SHIPPENSBURG — After flying across the finish line with nobody in front of him, Nazir Dunell leaped in the air, pumped his fists and with an emphatic shout of triumph, covered his face in near-disbelief.
Marc Minichello lingered around the javelin field for awhile, almost as if he never wanted to leave, capturing a magical moment with family photos to illuminate a historic school memory.
For Payden Montana, winning another state gold medal may have been special, but not quite so surreal.
For first-time state winners Minichello and Dunell, a trip to the top of the PIAA medal stand was almost overwhelming.
“It is the best feeling I’ve ever had,” Minichello said. “It’s that simple.”
Minichello became Wyoming Area’s first-ever state champion by winning the Class 3A boys javelin throw, Dunell overcame a sore hamstring to capture his first gold in the Class 2A boys 110 hurdles and, ho-hum, Montana mashed the field to win the state discus title on a golden day for Wyoming Valley Conference athletes at the PIAA Track and Field Championships.
“It feels amazing,” Dunell said. “I don’t even have any words for what I’m feeling right now.”
Montana knows the feeling, three times over.
The Penn State-bound senior thrower, who won two straight PIAA shot put crowns including a new record set Friday, added another jewel to her impressive collection with her first state discus championship. Her throw of 154-8 was well beyond the reach of second-place finisher Madison Kling of Red Lion, who finished with a 146-2.
“It’s really special,” Montana said. “It’s eluded me for the past year or two.”
Montana, the favorite in the 2017 District 2 shot put field, was kept out of the state field last season when she was called for a couple violations during her district attempts last season.
Not this time.
Nothing was going to keep Montana from pacing the state pack this time.
She unleashed her winning heave on her first try of qualifying, setting a bar that nobody else in the field could match.
“I didn’t throw as well as I wanted, but I’m still happy with the win,” Montana said. “I definitely was a little more nervous because of my (district) performance last year. But I knew I was capable, I knew I could do this and I did.”
Nobody knew what to expect from Dunell.
A bronze medalist in the 110 hurdles as a sophomore, Dunell was seeded eighth following Friday’s preliminaries, then felt his hamstring grab in Saturday’s morning semifinals. But he ran through the pain, then took off like a shot in the finals and easily won the gold medal by a step and a half.
“I came in with my hamstring messed up,” Dunell, a junior, said, “but I ran through it and came out with a first. It was hurting the whole race.
“Definitely my best run of the year.”
It seems he had a dangling carrot to catch.
His older brother Zahir Dunell, who was a big part of the Meyers 2015 PIAA Class 2A boys 400 relay championship team, showed up at Shippensburg University’s Seth Grove Stadium waving around his old gold.
“He came here with his medal,” Dunell said, “showed me what I’ve got to work for.”
Nazir Dunell was also working for history.
With Wilkes-Barre city schools Meyers, GAR and Coughlin set to mesh into one sports season for the 2019-20 school year, this may be one of the last PIAA track and field titles for the Meyers. And it was also the fourth straight year the Mohawks took home a state hurdles medal —and their third gold in four years — following the 2015 400 relay championship, Raheem Twyman’s 300 hurdles gold medal in 2016 and Nazir Dunell’s bronze in the 110 hurdles and gold Saturday.
“Next year’s our last year of doing this,” Nazir Dunell said. “I want to do as much as I can for the team until I graduate.
“It’s just Mohawks’ pride.”
Wyoming Area took great pride in boasting its first track and field gold medalist.
Minichello claimed that honor by opening with a monster throw of 198 feet, and nobody else approached it the rest of the day.
“My adrenalin was definitely pumping, my heart was racing,” said Minichello, who will throw javelin for the University of Pennsylvania next season. “The focus was on making the competition catch me. The people I was throwing against knew they had to hit a new PR to catch me. I think I was trying too hard (to beat that throw) after that, but fortunately, it held up.
“It is the greatest feeling to be able to represent my school in a positive way.”
More impressively, his trip to the top of the medal stand came right after he took a trip to Wyoming Area’s Senior Prom on Friday night.
