Wednesday, January 24, 2018
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Witmer Focused on the Summit


It's an annual rite of passage for high school graduates: Senior week at the beach.
 
Well, most high school grads head to the beach.
 
There are a few, and count Ephrata's Mary Witmer among them, that follow a different path.
 
Witmer said she'll be heading to the Adirondack Mountains for her senior week. It's a fitting ending for a young lady who's led the -- appropriately named -- Mountaineers to prominence on the local track and field circuit.
 
But before Witmer and her friends ascend the Adirondacks, she has a figurative mountain left to climb.
 
The pre-eminent distance hurdler in the state, Witmer is seeking to cap her standout scholastic track and field career by summiting the most difficult peak in the Commonwealth: The PIAA Championships.
 
Witmer enters this weekend's PIAA Track and Field Championships as the top seed in the girls' Class AAA 300-meter intermediate hurdles.
 
She'll begin the task of claiming her first state gold medal -- she was second in the event in 2012 -- during Friday's 3 p.m. preliminary races at Shippensburg University's Seth Grove Stadium. The final is scheduled for 1:30 p.m. Saturday.
 
"That's the goal. That's what I've been working for for all these past years,'' Witmer said of possibly becoming the first girl in school history to win a state title in track. "It's the dream.''
 
(Ephrata's Mark Spang won the Class AAA discus in 1995, Todd Peck the Class AAA intermediate hurdles in 1980 and the Mountaineer boys won the Class A mile relay in 1970).
 
Witmer's road to prominence was not the most direct, according to Ephrata coach John Keller.
 
"From a freshman to a senior, one thing for sure is the difference in her overall confidence,'' said Keller. "Just how she carries herself; how she is around other people.
 
"She was very shy -- and I mean really shy -- as a freshman. Not a confident person in general,'' he added. "Going from there to here, and achieving what she's been able to achieve, well, that's quite remarkable.''
 
Witmer is a humble, very unassuming athlete, whom Keller said "let it be known, I work pretty hard. And she knows it and she hasn't backed down. She puts in the honest work to go out and compete.
 
"And that's not just in track, but in the classroom,'' Keller added. "Her overall demeanor; her confidence level. She's come a long way.''
 
Witmer has risen to the point where her District Three record time of 42.11 in the intermediate hurdles is the fastest in the state, and among the best in the country.
 
(Jade Miller, a senior at Great Oak in Temecula, Calif., ran 41.15 to win the California Interscholastic Federation Southern Section title May 18. That's the fastest in the country as of last weekend).
 
Witmer's district crown came on the heels of helping the Mounts win their first L-L League Meet girls' team title May 11, when she won the intermediates in a meet-record 42.32.
 
"Well, obviously, she's been huge to our program,'' Keller said. "(She's) certainly the best athlete I've ever coached. Probably one of the best, if not the best, ever to run here at Ephrata.
 
"She certainly was the catalyst to our two Section Two championships (2012-13). And, again, obviously, she was huge in our league (meet) title this year.''
 
Witmer won the high hurdles (14.68), intermediate hurdles, triple jump (37-1) and teamed with Kelly Liebl, Erica Voigt and Jordan Crills to win the 1,600 relay at leagues in a season-best 4:01.71.
 
Witmer opted to forgo the triple jump after leagues to concentrate on the hurdles and the 1,600 relay.
 
Andrea Castillo replaced Voigt in the 1,600 relay at districts, and the Mounts responded with a school-record 3:59.73, good enough for fifth place and a berth in states.
 
Keller said he is hoping to do some nice things at states, but Ephrata is seeded only 19th. Central Bucks West is No. 1 at 3:47.62, and all of the top six seeds have gone under 3:56, so it will take some work for the Mounts to medal.
 
"If each girl goes out and focuses, lays it on the line and runs for the team, this is our chance,'' said Keller, who added that he is changing the order. "I realize it's tough, and they know it's tough, but going under the four-minute mark was a huge monkey off our back.
 
"Now, we just run and see what happens.''
 
Witmer didn't like what happened in the high hurdles final at districts. She hit a hurdle, finished eighth in a disappointing 16.15 and did not qualify for states. She clocked 14.74 in the district semis, which would have won the event.
 
Her biggest competition in the intermediates will come from Cheltenham senior Kayla Coley, who is seeded second and won the District One meet in 43.44. Coley, however, clocked 42.91 at the Suburban One League American Conference Championships on May 10, the only other sub-43 in the state this year.
 
Keller, as would be expected, thinks Witmer has a golden opportunity. He's seen her growth and development over four years, and is anxious to see how her stellar scholastic career ends.
 
"She's just an amazing athlete. It's going to take someone's huge effort to knock her off,'' Keller said. "She's got one thing in her head, that's to be a state champion.''
 
Then, it's off to the mountains.