SHIPPENSBURG - Sheffield High School is barely big enough to hold all the hardware its track and field athletes have won the past three seasons.
The past two years it's mostly been Kalil Slaughter, who culminated a magical story at Sheffield with two gold medals at the PIAA Class AA Track and Field Championships at Shippensburg University. Slaughter won the 100-meter dash, 200 and was part of the sixth-place-in-the-state 4X100 relay team, along with Dylan Reynolds, who qualified for states this year in the long jump.
While Slaughter is now running track at Penn State Behrend, there's a new kid in town ready to continue the school's success - and she comes from an even smaller track team than Slaughter did. There were days during the season you could count Jen Isenberg's girls track team at Sheffield on just two hands. Yet Isenberg and that team have the county's lone PIAA medal after Isenberg's seventh-place finish on Saturday in javelin at Seth Grove Stadium at Shippensburg University.
Photo submitted to Times Observer
Sheffield sophomore Jen Isenberg stands at the podium after finishing seventh in the PIAA Class AA girls javelin on Saturday at Shippensburg University.
"I hope that she will be a great influence on the younger generation of track girls," said Sheffield coach Jenelle Johnson. "The program needs student-athletes like Jen. Through her success, they can see that hard work does pay off and that states is an attainable goal. There are lots of girls at Sheffield who are great athletes like Jen, and there is no reason that we can't be taking down more girls next year."
One of those girls could be Isenberg again.
"She is one of the hardest working students that I know of throughout my five years of coaching track and field," said Johnson. "Her hard work is evident and shows that it doesn't matter how small of a school you are from as long as you have people willing to help you and push you while being motivated and willing to work hard. The next two years is what she wants to make of it, and I see her having a incredibly successful career if she works as hard as she has the past two years."
Isenberg is no stranger to success, as she has already broken the school record with a throw of 127 feet, one inch to win earlier this season at the Kane Invitational. She finished fourth at the District 9 Class AA Championships, also held at Kane Area High School, but had a state-qualifying throw of 121 feet.
Reynolds was 26th out of 27 in the Class AA long jump with a jump of 18-11, and Warren senior Austin Jerman - a two time District 10 champion - was 29th out of 30 in Class AAA javelin. County athletes that competed on Friday at Shippensburg included: Warren's Sabrina Anderson in the Class AAA 100 hurdles, and Anderson, Casey Kulka, Brooke Armanini and Amy Castagnino in the Class AAA 4X100 relay; Warren's Luke Wortman in the 400, and Wortman, Caleb Hultman, Tanner Rosenberg and Jordan Willetts in the Class AAA 4X400 relay; Eisenhower's Jake VanHouten in the Class AA 300 hurdles, teammate Matt Eernisse in the Class AA 400, and VanHouten, Eernisse, Ben Perkins and Andrew Onoratti in the Class AA 4X400 relay, and; Youngsville's Mitch Wilcox in the Class AA javelin (piaa.org).
On Saturday, Isenberg braved through wind and a bit of nerves with her best throw of 123-10 for seventh, and the top eight earn state medals. She was second among the four District 9 state qualifiers, with Kane junior Morgan Nicholson fourth with a 135-07 throw.
"The wind was a huge factor for all the girls throwing and was quite harsh on those girls throwing javelin," said Johnson. "Jen and I talked about the conditions and one strategy of waiting for the wind to die down, but then only to have a huge unpredictable gust come through as she was going through her last steps. We finally came to the conclusion that, with the weather conditions, it was just going to be a gamble, and it really wasn't the type of track meet where you want to gamble. We joke that if tents were blowing across the field for her to then obviously stop and restart her run through.
"Her last throw in the prelims got her into the finals and before that throw it was a very close race between all the girls for the top nine spots," said Johnson. "The final throw was nerve-racking and we were all just hoping the wind wouldn't knock the javelin down. When she made it to finals she was much more calm and she seemed to realize what a great moment she was living in. She had enough insight to realize that the wind was hard on everyone and to truly make the best of the finals despite the weather."
Isenberg's school-record throw had her seeded ninth at states.
"I knew that if I did my best I might bump a few spots and could medal, but I didn't let my seed cloud my judgment... but, yes, in the back of my head I knew there was a chance to medal," said Isenberg. "It was just mind blowing at first, all the people there; it was packed before eight in the morning even when it was only about 40 degrees. It was stressful before I had to throw, but I never get stressed so I new it would be a tough day for me with my first year there and being nervous. When we started throwing I new it was tough competition going up against girls who may have been there before, girls I know that are better than me and have beaten me at other invitationals. I new I just had to try my hardest to compete with the girls there.
"My main goal most of all was to give it my all and have fun doing it," she said. "If that landed myself on the podium it would've been great, but if not I don't think I would've been to disappointed because it's an honor to even go to states."
For a girl that's very hard on herself, she had and has the perfect frame of mind for this stage.
"It feels great to be able to honor such a small school and it feels good to keep it alive after Kalil left," said Isenberg. "And having a few more years to achieve more feels even better."