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North Penn girls win T&F State Championship

Maria Gardizy
NP State Champions

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When the North Penn Girls’ Track and Field Team left for the PIAA State Meet in Shippensburg, they didn’t expect to be bringing home a State Championship trophy. In a track meet that literally came down to the last event of the day and one half of a point, North Penn brought home their first State Championship trophy in 20 years.

All North Penn relays (4×100, 4×800, and 4×400) qualified during the preliminaries for a spot in finals and a chance to earn team points. Kat Stevenson qualified for finals in the 200m, Mikaela Vlasic qualified in the 800m, and Uche Nwogwugwu qualified in the 400m for finals.

On Friday, Nwogwugwu placed 5th in the Triple Jump with a jump of 38-07.50, earning team points for North Penn and herself a new personal record.

Having three relays and three individual events to compete on Saturday, North Penn had many opportunities to score points.

“We did really well on Friday to get everyone except our freshman hurdler through prelims. That really helped set us up for Saturday’s finals,” said Head Coach Richard Coach Swanker.

North Penn’s first win on Saturday was in arguably their strongest relay, the 4x800m. Jenna Webb, Uche Nwogwugwu, Ariana Gardizy, and Mikaela Vlasic ran a time of 9:02.65 to earn the gold. Vlasic anchored the relay and maintained the lead that the girls earned after coming from behind after the first leg.

“I felt good when I received the baton in first place, and I knew that if went out as fast as I could, I would be able to hold off the second place team,” said Vlasic.

“Those are my girls,” said distance coach Jewel Rama, “I know how hard they work so I knew that they would get after it. We took a gamble with our order, but all the girls did their job to get the win.”

In the 4x100m relay, Jessica Brenfleck, Kat Stevenson, Natalie Kwortnik, and Sophia Broadhurst ran a 47.55 for not only a third place finish, but for a new school record.

“We had a little trouble with a handoff, but we still got third place with was awesome; we were right where we should be,” said Coach Swanker.

What makes the 4x100m win interesting is that the same four girls on the team this year, did not quality for the state championship last year.

“To fast forward a year, and go from not qualifying, to placing third in the state, is really a testament to the girls’ character. They had a sour taste in their mouth from watching the 4x100m from the stands last year, so this year they took care of the unfinished business,” said Rama.

To fast forward a year, and go from not qualifying, to placing third in the state, is really a testament to the girls’ character. They had a sour taste in their mouth from watching the 4x100m from the stands last year, so this year they took care of the unfinished business”

— Coach Jewel Rama

Mikaela Vlasic was back on the track for the 800m in a heavily contested race. The North Penn senior ran a 2:09.33 to place second and break the school record.

Kat Stevenson surprised her coaches in the 200m by placing 6th, earning North Penn some unexpected points. Stevenson ran a 25.04 in prelims and a 25.37 in finals, also breaking a school record.

“Kat has had a monstrous career at North Penn. We weren’t expecting her to place in the finals, but anything can happen on any given day on the track, and she ran an awesome time,” said Rama.

Uche Nwogwugwu, the defending 400m state champion, defended her title and ran a 53.80 in the finals. Nwogwugwu broke a school record with that time and was the only runner to break 54 seconds.

After two days of competition, the team championship scores all came down to two teams in the last race of the day, North Penn and Cheltenham in the 4x400m. Cheltenham, who beat North Penn at the District One AAA meet, most likely did not expect to be in such close competition with North Penn for the championship- they had more event entries.

“Cheltenham has a very good runner in the 3200m, and that was supposed to give them the edge over us because we did not have anyone in that race,” said Rama, “ When their girl didn’t place, things started to shift.”

After Cheltenham did not earn all of the points they were expected to, North Penn realized, right before the 4x400m, that getting first place meant winning the State Championship.

“The coaches told us that the team in front of us was beating us by 1.5 points, so if we win the 4x400m, we would win by half a point as long as we take first and they take second,” said Nwogwugwu.

The race was started by Vlasic, and then after handoffs to Kwortnik and Brenfleck, Nwogwugwu received the baton in first place to bring the championship home.The North Penn girls clinched first place running their fastest time of the year, 3:46.18, and breaking the school record.

“For me, it was all adrenaline. My legs were dead, but in my mind, I knew that if we won the 4×400, we would win states,” said Vlasic.

For me, it was all adrenaline. My legs were dead, but in my mind, I knew that if we won the 4×400, we would win states”

— Mikaela Vlasic

Jess Brenfleck pulled out a huge PR of over one second in the third leg of the relay, and that helped the team in the most important race of the day.

“It was awesome to see her run so fast, and I was crying because I was so proud of her,” said Stevenson.

North Penn ended up winning by half a point over Cheltenham, a score so close, Coach Swanker didn’t believe at first.

“When I heard we won by half a point, I thought there must be a point missing somewhere. It wasn’t until the coach from Cheltenham came over to me to say congratulations that it really sunk in that we did it. It was just such an overwhelming feeling, I couldn’t believe it,” said Coach Swanker.

It was just such an overwhelming feeling, I couldn’t believe it”

— Coach Swanker

Coach Swanker has been coaching Track and Field in the North Penn School District since 1971. This is his first State Championship as a girls coach- he coached when the boys won states back in 2002. The North Penn girls have not won a state title for 20 years.

“I told the girls, this track team is the best North Penn has ever had. Scoring above 50 points is a lot, and I don’t think anyone was expecting it,” said Swanker.

For Nwogwugwu and many other seniors on the team, the excitement of winning the state championship was also combined with the sadness of finishing their high school track and field careers for North Penn.

“It’s extremely bittersweet. I can’t believe this chapter of my life is over because it has been the norm for four years. I’m so happy with how we all did today; I couldn’t be prouder. I just feel really blessed to have been a part of this team with the amazing girls and coaches who have literally become my family,” said Nwogwugwu.

“The championship meant so much to me. It was awesome ending my senior season with the girls I have been running with since freshman year,” said Brenfleck.

The North Penn seniors are not the only people leaving the team next year; this year was Coach Swanker’s last year as head coach for North Penn.

“I’ll still be around next year, but I will not be returning as the head coach. I could not think of a better way to finish up the season; it was a good track meet,” said Coach Swanker smiling.

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1 Comment

One Response to “North Penn girls win T&F State Championship”

  1. G S on May 28th, 2017 9:51 am

    Way to go ladies! You make everyone proud with your athleticism and attitude!

    [Reply]

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North Penn girls win T&F State Championship