SHIPPENSBURG – The final hurdle standing in Rachel Hutchison’s way of the finish line wasn’t going to deny her what the Athens senior had rightfully earned. Not even clipping the unforgiving road block was going to slow her down.
Hutchison was determined to finish her last race as a Wildcat the only way she could fathom. So she powered through the stumble of that final hurdle. She coasted across the finish line, nary a competitor to be found, and came to the quick realization she was a state champion.
Fueled by the disappointment of falling in the same event a year ago, Hutchison conquered the 300 hurdles at the PIAA Track and Field Championships on Saturday. She briskly covered the track, acting as if the hurdles were nothing more than a minor annoyance as she posted a time of 44.69 seconds to win the Class AA 300 hurdles championship.
Hutchison was one of three area athletes to walk away from Shippensburg University’s Seth Grove Stadium with hardware Saturday. Wyalusing’s Kevin Heeman posted an eighth-place finish in the Class AA 3,200 in 9:37.12, and Rams teammate Alex Patton also finished eighth in the 1,600 in 4:26.43.
Williamson’s Jules Jones earned a 13th-place finish in the Class AA 3,200 and an 11th-place finish in the 1,600. Athens’ Ariana Gambrell failed to qualify for the final of the 100 hurdles, finishing sixth in her heat of the 100 hurdles semifinals.
There was going to be nothing to deny Hutchison. Nothing could stem the tide of her disappointment of missing out on the finals of the 300 hurdles a year ago. So instead she used that disappointment as fuel. It drove her to put in the work to make sure it didn’t happen again.
“I think I had a pretty good chance of placing last year if I hadn’t tripped over one of the hurdles in the prelims,” Hutchison said. “I think it motivated me. Not making it to where I believed I could make it pushed me to be right here.”
And even though the relief of actually accomplishing what she set out to do canvassed her body as she crossed the finish line, she acted as if winning was what she expected to do all along. Because let’s be honest, it is what she expected.
She rode the line all season of confidence and cockiness, never crossing into the territory which could potentially derail her dreams. Instead, she ran every event as if she knew she could win, but worked in between events as if she still had something to prove to the rest of the world.
“I believe this was possible,” Hutchison said. “I kept my composure and wanted to stay humble and not worry about anybody else.”
But Hutchison couldn’t help but worry about he competition to her left in Lane 4. She was the second seed for the final because Western Wayne’s Trina Barcarola had been the only one of the eight finalists to post a sub-45 second time in Friday’s prelims.
That left Hutchison with wondering about where Barcarola was going to be the entire race because of the stagger of the start. But Barcarola, who won the 100 hurdles and the pole vault earlier in the day, stumbled over an early hurdle giving Hutchison the opening she needed.
Hutchison ran a PR despite clipping the final hurdle and was .69 seconds faster than Deer Lakes’ Kiera Cutright, who finished second.
“It’s something I have been dreaming about since last year, and it blows my mind that I was able to work this hard and keep myself this focused to accomplish something like that,” Hutchison said. “You get to the state level and you think, ‘How am I doing this?’ The thing I felt knowing I was first was unbelievable. It’s a feeling you don’t ever feel and it’s kind of dream-like.”
Heeman found himself in a precarious position early in the Class AA 3,200. He didn’t like the pace the lead pack was running because it didn’t put him on the pace he needed to run about 9:30 in the 2-mile event. So he took matters into his own hands, getting to the front of the pack and forcing them to run at his pace.
Even after finishing the race with a state medal, Heeman isn’t sure whether or not it was the right decision to take control of the race like he did. But it put him in position to win his first state medal.
“I think they were going to take it slow and then in the last couple laps hammer on it,” Heeman said. “But I knew if I wanted to hit the pace I wanted to, I don’t have the kick to be able to go with them like that. So I knew I had to get out there and push the pace.”
Once the top-finishing runners took control of the race back from Heeman, it shuffled him back toward the middle of the pack. From there, he kept an eye on where he was in terms of medal contention, and he kept a close eye on the ninth-place runner to make sure he’d finish on the podium.
“I’ve wanted to take home hardware since my ninth-grade season,” Heeman said. “I knew it would take some work, but it’s here and I finally did it.”
Patton’s final run of a busy weekend came on a pair of legs which had been pushed to their brink. He had already put in two hard legs of the 3,200 relay where Wyalusing finished 11th, and a strong race in the 1,600 prelims Friday.
But he found his strength in the scorching afternoon heat under an oppressive sun to pull out an eighth-place finish.
“You have a couple big invitationals to go to that get you used to this competition,” Patton said. “But here there’s huge bleachers on either side of the track and it’s a great atmosphere. Coming down last year I think helped a lot because it can be pretty daunting being with the top kids in the state. But I’m pretty happy with how things went.”