Murky skies and soggy conditions didn't stop Emily Lelis from adding to her high school career medal count at the WPIAL Class AA championships last Thursday at Baldwin High School.
A senior at Springdale High School, Lelis earned her fourth WPIAL title in the 100-meter hurdles despite competing in adverse conditions. The steady day-long rain slowed her to 14.51 seconds, missing the meet record of 14.18 set by Quaker Valley's Jasmine Rogers in 2004.
"It was really difficult," Lelis said. "There were strong winds and the rain was crazy. I tried to stay focused and battle through it."
The worsening conditions forced suspension of competition by early evening and Lelis, a slender 5-foot-7, 115-pounder, had to wait until Saturday to compete in the 300-meter hurdles, which put an end to her personal winning streak. She finished second behind Mohawk's Maria Fleck in 44.33 seconds. Fleck ran a 44.05 to take the title and break the meet record (44.57) that Lelis had set last year.
This is the first time in four years that Lelis did not earn gold in both hurdles events. She also ran on the winning 1,600-meter relay team her freshman year.
Lelis came down with the flu before the WPIAL Class AA Northern Qualifiers and missed the Pine-Richland Invitational earlier this month. She said lingering effects from the illness contributed to her lack of endurance in the 300 hurdles. Despite all obstacles faced, this Springdale resident is pleased with the results.
She will compete in the PIAA Class AA championships at Shippensburg University Friday and Saturday. Lelis is a two-time PIAA champion in the 300 hurdles. She also earned a 2012 state gold medal in the 100 hurdles and silver in the 100 hurdles last year.
"I just want to get some good training in this week and do the best that I can," she said. "I don't really have any goals or times that I want to run. I want to better my times and see what happens."
She is the only Springdale athlete moving on to PIAA championships, but that doesn't bother her. Because Springdale is a small Class A-sized school, this won't be the first time Lelis has traveled solo to the state meet.
In fact, Springdale is so small that they don't have a hurdles coach. Lelis has relied on her older brother, Tyler, a 2009 WPIAL champion, for most of her training.
She said she has always had a passion for running, but it was her freshman year that Tyler convinced her to try hurdles. He also didn't have a hurdles coach when he competed for the Dynamos. Tyler was mostly self-taught and passed his knowledge on to his younger sister.
The duo can often be found on the track practicing hurdle techniques before Lelis makes her way to team practice.
"It shows that she is very dedicated to what she likes to do," Springdale coach Jake Lauer said. "She trains her hardest to be the best that she can be."
Lelis is cyber-schooled, which allows for more time for her five-day training plan mapped out by Tyler, who recently graduated from the University of Pittsburgh and has less time to spend with his younger sister.
"I don't think the workouts are as enjoyable by myself," Lelis said. "We are really close. I don't have any training partners or anything, so just to have him at practice was fun."
Off the track, the siblings carry their competitive nature to the tennis courts, but it's simply a family thing. Lelis picked up tennis as a fun sport to do on the side, but wanted to keep her focus on track. They also share interests in music and hockey.
Lelis will continue to train through the summer, but she won't clear a hurdle until the beginning of her first collegiate year. Her workouts will include the trails and hills of Deer Lakes Park in addition to performing plyometric exercises.
Lelis has received offers to compete in college, but she said she will not make a decision until after the PIAA championships.