“I got home (from prom) about 10:30 last night,” said Minichello, who began the state javelin at 9 a.m. Saturday. “We left (for states) right after that, got in the car at 11, we got to Shippensburg at 1:30 (Saturday morning). I slept on the way down.
”Then the adrenalin took over.”
A few other WVC competitors also wound up taking trips to the state medal stand.
While Minichello finished first, Hazleton Area’s Joey Grula placed eighth in the Class 3A boys javelin with a throw of 179-4 that gave him his first PIAA honor.
“If I would have left here without a medal, that would have been a big disappointment,” said Grula, a senior who will throw javelin for Brown next season. “Getting a state medal for the first time is a big accomplishment.”
The Lake-Lehman Class 2A girls 3,200 relay team of Jace Garnick, Jade Fry, Olivia Vasey and Abby Paczewski made it to the medal stand for a second straight year after finishing sixth in 9:41.27.
The parade to the medal stand for the WVC ended with two fourth-place finishes from Class 3A boys competition, with Tunkhannock’s Trejon Turner in the high jump and Wyoming Valley West’s Mitchell Forgash in the 800 run. For different reasons, their reactions were mixed.
Tunkhannock sophomore Trejon Turner cleared 6-7 in the Class 3A boys high jump, but as the top seed in that event, wasn’t satisfied with a fourth-place finish at his first PIAA Championships.
“Nope,” Turner said. “It’s just too hot and it was just weird. They were going up by twos at the end and at first, they were going up by ones. I passed on the 6-8, which I know I would have made, and didn’t make 6-9. Nothing came together.”
Yet, everything fell into place for Forgash.
He entered states as a No. 27 seed, but the guy who was supposed to be a back-of-the-pack preliminary guy posted the top time of Friday’s 800 qualifying, then medaled in the finals.
“Just incredible,” Forgash, a senior, said. “I worked so hard over the years to get to this point. It just feels awesome.”
On a blistering, 84-degree day, Forgash actually grabbed the lead just past the midway point of the championship run, but fell back a bit down the stretch and settled for fourth.
“I just wanted to play it safe, in a way,” Forgash said. “I just wanted to get ahead there to know I’m ahead. I thought maybe I could keep it, but I saw some guys coming up behind me. Everybody here is a fantastic athlete. I just tried to focus on not where I was on the heat sheets, but how I can run.”
Mark Minichello, Sr.`Wyoming Area`javelin`198`1
Mitchell Forgash, Sr.`Valley West`800 run`1:54.70`4
Trejon Turner, So.`Tunkhannock`high jump`6-7`4
Joe Grula, Sr.`Hazleton Area`javelin`179-4`8
Mitchell Martin, Sr.`Berwick`3200 run`9:53.07`17
Phil Cocco, Sr.`Berwick`shot put`45-3.50`22
Cole Horan, Sr.`Coughlin`long jump`20-4.25`29
Payden Montana, Sr.`Berwick`discus`154-8`1
Ashley Blannard, Sr.`Valley West`long jump`17-3.25`9
Shelby Stackhouse, Sr.`Wyoming Area`high jump`5-2`T-12
Paige Bonin, Sr.`Hazleton Area`javelin`N/D`29
Nazir Dunell, Jr.`Meyers`110 hurdles`14.78`1
Ethan Sorber, Sr.`Northwest`pole vault`12-6`T-11
Tyler Thomas, Sr.`Hanover Area`triple jump`40-8`T-16
Abby Korba, So.`Hanover Area`triple jump`35-7`17
Natasha Mihalko, Fr.`Lake-Lehman`triple jump`34-8.75`20
Relay team; Time; Seed`Seed
Lake-Lehman girls Class 2A 3200 (Jace Garnick, Sr.-Olivia Vasey, Sr.-Jade Fry, Sr.-Abby Paczewski, So.); 9:41.27; 6
Reach Paul Sokoloski at 570-991-6392 or on Twitter @TLPaulSokoloski