Fort Cherry High School does not have a track. But for the second time in three years, Fort Cherry has an track athlete headed to a Division I program.
Senior Jenna Lucas, who won the Class AA girls javelin title at the PIAA Track and Field Championships last year, will sign her letter of intent on Feb. 5 to continue her career at the University of Central Florida.
Lucas won the championship with a throw of 147-1 in the semifinals to beat Tamaqua’s Christine Streisel, who was the defending state champion.
Lucas followed in the footsteps of Jessie Merckle, who graduated from Fort Cherry in 2012 and also won the PIAA javelin title. Merckle is now attending Wake Forest University, where she won the ACC Championship as a freshman.
Lucas and Merckle worked side by side as Lucas learned how to throw a javelin. When Merckle was throwing the javelin and setting school records, Lucas watched in amazement. She thought that she could never duplicate Merckle’s accomplishments.
“Whenever I was a freshman and just started learning how to throw the javelin, I would say, ‘holy cow, I could never throw that far,’” Lucas said. “I always thought it would be really overwhelming. I never thought that would happen to me and then it did. She helped me out a lot.”
When Merckle graduated and left a void in Fort Cherry’s program, Lucas saw the opportunity to make her own mark. She felt nervous not having Merckle’s guiding presence, but was determined to learn from the Wake Forest recruit’s path to the state championship.
“When Jessie left it was hard, I was thinking what am I going to do?” Lucas said. “She really helped me a lot. As a junior, I didn’t want to let anyone down because Jessie was state champion and everyone knew here. I wanted to be that next person because everyone knew her and saw her getting all of that attention. I wanted to step in and do the best I could do.”
Fort Cherry track coach Ben Maxin didn’t expect Lucas to have the season she did in 2013. While he knew how talented she was, he found it hard to believe the junior could fill Merckle’s shoes. She did.
“I think (Jessie) helped her see what it took to reach that accomplishment,” Maxin said. “She exploded onto the scene last year. At the beginning of last year, I would have never guessed she was going to throw the way she did last year. She is making her own mark and wanted to make her own name. She took advantage of that last year.”
Lucas chose Central Florida over Penn State, partly because of the warm weather in Orlando, which will allow her to train year-round. Wake Forest also showed strong interest, but like she did last year, Lucas wanted to make her own mark on a small, yet successful track and field team.
“After visiting Central Florida and meeting coaches, It felt more homey there,” Lucas said. “It sounded like it would be better to go to Penn State because of the distance, but UCF was extremely nice and we were connected. The team is a lot smaller than Penn State so they are really close. Plus, the campus is beautiful.”
As Lucas prepares to make her commitment official, there is one thing she needs to work on: her signature.
“I’m so excited for February 5,” Lucas said. “I just want to get it signed and I actually have to practice my signature. I want it to look official when I send it in. I’ll need to start working on that soon.”