West Xtra: Fort Cherry thrower first to win back-to-back PIAA crowns

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When Jenna Lucas was first approached about joining the Fort Cherry track and field team as a freshman, she had no intention of participating in the sport.

And, after eventually deciding to try it out, she had to convince her coach to give her a chance with the throwing events.

Now she's the only Fort Cherry athlete to ever win a PIAA championship two years in a row.

Lucas launched the javelin 153 feet, 5 inches on her first attempt Saturday at the PIAA Class AA track and field championships at Shippensburg University, which was easily good enough to win her second consecutive PIAA title in the event.

"It means a lot," said Lucas, a McDonald resident. "I came into this year wanting to win my second title because it had never been done before at Fort Cherry and now I'm going to college next year on a high note."

Lucas will throw for the University of Central Florida next year, and she partly has the perseverance of Rangers track and field coach Ben Maxin to thank.

Maxin said he likes to approach any of the young athletes at Fort Cherry to come out for his team.

So after Lucas' freshman basketball season, Maxin went to, in his words, "the scrawny freshman."

But tired from a long season on the hardwood, Lucas declined. And not just once, either.

"I didn't want to do track in the first place," Lucas said. "He probably asked me five times. But some of my friends were also doing it, and I was talked into it."

But Maxin originally wanted Lucas to be a sprinter and jumper for the team. It wasn't until midway through the season that Lucas got her chance to throw after making a bet with her coach.

"I told him if I could throw the javelin 80 feet, let me try it in a meet," Lucas said. "And I threw it 80 feet."

And as they say, the rest is history.

Lucas also had the benefit of having one of the best javelin throwers in the state on her team at the time.

Jessie Merckle, a junior when Lucas was a freshman, finished second in the state in the javelin in 2011 and then took first in the event in 2012.

Merckle now throws at Wake Forest and was the 2013 ACC champion in the javelin.

"It was nice having those two together because they could compete with each other," Maxin said. "They were similar in work ethic so they could push each other to get stronger each day.

"Jessie was older and was the stronger thrower at that time, but after she left, I think Jenna wanted to carve out her own name. And she's done that."

She even broke Merckle's school record in the javelin, recording a 157-5 at the WPIAL Class AA south qualifier.

Lucas then went on to win her second consecutive WPIAL title in the event the following week, and she also placed second in the discus, giving her two events in which to compete at the PIAA meet.

The discus was the first event on her schedule at Shippensburg and she struggled, placing 18th with a throw of 108-11.

"I was disappointed, but after it was over, I just told myself that javelin was my main thing and I was going to knock that out of the water," Lucas said.

And she did on her first throw, which was more than 6 feet farther than her PIAA title-winning throw in 2013.

"I focused on my technique beforehand and I was pumped for my first throw," Lucas said. "You want that first throw to go well; you don't want it to get caught in the wind and just go 130 and then you're in some trouble.

"My first throw is usually my best anyway, so I just went for it."

And it worked out pretty well.

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