SHIPPENSBURG, Pa. — Hempfield’s Maddie Holmberg knew she had a PIAA title wrapped up. But with one last attempt remaining in the long jump, she felt a certain sensation as she stood on the runway.
She looked at her parents in the stands. She glanced at her coaches behind a nearby fence.
“I started shaking on the runway,” Holmberg said.
A few seconds later, the shakes turned to tears — of joy.
On her final jump, Holmberg went where no WPIAL girl has gone before.
Twenty feet, 1 inch. Welcome to history, Maddie Holmberg.
Holmberg, daughter of a former NFL player, won the Class AAA long jump Friday at Shippensburg University and her distance of 20-1 was the best by any girl from the WPIAL in any meet. It also is the seventh-best jump in the country this year, according to Track & Field News.
“I do my best when I feel it and have a lot of adrenaline,” said Holmberg, a junior, whose father, Rob, played linebacker for eight years in the NFL.
“That last jump, I just let it loose. Then I saw them put a ‘2’ up on the board.
“It’s normally a ‘1.’ When I saw the ‘2’ I just started bawling like a baby because I knew it was 20 feet.”
All year long, Holmberg had talked about wanting to get to 20 feet. She had jumped 19-10 a year ago, but her best this spring was 19-3.
At the PIAA meet Friday, her best in her first five jumps was 19-1, easily good enough for first place, but nowhere near 20 feet. Her final jump bettered the previous WPIAL best of 19-11½ by South Park’s Nikita Lewis in 1998 and Winchester Thurston’s Cassie Richards in 2001.
“Even though I hadn’t gotten in the high 19s all season, every time I did jump in the 19s, it has been behind the board,” Holmberg said. “My coaches would always tell me, ‘That would’ve been a 20’ if I was on the board.
“So I guess I had some unfinished business all year. … To get 20 feet, oh my gosh. This is just awesome.”
Holmberg was one of three WPIAL athletes who won gold medals on the first day of the championships in front of a crowd of 4,590.
Finals were held Friday in half of the field events, but all running races were preliminary heats. All running finals and the rest of the field events are today.
Holmberg was actually one of two Hempfield athletes who won gold medals. The other was Max Adams, who like Holmberg, put himself among the best in the country this season.
Adams, a senior and a Wake Forest recruit, won the Class AAA boys discus with a throw of 198 feet, 3 inches. It tied for the fifth-best throw in the country this spring.
Adams naturally felt a sense of accomplishment. But he also felt relief.
This was the fourth consecutive year Adams spent part of Memorial Day weekend in Shippensburg. But he had finished either fourth or fifth every time.
“I feel relieved,” said Adams, who will participate today in the shot put.
“I was thinking all week that I don’t want to be the kid who choked every year. I didn’t want to be the one who never amounted to anything, who was a good practice thrower, but never a meet thrower.
“Finally, I think I got some self-respect.”
The other winner from the WPIAL was Madison Wiltrout of Connellsville, who won the Class AAA javelin with a throw of 151-1.
Wiltrout’s title was surprising, considering she is only a freshman and she only tried throwing a javelin in the fall.
“I am shocked,” Wiltrout said of her javelin success. “At one point, I was looking at YouTube videos to try and figure out what I should try and do. I just don’t even know what to say.”
But Wiltrout is an excellent athlete. She averaged 13 points a game in basketball as a freshman. She used to think basketball was her best sport.
“Now, I’m not so sure,” she said.
In running events, Washington’s Alyssa Wise had trouble finishing her heat of the Class AA 100 dash because of an injured hamstring. She finished sixth and did not qualify for the semifinals. A week ago, she won the WPIAL 100 with a record time.
For more on high school sports, go to “Varsity Blog” at www.post-gazette.com/varsityblog. Mike White: firstname.lastname@example.org, 412-263-1975 and Twitter @mwhiteburgh.