SHIPPENSBURG – Porschia Bennett never sat down Friday. From the moment the Class AA girls high jump kicked off at the PIAA Track and Field Championships, the Towanda freshman was on the move.
About the only time Bennett wasn’t moving was as she stood on the podium in the middle of Shippensburg University’s Seth Grove Stadium to receive her sixth-place medal. The jumper who surprised the field a week ago winning a district championships, surprised absolutely nobody with another season’s-best performance to finish sixth in the high jump.
Bennett was the lone area athlete to earn a state medal on the first day of the meet. All of the track finals will be run today.
Williamson’s Charly Slusser narrowly missed a medal in the high jump, finishing 10th. The top nine in the event earned a medal because there was a tie for eighth place.
Athens’ Ben Gambrell finished tied for 17th in the AA boys long jump. The Wildcats’ Cassidy Stackpole placed 13th in the javelin with a best throw of 109 feet, 11 inches.
Bennett put herself in the thick of championship contention when she cleared 5 feet, 4 inches for the second consecutive week, matching the PR she set a week ago to win her first district championship. She again outlasted Slusser and Loyalsock’s Maddie Fox, who was a state place winner in 2017, and was the lone District 4 high jumper to earn a medal yesterday.
And she did it by never getting off her feet. Wary of tightening up should she decide to sit down, the Black Knights freshman paced the end zone of Shippensburg’s football field, covering more miles than a long-haul trucker.
But just about each time she lined up on her mark, she left the bar sitting on the stanchions. Bennett’s sixth-place was one of three by freshmen in the event, and her 5-4 mark tied for the highest mark among those freshmen.
“I felt pretty good (Friday),” Bennett said. “I thought I could be between fourth and sixth, and I was somewhere in there.”
The soft-spoken Bennett never looked frazzled by the moment. Hundreds of people lining the first turn of the track to put eyes on the high jump never rattled her. Instead, Bennett calmly executed jump after jump.
She cleared her first three heights without a miss. She didn’t knock down a bar until her first attempt at 5-2. That alone is a height she had cleared just one time this season prior to last week’s PR at districts.
Bennett missed again at 5-4 before becoming one of the six jumpers who advanced to that height to clear it. That jump guaranteed Bennett her first state medal. And even though she wasn’t able to get into the Top 5, it proved to be one of the best performances of her young career anyway.
“I was pretty surprised I won districts because I was the third seed there,” Bennett said. “But it had me feeling pretty confident. It had me feeling like I could come in and do it again here, even as a freshman.”
Slusser was one of the 11 jumpers who cleared 5-2 who ended up sitting around waiting to hear if they were a medalist or not. After missing three times at 5-4, Slusser sat patiently to see if she had earned her first state medal only to find out she was the first one out.
As the nine medalists walked toward the podium, Slusser threw her backpack over her shoulders and made a quick visit to her coaches before leaving the infield. The sophomore did improve on last year’s 14th-place finish by taking 10th, but it still left her disappointed.
“I had a lot higher expectations for myself,” Slusser said. “It’s hard sitting to watch that, but it is what it is. I wanted to jump 5-6 because my personal record is 5-7, but I’m still really happy to be here.”
The final jumps of her season were rough. Slusser had her right shin wrapped in elastic therapeutic tape from issues she’s been dealing with. She said she may even have a stress fracture.
Despite that, she was able to put herself in position to battle for a state medal. Slusser was one of five girls whose best mark yesterday was 5-2, but because of the number of misses she had, she finished fourth out of that group of five. Lakeland’s Sara Wanat took seventh and Greenwood’s Emma Rolston and Penn Cambria’s Lyric Janosik tied for eighth.
“This season has been really rough for me. At the end there I lost my confidence and my leg was really bothering me,” Slusser said. “But next year I’m really pushing to heal up and maybe even win a state championship.”
Gambrell was never able to find his footing as he competed in the AA boys long jump. A week after posting one of his best jumps of the season and pushing Southern Columbia’s Julian Fleming at the district meet, Gambrell couldn’t find the consistency he was looking for on the runway Friday.
The sophomore was left shaking his head trying to figure out where things on the runway went wrong and he couldn’t quite put his finger on it. It may have been the surface or how he was running to the board or his start, but Gambrell couldn’t quite put his finger on the issue.
He finished with a best jump of 20-4 to finish tied for 17th. It was just the second time this season he failed to crack 21 feet in an invitational setting.
“It’s poor. I didn’t expect this at all,” Gambrell said. “I felt comfortable coming in, but my steps were off and I wasn’t getting on the board. I just got in my head and didn’t perform as I should have.”
Gambrell said he’ll take inspiration from the disappointing performance. As a sophomore, he’s still got two years left to come back and try to get on the podium. And if his past performance and a PR of better than 22 feet is any indication, he’ll be a threat for a spot on the podium each of the next two seasons.
“Every day this is going to drive me,” Gambrell said. “It’s very frustrating knowing how hard I worked to get here. But I know next year I’m coming back even stronger and faster and I’m getting that state title.”