, who hit 42-4, and the 42-2.75 of bronze medalist Samantha Orie of Hempfield.
“I knew I had to get first to make the season end on a good note,” Montana said. “It’s great, to finally get the gold and see that the decision (to concentrate on track) really did pay off.”
The work Johns did to recover from a torn ligament in her foot over the past year rewarded her with her highest state finish.
After missing states with the injury last season, Johns unleashed a throw of 142-8 to finish second in the girls Class 2A discus competition, behind Tori McKinley of Hickory. McKinley’s throw of 150-2 won the competition, and covered the same distance Johns used to win the District 2 championship last week.
“I wasn’t really happy with my performance, overall,” said Johns, the top seed in the event who also won a fourth-place state discus medal in the 2015 Class 3A discus field as a sophomore. “But it is what it is and I ended up with a second-place medal. That’s good.”
It was great news for Norwillo, who jumped for joy when she cleared 12-6 for the second time this season to earn a silver medal in the girls Class 3A pole vault.
“It was just exhilarating,” said Norwillo, who moved up two spots from her No. 4 seeding. “I knew I was capable. I did 12-6 at Crestwood in the middle of the season, but I haven’t made that height since,” Norwillo said. “I was just at the end of the runway, thinking, ‘I’m just going to leave it all out here, give it 110 percent and whatever happens, happens.’ It’s more about where you are mentally. It was a relief off my shoulders to know I’m on my way to doing my best.”
It just so happened nobody was able to clear a higher height, but Carena Nottoli of Hatfield got the gold because she had fewer previous misses than Norwillo.
“I had two good meets here,” said Norwillo, a junior who finished with a surprising fourth-place state medal last year, “and I still have another year left. Last year, I didn’t have any expectations of myself. This time around, I wanted to keep that same attitude, and not worry about where I was seeded.”
McClair wasn’t too troubled, either.
He wasn’t expected to make a serious run at the finals, but used his best-ever jump to leap from 14th to second in the state behind Bredan Sparr of Schuylkill Valley, who won gold with a jump of 22-6.25.
“I’m enjoying it. Twenty-one-11’s my personal best,” McClair said. “Knowing where I’m at and the talent that’s around me, I had to bring my best. It made me feel good. I had a good time.”