ARMOLD: Loganville's Purnell thrives in relative obscurity for Mercersburg Academy track team
While local track athletes got their time in the spotlight on the big postseason stages throughout this month, there was another standout, York-area athlete who performed at a high level in relative obscurity.
There was good reason for that. She competed about 90 miles away at Mercersburg Academy in Franklin County.
Loganville's Tatiana Purnell put together a senior season just as worthy of merit as the standouts in the York-Adams league.
However, Purnell will get a chance of her own to shine at Shippensburg University's Seth Grove Stadium, site of the PIAA state meet. Her talents recently earned her a scholarship to the NCAA Division II university.
Mercersburg Academy is a coeducational, independent, college preparatory boarding school that has students enrolled in grades 9–12, as well as offering a postgraduate year. This year, there are approximately 435 students enrolled from 30 states and 40 nations.
As an independent, the school does not compete in the PIAA, but rather the Pennsylvania Independent School Athletic Association.
Standout senior season: Purnell's senior campaign saw her set two PAISAA records and three school marks. Her mainstays were hurdle events (100, 300, 400) and she also participated in the 400 dash.
For some basic perspective, I'll take Purnell's personal-best times in those events and measure them against those of area and PIAA Class AA postseason meet winners — using Class AA simply based on Mercersburg's small enrollment numbers.
In the 100 hurdles, Purnell posted a best time of 15.19 seconds, which was a new PAISAA meet and school record. That time could have earned her York-Adams and District 3 titles, as well as a fifth-place PIAA medal this year.
In the 300 hurdles, Purnell also put up a state and school record at the PAISAA meet with a time of 44.34 seconds. Good enough again for York-Adams and District 3 crowns and a fourth-place PIAA finish.
While the 400 hurdles isn't offered in the PIAA, Purnell still set a new school record in that event with a time of 1:03.8.
And in the dash of the same length, she had a best time of 58.6 seconds. That would have been good enough for a second-place finish at this year's York-Adams and District 3 meets and also an eighth-place finish at the PIAA meet.
Time to set sail: Purnell first discovered Mercersburg when she attended camps there for a number of years. After learning more about the opportunities that would be presented to her, she eventually felt the school was a better fit for her academically and on the track.
Mercersburg also offers an indoor track season in the winter, which she credits as a major benefit in helping her succeed in the outdoor season.
"Indoor track is very crucial because it keeps running muscles active, allows athletes to focus on specific skills they want to improve on and takes everyone back to the basics," Purnell said.
She made the decision to leave Dallastown High School after her sophomore year, saying the move would have come sooner, but she applied too late to make it in after her freshman year.
At Shippensburg, Purnell plans on participating in two of her mainstays, the 100 and 400 hurdles. She's hoping to earn a spot on the 1,600 relay team and wouldn't mind taking a shot at the triple jump.
Purnell credits the development of her mental toughness for her success this season. She said she focused harder on her goals and wanted to avoid the pitfalls that often befall under-prepared talent.
"Track, I feel, is about 40 percent physical and 60 percent mental. I say this because I've seen great runners lose many events simply because they didn't have the will to win," she said.
More than athletics: Purnell also credits Mercersburg for preparing her for life at Shippensburg. She said she has no fear of living away from home and her time management skills have improved tremendously.
Those time management skills were most certainly put to the test during her time at Mercersburg. During her short tenure there, she served as student-council president in addition to many other activities — things such as chapel choir, chapel nursery, Voices for Justice, the African-American Student Union, the spirit committee, Poetry Out Loud, dance and the Student Alumni Association.
That's a ridiculously demanding list for any student, let alone a student-athlete. On top of the two seasons of track, Purnell also played field hockey.
"My calendar became my best friend. I really had to discipline myself in terms of time management" Purnell said. "It got pretty overwhelming at times. Sometimes I don't even know how I was able to manage."
Now, she intends on majoring in exercise science at Shippensburg, although that could change.
No matter her final major choice, however, her experiences in the classroom and on the track at Mercersburg should certainly give her a leg up on the challenges that lie ahead.
— Reach Elijah Armold at firstname.lastname@example.org; @EADisptach on Twitter.