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Pope John Paul II’s Lang had a “perfect end to a very imperfect season“

After a season overwrought with struggles, Tom Lang erased several months of hardship Saturday by winning the PIAA Class AAA state title in the javelin.

After a season overwrought with struggles, Tom Lang erased several months of hardship Saturday by winning the PIAA Class AAA state title in the javelin.

It was a unique accomplishment. Last season, competing in Class AA for now-closed St. Pius X, Lang won a state title as well. Forced to move to Pope John Paul II because of Pius' closing, however, afforded him the rare opportunity to capture back-to-back state titles in two classifications.

After setting then-Pennsylvania's Class AA record with a championship throw of 213 feet, 10 inches as a junior (it was surpassed in 2011 by Northeast Bradford's Rob Robbins' 221-6), Lang endeavored to throwper in the 220-foot range this season.

He came nowhere near that mark. He faltered at the Penn Relays, not even advancing past the preliminary rounds. He struggled to break 200 feet and didn't do so until the Pioneer Athletic Conference championships on May 13.

He saved his best for last, though, throwing 211-4, his second best throw ever, on the final turn in the finals at Shippensburg University to seal the state title.

"I didn't think it was going to happen with the way my season was going in the beginning," Lang said after taking the podium to receive his gold medal, "but this is the perfect end to a very imperfect season."

Regrets? Strath Haven's girls' 4x800-meter relay team of Allie Wilson, Val Wilson, Katie Balmer, and Hannah Grossman was arguably the state's most talented foursome.

When it came time to make a decision about the state meet, though, the runners, with head coach Bill Coren, elected to not solely focus on the event that is arguably their best. They would look to compete for medals is other events, as well - a decision that they knew could jeopardize their chances in the 4x800, but were willing to make regardless.

So Val Wilson ran the 800, Grossman competed in the 1,600 meters, and Balmer also ran the 4x400-meter relay. They tried to rest Grossman, the team anchor, by having her sit out the preliminary race in the 4x800 in order to be fresh for the final, as well as her individual 1,600.

That reprieve wasn't enough. The multiple-race loads fatigued the Panthers, and likely kept them from winning the 4x800, ultimately finishing a distant second to West Chester Henderson in the championship race.

The Warriors set a new PIAA record with a time 8 minutes, 55.43 seconds, while Strath Haven clocked in at 9:02.36, still good enough to break the school record.

Henderson, in essence, ran the perfect race and the Warriors' time is the best in the nation this season.

But, had Strath Haven not stretched its lineup, could it have been them setting the state record, and not Henderson? Balmer maintains she has no regrets. Val Wilson isn't so sure.

"Their legs were fresher," Wilson, a Pitt recruit, said. "I mean, it's true. We all did other events, except Allie. I'm not taking anything away from them. They ran amazing, but I think if we maybe took away a couple events we could have given them some more competition.

"Now that I think about it, the team aspect is more important."

It's a sweep. Philadelphia-area athletes dominated the state championship meet this season, accounting for 26 total event champions, but Districts 1 and 12 athletes were consistently supreme in one event in particular: the 400-meter dash.

Philly-area runners swept all four championship races in the 400, with Cheltenham's Matt Gilmore winning the boys' AAA title, New Media's Chidi Okezi taking the AA boys' crown, and West Catholic's Michelle Davis and Quakertown's Alicia Evans claiming AA and AAA girls' titles, respectively.