SHIPPENSBURG, Pa. — A kid who was anything but a shoe-in to win PIAA gold stood with his shoes off as he talked to a reporter Friday.
Hampton’s Dale Hall took off his kicks before climbing onto the step reserved for him on the medal podium. The fact that Hall was on it wasn’t a shock. It’s the particular step on which he stood that was one of the biggest surprises of the opening day of the PIAA track and field championships.
Hall, a junior who finished third at the WPIAL championships, used a gutsy finish and giant PR to top a star-studded field in the Class 3A 1,600-meter run at Shippensburg University’s Seth Grove Stadium. The fast section, which included Hall, featured runners headed to Notre Dame, Penn State, Louisville, Mississippi and George Mason.
“I don’t think anyone expected that. I think that was a big surprise,” said Hall, the only WPIAL boy to win a gold medal Friday.
Hall’s previous PR came at last week’s WPIAL championships when he finished in 4 minutes, 15.97 seconds, good enough for third place behind Butler’s Drew Griffith and Ringgold’s Ryan Pajak. But Hall flipped the script Friday by running a 4:08.52 to finish just ahead of Griffith (4:08.59) and Pajak (4:09.64), who placed second and third.
“I raced Ryan earlier this year in the 3,200. He dropped me pretty hard, but I still closed strong. I felt like a lot of that was mental,” Hall said. “And then at WPIAL’s, I kind of gave up on the third lap and managed to come in third. I knew if I could hold on mentally, I could run a lot faster than I had.”
Hall’s time was actually better than the one Griffith ran (4:09.53) to set a WPIAL championship record. The latest race ultimately came down between those two. Hall found himself a step behind Griffith heading into the final lap, but Hall overtook Griffith with about 150 meters left before leaning over the finish line just before the Notre Dame recruit. Hall ran the final 400 meters in 57.54.
“My goal coming in was just to try to win. Whatever that took,” Hall said. “I felt confident that I could stay with the top guys.”
Murray encouraged by start
Hempfield junior Peyton Murray hopes to win a PIAA Class 3A discus title Saturday. He’s the No. 1 seed in the event. But first, the WPIAL champion competed in the shot put Friday. And despite finishing second, Murray was encouraged by the start to what he hopes is a golden weekend.
“I knew in my head the best I could get was second place,” said Murray, the No. 11 seed in the shot put. “The kid in first was really good. I don’t believe I could pass him. I don’t think right now, with the best throw of my life, I don’t think I could pass him. He’s that good.”
Murray, the third-place finisher a season ago, nearly delivered the best throw of his life — his 54-7 was just short of his PR of 55-0 — but it was still well short of Berks Catholic’s Brady Mider, who registered a first-place heave of 58-9¾. Connellsville’s Nathan Reese finished third (54-6).
Hanging with Mr. Cooper
Laurel thrower Brady Cooper has come a long way in his career. In his first year of track and field his sophomore season, Cooper finished 28th in the discus at the Baldwin Invitational after producing a throw of 114 feet. Fast forward just two years, and this now senior finished second in the event in the entire state. Cooper was the runner-up in the Class 2A discus Friday.
“It’s really crazy when you think about it,” Cooper said. “A lot of hard work got me there. Getting a little bigger. I was probably only like 140 pounds back then, so it was kind of hard to get the discus out there back then.”
Cooper is 190 pounds now, and closed his high school career with a career-best toss of 167-8, which came on his second throw. His previous best was 160-11. Union-AC Valley’s Landon Chalmers took first place (171-5) and Shenango’s Michael Othites was third (167-5).
District 5 sprinter sets record
Ethan Black has a great chance of once again becoming “Ethan Gold” on Saturday, especially if he posts anything close to the championship record time he ran in Friday’s preliminaries of the Class 2A 100.
Black, who attends District 5 Conemaugh Township, won his heat in a blazing 10.39 seconds. That broke the PIAA record of 10.47 seconds set by Bloomsburg’s Jahvel Hemphill in 2017. Black is the defending champion in the 100 and 200 who ran the 100 in a career-best 10.22 at a meet this season. He plans on playing football as a walk-on at Penn State. Only one other runner — WPIAL champion Dane Asbury of Washington (10.99) — broke 11 seconds in preliminaries. He was the only WPIAL runner to qualify for the final.
Meanwhile, the WPIAL didn’t advance any sprinters to the final of the Class 3A 100. After running a 10.70 to win the WPIAL title, New Castle’s Kaevon Gardner ran an 11.39, good enough for just seventh place in his heat. Canon-McMillan’s Austyn Winkleblech (10.84) was third in his heat but did not qualify for the final.
Brad is a sports writer at the Pittsburgh Post-Gazette, but he's currently on strike. Email him at firstname.lastname@example.org.