The Phoenix

Slim margins dominate Day 3; Mallee’s heavy heart gets a lift

- By Austin Hertzog ahertzog@21st-centurymed­ia. com @AustinHert­zog on Twitter

WEST NORRITON » The beauty of a league championsh­ip meet is watching the rivalries – whether real or only on the performanc­e sheets – come to a head in real time.

That’s exactly what played out Saturday during the final day of the Pioneer Athletic Conference Track and Field Championsh­ips at Norristown.

With the rivalries and competitio­n so tight, everyone wanted a piece of the pie. And in many ways, the wealth was shared with eight different champions among Saturday’s eight girls events.

One unit that didn’t share was the Methacton girls team, which burst to the team championsh­ip, the Warriors’ 159 team points comfortabl­y ahead of Spring-Ford (119), Perkiomen Valley (110) and Owen J. Roberts (106).

After senior Coco Dunham’s double-day Friday winning the discus and triple jump, the Warriors on

Saturday were led by sophomores Summer Mellow and Kate Thomas, who captured gold in the 100 meters and 800 meters, respective­ly.

Mellow and Spring-Ford senior Kaleigh Hudson have been the PAC’s top 2 sprinters this spring, entering 1-2 in the seeding and staying there after Friday’s preliminar­ies.

Mellow was second to Hudson in both, though. The Rams’ four-year standout – she placed fourth in the 100 at the last PAC Championsh­ips in 2019 as a freshman and was a PIAA qualifier in 2021 – became a target for the Warriors’ second-year sprinter as the league’s gold standard.

“Last year she beat me every time. I made it my mission to beat her at least once,” Mellow said.

She needed thousandth­s of seconds to settle the score Saturday when Mellow closed stronger, winning in 12.404 ahead of Hudson’s 12.410.

“That was awesome,” Mellow said. “I was in the starting blocks and I was very excited for the race. People often think you’d be so nervous especially to go against somebody who’s probably going to beat you, but it’s exciting for me. Second or first place, I would have still felt really good.

“We were neck-and-neck the whole time. I tried to (lean) and get across first and it worked. It was an amazing race, really fun.”

Remarkably, it wasn’t the only time of the day Hudson dealt with such margins. She was on the right side of it in the 200 meters, claiming the PAC title in 25.531 over surprise silver medalist Caleigh Bold of Owen J. Roberts (6th after prelims), who finished in 25.538, while Perkiomen Valley’s Ashley Pickles place third (25.60).

Pickles, a sophomore, had a seed-sheet rivalry with Spring-Ford senior high jump star Nene Mokonchu as the PAC’s only sub-1:00 qualifiers in the 400 meters.

Pushing each other the entire way, Pickles finished in 57.40, narrowly ahead of Mokonchu’s 57.53, both Pa. top 10 times. Pope John Paul II senior Tess Crossan placed third in a personalan­d PJP-record 58.56 (Pa. top 25).

Methacton’s other individual winner was Thomas, who kicked into gear with 50 meters remaining to finish in 2:19.26, ahead of Perk Valley’s Summer Watts (2:20.09) and Phoenixvil­le’s Kenzie Padilla (2:20.39).

“I got a good start so I wasn’t boxed in. The Phoenixvil­le girl (Padilla) pulled ahead of me so I just tried to stay behind her the whole time and see if my kick was good enough at the end,” Thomas said. “Usually I have a good kick and I try to use that to my advantage.”

Thomas also ran on Methacton’s winning 4x800 relay with Aubrey Beaugard, Devon Petrei and Molly Thomas and the second-place 4x400 relay (with Beaugard, Shannon O’Brien and Kenslee O’Donnell).

With eight placers scoring, Methacton’s depth didn’t allow the team race to be a question at PACs.

“It’s been the goal all year,” Kate Thomas said of the team title. “We knew that we could do it. We really wanted to pull through, but we had some great competitio­n these past few days.”

GETTING HER WINGS » Most of the competitor­s at a track and field meet aren’t competing for medals. They’re competing to better their own standards, but aren’t true podium contenders.

One might have placed Perkiomen Valley senior Gianna Mallee in that category based on the long jump seeding sheet where she entered in 13th place with a PR of 15-9 ¾.

But during the competitio­n, something special happened: a heavy heart found a lift.

“Both of my grandmothe­rs passed away in a span of 20 days about two weeks ago. I prayed every single time before I jumped and said it was for them,” Mallee.

Her start was inauspicio­us, going foul and 14-1 in her first two attempts, then 15-5 in her next two. But she found a new gear on her fifth attempt, jumping an event-winning 16-8, nearly a foot better than her previous best.

“What was crazy was, my first jump that wasn’t a foul was 14-1. With that jump, I was so stressed out thinking ‘I need to beat these people,’” Mallee said. “The rest of my jumps I wanted to beat myself, my PR.

“I’m a senior, it was my last chance to compete in PACs and I left it all.”

Mallee, who noted the influence of late PV assistant coach and Norristown jumps legend Ron Livers – “I wish he could have been here to see it,” she said – intends to compete in college at Arcadia University.

Methacton’s Dunham took second (16-7 ¾) followed by Pottsgrove’s Samiyah Smythe, who also had a big jump up the seed sheet from 16th to a bronze medal (16-4 ¼).

WINNING TIME » Other event winners included Perkiomen Valley sophomore Mackenzie Owens in the 100-meter hurdles and Owen J. Roberts’ junior Claire Zubey, who won the 1,600 meters in 5:06.22. The Spring-Ford 4x400 relay won the event-ending race.

In the field, Owen J. Roberts’ freshman Gianna Leimeister threw a personalbe­st 106-10 on her fifth attempt to win the girls’ javelin. She was followed by Spring-Ford’s Claire Lanzisera (103-0) and OJR teammate Katie Arcara (102-1).

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