Former WPIAL and PIAA champion Jessie Merckle has made an instant impact for the Wake Forest University women’s track & field team.
A Hickory native and Fort Cherry graduate, Merckle is a freshman for the Demon Deacons, and two weeks ago, she won the women’s javelin competition at the Atlantic Coast Conference Championships in Raleigh, N.C.
Merckle won with a throw of 162-8, which was about one foot shy of the Wake Forest school record she set in March. Merckle, who is ranked in the top 10 nationally, became the first Wake Forest female to win an ACC championship since 2010, and the first to win the javelin competition.
In preparation for the ACC meet, Merckle won the javelin competition at the Auburn Tiger Invitational with a throw of 149-8.
Merckle is one of several talented female javelin throwers from the Washington-Greene area who could advance to the NCAA Championships in Eugene, Ore., next month. Another is Amanda Kennedy, a senior at Marshall, who broke her own school record in the javelin during the Hilltopper Relays hosted by Western Kentucky.
A Bentleyville native and Bentworth graduate, Kennedy had a throw of 158-3, which was nearly 10 feet farther than her previous school record of 149-7 set last spring. Last week, Kennedy placed seventh at the Prestigious Penn relays with a toss of 147-1.
Kennedy has had three throw coaches in her four seasons at Marshall but has developed into one of the top javelin throwers in Conference USA.
“Amanda is really a vital cog for us,” Marshall head coach Jeff Small said. “Because she doesn’t run cross country or compete indoors, she only has the outdoor season to shine, and she has.
“She’s fought through injuries and had three coaches, which is tough for anyone, but she’s been really consistent. She comes through in the big meets, and that’s huge for us. … You can always count on Amanda’s points. The bigger the competition, the better she throws.”
Kennedy placed second in the Conference USA Championships last year and was an NCAA qualifier during her freshman and junior seasons. She was a two-time WPIAL champion at Bentworth.
Since joining the Thundering Herd, Kennedy has overcome a series of injuries. As a freshman, she stumbled in a hammer-throw divot on a practice field and ended up with a spike on her right shoe in her left big toe. Prior to her sophomore season, Kennedy tore a quad tendon in her right knee.
“I’ve had my fair share of ups and downs,” Kennedy said.
If Kennedy has a goal for this season, then she isn’t saying.
“I used to be really set and focused on distances, but not anymore,” Kennedy said. “I do have high expectations for myself. I see myself at nationals.”
Kristen Zelenka of Washington is back with the Point Park softball team and having another stellar season. After sitting out last year, Zelenka, a Trinity graduate, returned to the Pioneers as a graduate student who had one year of eligibility remaining.
Zelenka was named the Kentucky Intercollegiate Athletic Conference Pitcher of the Week for March 24-30 and has pitched in 12 games, throwing 10 complete games including three shutouts. She has a 9-3 record and 2.88 ERA. Zelenka also has batted four times, collecting three hits and driving in four runs.
Zelenaka is one of three former Trinity players on the Point Park roster. Sara Guffey is a senior catcher, and Ashley Morran is a junior second baseman. Morran is batting .395 and leads the KIAC in doubles with 14. She also has team highs in triples (2), home runs (12), RBI (53) and walks (15). Guffey is batting .277 with seven doubles.
Point Park enters the KIAC tournament this week with a 22-6 record in conference play. The Pioneers are 29-11 overall.
• Another former Trinity player, Marley Lafferty, is having a solid season for Pitt-Greensburg.
A sophomore designated hitter and pitcher, Lafferty is batting .324 with three home runs and 17 RBI. She has developed into a reliable pitcher for UPG, compiling a 6-3 record and 4.14 ERA for the Bobcats.
• Pitcher Tara Konopka has more than half of Drexel’s wins.
A freshman from McMurray and a former standout pitcher for Peters Township, Konopka is a freshman at Drexel. She has started 23 games in the circle for the Dragons (15-33) and has thrown 16 complete games. Konopka has an 8-17 record and one save in 162 1/3 innings. She has struck out 118 batters. Konopka had a career-high 11 strikeouts against St. John’s and threw a four-hit shutout against Rider.
In track & field
Bethany junior Ben Gregg won another Presidents’ Athletic Conference men’s javelin championship.
An Eighty Four native and Bentworth graduate, Gregg won his second title in three years with a throw of 189-3 in the PAC Championships last weekend at Washington & Jefferson’s Cameron Stadium.
Gregg also was named the PAC Men’s Field Athlete of the Week for March 24-30. He qualified for the ECAC Championships for the third year in a year by winning the Washington & Jefferson Invitational with a throw of 191 feet, which was nearly 14 feet farther than the event’s runner-up.
Alex Frey, a junior left-handed pitcher for Youngstown State, continues to work his way back from reconstructive elbow surgery that prevented him from playing in 2011. A Trinity graduate, Frey has pitched in a team-high 19 games out of the bullpen for the Penguins and has a 3-1 record and 11 strikeouts in 15 1/3 innings.
Frey returned to pitch in two games for YSU last season and is second on the team this season in appearances.