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Thomas Jefferson’s Smith, Baldwin’s Johnston enjoy experience at PIAA track and field championships |

Thomas Jefferson’s Smith, Baldwin’s Johnston enjoy experience at PIAA track and field championships

Two local athletes advanced to the PIAA track and field finals this year for the first time in their careers.

Kayla Smith, a senior at Thomas Jefferson, and Dave Johnston, a junior at Baldwin, turned in career-best performances recently at the Class AAA state meet held at Shippensburg University.

Smith registered a toss of 135 feet, 11 inches — just short of the school record of 141 — to place sixth in the girls’ javelin event. She competed at both the WPIAL and PIAA finals on a sore ankle, which she sprained two days before the WPIAL qualifiers.

“There was a very different, more competitive atmosphere at states than (at) any other meet I’ve been to,” Smith said. “I feel as though I tried my best despite my ankle sprain. I could’ve done better if I was healthy.”

Johnston cleared a height of 14-9 to place seventh in the boys’ pole vault event. His previous personal-best mark was 14-0 at the state indoor finals.

Johnston also eclipsed 14-3 at Shippensburg.

“I had a fantastic experience, although I did not expect the overwhelming number of competitors, as well as spectators, that flooded the streets of Shippensburg University,” Johnston said. “It was certainly an experience I’ll remember for the rest of my life.”

Smith earned eight varsity letters at Thomas Jefferson, including five in indoor/outdoor track and field and three in volleyball.

She was an all-WPIAL selection in volleyball, and a key member of the 2014 team at TJ that finished as the WPIAL Class AA runner-up.

This fall, Smith plans to attend Pitt and major in pharmacy.

“I wish I had time to compete in volleyball or track in college,” she said.

Johnston also is a member of the Baldwin football team. He has earned seven varsity letters, including five in track and field (three outdoor, two indoor) and two in football.

“Going into the (PIAA) competition I was seeded 14th, so I knew I needed to perform to the best of my ability if I wanted a chance to crack the top eight,” Johnston said. “The best part about track and field is the friendships that are created between athletes as well as coaches. Before the competition, instead of everyone sitting by themselves minding their own business, Griffin Thompson (State College), Hayden Fox (Hempfield), Caleb Sanford (McDowell) and I all sat next to each other with competitive mentalities but ‘best friend’ attitudes.

“When it came time to compete, I let nothing get in my way. I was vaulting on the biggest pole I’ve competed on all season, and the adrenaline was through the roof. Once I cleared 14-9, I ran off the mat and ran over to my coach (Dave Klueber) because I knew that was gonna be good enough to place.”

The school record for the boys’ pole vault event at Baldwin is 16-3, set in 2006.

“I’m excited for next season because I want to take first in the state, and set the school record,” Johnston said. “None of this would’ve been possible without my coach. He’s the one who pushes me to succeed. I thank him for all the time he puts in to make me the best athlete I can be.”

Smith, coached by Gavin Keith at Thomas Jefferson, finished third in the javelin at the WPIAL championships with a toss of 123-10.

Johnston ended up fourth in the pole vault at the WPIAL meet by clearing 14-0.

He also placed ninth at the WPIAL finals as a sophomore.

Ray Fisher is a Tribune-Review staff writer. Reach him at 412-388-5820 or

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