Armed with a spontaneously crafted and Indiana-inspired team slogan, "PA Don't Play," one of our strongest senior teams ever trekked through snow, wind and a pool-side ambush to very nearly conquer all of the Midwest's best. Most of PA's top seniors made the long journey to far-far-far western Ohio to take on some of the top runners from Michigan, Illinois, Indiana, Ohio and West Virginia. On a wet, gray, typically Ohio November day - and on a pancake flat (except for the man-made mogul) course softened and muddied by overnight and morning rain, the PA girls and boys took it out hard and nearly hung on for the combined team victory. Their two-point miss to Indiana (113-115) represented their best showing in years, and served to solidify the already stellar reputation of this senior class of harriers.
In the girls' race, PA actually held a lead over eventual champion Indiana at 1.25 miles. When the scoring was complete, they were in a three-way 60-point tie with Ohio and Illinois, losing one tiebreaker to Ohio and winning the other, to take third. Leading PA's effort against several nationally ranked runners was PA AAA Champ Frances Koons of Allentown Central Catholic. Running with the lead pack of four through nearly half the race, Koons pushed through to maintain contact through an ever-increasing pace to take 7th in 18:19.09. AA Champ Adrienne Beltz, Hamburg (18:23.98), led a PA blitz from 9th through 11th with St. Hubert's Amy Kelly (18:35.93) and Red Lion's Kate Papenberg (18:37.09) to start the scoring with just 37 points. But Indiana only had 20 with their first four, and with a 15th place runner, solidified the win at 35. Chamberburg's Kylee Schuler left everything on the course, and was in a strong scoring position through two-and-a-half miles, but faded to 25th over the twisting, creek-riddled final 800. Palisades' Christa Plummer picked her up by finishing 23rd to finish the PA scoring at 60. Ohio star Sunni Olding of Minster, took off approaching the two mile and never looked back (or stressed) in going 17:36.72 for the win.
The PA boys faced a Michigan team as dominating as the Indiana girls had been, but handily dispatched every other team to take 2nd with 55 points. Indiana started with one point behind Christian Wagner's nearly wire-to-wire 15:16.35, but didn't have the horses to challenge the 3rd and 4th place efforts by '02 PA champ/'03 runner-up Christ Spooner of Lewisburg (15:39.75), and three-time PCL Champ Steve Hallinan of Cardinal O'Hara (15:42.11). As with the girls, PA got out strong, with Hallinan pulling up to Spooner at 1.25 to "feed of each other" and hold the chase pack at bay for the remainder of the race. 2003 AA Champ David Mock finished a strong 9th in 15:49.60 in his first race against a field as deep as the one assembled for this event. Slipper Rock CR-holder Jim O'Toole of Mount Lebanon, who ran 3rd for PA early in the race, finished 13th in 15:52.21. PA's 5th scorer was open for someone to step up, and that role was admirably filled by Elk Lake's Robert Squier, who went 16:11.52 for 26th. While the two-point combo-team loss will annoy some of the team for a day or so, the quality of the effort and the 'take it to them' attitude was created and brought to life over a 48-hour period, will stay with them, and empower them, for years.