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Kunnas jumps for joy with state pole vault win

ENDICOTT - Anton Kunnas' high school career hit a new high point on Friday.

The pole vaulter from Finland who is spending the school year at North Tonawanda captured the overall championship in his specialty. He set a personal best outdoors as he took the title at the New York State track and field championships here. It came in the first of two days of the competition.

"I'm both surprised and really happy," Kunnas said about the outcome, which was one of the highlights of a strong performance by Western New Yorkers.

"I think this is a little bit more than I even hoped for, honestly," he said. "When I left Finland, the main thing was that I'd get to practice. If I won some meets, that would be really cool. I got to experience a lot of cool stuff, so it's been awesome."

Kunnas won the championship, which completes a bookend with his indoor title earned earlier in the year, in somewhat dramatic fashion. He passed at the first three heights, and then failed to clear the bar at his first two attempts at 14 feet, 6 inches.

"I felt good," he said. "I came in at a high height. I was a little nervous for the last jump. The winds were really strong today from the side."

But he was solid on jump No. 3. It took Kunnas two tries to make it at 15 feet, and he again needed that third and last attempt to clear the bar at 15-3. By then, we were down to two competitors: Kunnas and Colin Duignan of Fordham Prep. Duignan missed on his first attempt, and Kunnas followed by clearing 15-6 on his first try - which he celebrated with a vigorous arm swing.

"I had had a lot of jumps by then and I was tired, but I managed to make it," he said.

Duignan had fewer misses during the competition - which is the tiebreaker - but that wouldn't help him unless he cleared 15-6 too. Duignan didn't really come close, and Kunnas had won the title.

From there, the Finn gave 15-9 a try even though there was nothing at stake.

"I was quite relaxed then because I had won at that point, and I had a couple of really good attempts - maybe one where I barely touched the bar," said Kunnas, who plans to compete at nationals later this month.

The 18-year-old planned to call home to tell his family in Finland about this latest triumph. But it won't be a surprise, thanks to the web-surfing habits of his family.

"I'm sure my dad will know before I call him," Kunnas said.

Speaking of reaching new heights, Shevaughn Allen of JFK was in top form in the triple jump. Officially, he finished at 47 feet, 1/4 inch. That was good for the State's Division II title.

"It feels pretty well," Allen said. "It's my first time here, and the competition was pretty good. I just have to do what I've got to do."

The competition doesn't keep track of overall standings, but Allen beat everyone who took part in the competition Friday. As an added bonus, he broke his own school record by almost two feet.

"It's something that's dear to me, so I go out and get it," Allen said about his approach to the event. "I came with the aim of breaking the school record, and to win. I'm really proud of myself for what happened."

It was the "Paul Kemsley Show" in the boys' discus throw. The Lancaster standout threw exactly 180 feet to take the title in Division I. That was about 24 feet ahead of Evan Tuthill of III-West Genesee. Kemsley also was more than seven feet ahead of anyone in Division II.

The only person who wasn't satisfied by all that was Kemsley himself.

"I was disappointed I didn't break the school record," the Legends' senior said. "I'm looking forward until tomorrow when the competition is even tougher."

In the relay, Sweet Home surprised itself with a spectacular performance in the 4x100 relay. The Panthers won in a time of 41.36 seconds, good for a Division I championship and a ticket to Saturday's Federation final.

"I wasn't sure that we could do it," Anthony Williams said. "But my teammates and I have been working very hard. We wanted to be a state champion so badly."

"It went pretty well," anchorman Nathaniel Davis said. "I thought we might break 42" seconds, "but I didn't expect a 41.3. I think we can go faster tomorrow. We had at least one handoff that didn't go so well this time."

Another Section VI team will be in the Federation final, as Niagara Falls - third in Division I - advanced as well. Alden finished third in the D2 4x100 relay.

One Western New York runner had the odd experience of winning his race, but not finishing first in his division.

Ian Russ of East Aurora won his portion of the 3,200-meter run with a time of 9:25:17, an edge in his competition by more than four seconds. But in the other flight, Ryan Gallagher of I-Briarcliff finished in a time of 9:13:57. That left Russ with second place.

"I got out the way I wanted to, I was on pace for the most part, dropped off a bit, but kept up for the most part," he said. "I was hoping to be a little more competitive" overall, "because the guys in my heat were seeded right with me. "

Meanwhile, Treston White of Lockport finished fourth in the D1 400 at 47.81. Connor Doran of Lockport was fifth in the 800 in DI in 1:54:67.

Jalin Cooper of Medina qualified third in the D-II 100 in 11.30, while Sweet Home's Davis was third in the D-I 200 in 21.78.

The competition concludes on Saturday.

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