The Big 30 has an experienced group in Middletown for the New York state outdoor track and field championships, which get underway today.
Of the eight area state qualifiers, five are repeats, highlighted by a four-time representative in Salamanca senior Mushirah Sheppard and three athletes who will each compete in a pair of events.
“Usually when they go their first year, it’s a little bit of a learning curve for them because they’re not used to that big stage,” said Allegany-Limestone boys coach Mike Wilber, who has star junior hurdlers Liam Coulter and Michael Wolfgang returning to states. “Going back a second time, now you’re thinking, ‘OK, they’re not going to be a deer in headlights.’ When they get there, they’re going to remember their experience last year and use that to help prepare themselves.”
Both Coulter and Wolfgang are medal contenders in Division 2. Coulter is the No. 2 seed in the 400-meter hurdles (54.59 seconds) and No. 6 seed in the 110 hurdles (:14.65), while Wolfgang is tied for the third seed in the 110 hurdles (:14.59) and seeded eighth for the 400 hurdles (:56.27).
A year ago, Wolfgang took sixth in the 110 hurdles and eighth in the 400 hurdles, while Coulter was sixth in the 400 hurdles.
“Both of them are a little bit higher in the seeds than they were last year,” Wilber said, “so I suspect that both of them have a different mentality going into this meet compared to last year.”
Their good support system should help, too.
“Whenever you check in, whenever you go to the blocks, you might be in different heats but you’ve got a teammate going right with you,” Wilber said. “It’s bound to be a calming experience compared to being on your own, where you might have somebody that you have seen at sectionals or maybe counties. But going to a state meet with your teammate in the same events, I’m sure that does have a calming sensation for both of them. They have somebody that they trained with on a daily basis going with them.”
Sheppard, a pole vaulter, is just the second Salamanca track and field athlete to qualify for states four times, joining high jumper Whitney Hendershot, who went on to win an NCAA Division II national championship at Slippery Rock.
A year after tying for 12th overall and third in Division 2, Sheppard enters tied for 14th overall and seventh in Division 2 in seeding.
“Mushirah has that ability to rise to the challenge,” Salamanca coach Laurie Lafferty-John said. “She always has. I could see in the last few meets she has become very focused. To be honest, this season has not allowed for much time at the track. With her school work, double sporting, working and other conflicts it created a difficult challenge to get quality work on the pole.
“Right now I feel she is in a good place moving into the states. She has decided to attend Fredonia University seeking a special education inclusion education degree and plans to be on the track and field team. I know that decision was weighing heavy on her mind. She seems lightened and more like herself with a lot of the stressors of being a senior behind her now.”
Sheppard’s goal is to break her own school record of 11 feet, 0 inches, Lafferty-John said, adding, “Where that ends up placing her overall will be up to the track and field gods.”
Wellsville junior Emma Kinnicutt and Pioneer junior Marissa Klimczak are three-time state qualifiers.
Kinnicutt earned the third seed in discus (121-3) after placing sixth as a freshman and seventh as a sophomore.
Klimczak will run in both hurdle events, seeded sixth in the 400 (1:04.93) and seventh in the 100 (:15.38). She finished fifth in the 100 hurdles and 11th in the 400 hurdles last year. In 2017, she placed fifth in the 400 hurdles.
The Big 30’s first-time state qualifiers are Pioneer sophomore Madison Snayczuk (long jump, tied for 14th seed, 17-6), Pioneer junior Jerad Hediger (3,000 steeplechase; seeded 18th overall, 7th Div. 2; 9:46.59) and Allegany-Limestone eighth-grader Angelina Napoleon (high jump; tied for 27th seed overall, 7th Div. 2; 5-2). Napoleon was also a state qualifier in cross country this past fall.