AA Girls - 9:00 am
Team: Central Cambria (6) returns to Hershey as the defending state champion. They're missing one key member of last year's squad – two time XC champ and 2-time Foot Locker all-American Carly Seymour. While the front-running one-pointer is not there this time around, they have a solid pack with a top three that exchanges places (for the right reasons) from meet to meet. But to successfully defend their title, they'll have to hold off a very powerful team from Lewisburg (4). The Dragons boast one of those front-runners this year in senior Sophia Ziemian (in PennTrackXC.com photo), who has not been challenged in any race so far. Ziemian was missing from last year's 3rd place team after a stress fracture ended her season early. They have also had dramatic improvement from sophomore Shannon Wright, who with returning senior Kiah Hardcastle, complete probably the best top three in the state. Last year's runner-up from Elk Lake (2) returns; as do 4th place Union City (10), 5th place West Middlesex (10) and 7th place Saint Basil (1). Crashing the team party in 2008 will be Shady Side Academy (7), a narrow winner over two other teams to watch on Saturday, in Quaker Valley and Riverview. Another much-improved 2008 team to watch will be Saucon Valley (11).
Individually, the top three from last year – Carly Semour, and fellow Foot Locker all-American Kacey Gibson of Neshannock, and Kara Millhouse of Boiling Springs – are gone. Also gone are the 4th through 10th place finishers. Kinda unusual in the girls' race, but that is exactly the way it unfolded in 2007. The loan underclassmen in that elite group last year was Harbor Creek's Lauren Zarger (10) (in PennTrackXC.com photo). Zarger is having a great season, and was 2nd in the the pre-states meet on the course in the 2nd fastest time of the day on September 20. Ziemian had the fastest time that day. In the lead/chase pack, look for Crestwood (2) sophomore Kirstin Schafer; Eastern Lebanon (3) junior Kayleigh Perry; Ziemian's fellow senior Kiah Hardcastle; North East (10) freshman Katie Perkins; and Northwestern Lehigh (11) junior Lindsay Kerr.
AAA Girls - 10:00 am
Team: When you are the defending state champs, you are marked all year. So you either improve or risk your status at the top. Two years ago with this same group, Emmaus (11) (in PennTrackXC.com photo) was runner-up to a talented, but senior-dominated Radnor (1) team. Last year, they cruised to the win.
So did they improve as a team and individually? Yes and yes. In their D11 championships, Emmaus posted a team average of 18:36, a 24-second improvement over their average in 2007. And it was 22 seconds better than D11 runner-up Liberty, and 18 seconds better than D1 champions North Penn.
One of the keys to their improvement is as simple as A-B-C... as in Amanda, Brianna and Christina Faust. The junior triplets are stronger than ever, and are consistently great racers. But the senior leaders on this year's team have made marked improvements as well. Lindsey Graybill is a front-runner this year, and PR'd on the course with her 2nd place 17:57. And Melissa Meade, who had been running #5 last year, has been visiting the team's #3 spot this season. So the Hornets are better than ever, thank you.
The biggest challenge to Emmaus could come from any of four teams. Cumberland Valley (3) finished fourth in 2007 and returned everyone, and is led by soph Leigha Anderson, whose 19:07 in winning D3 is only surpassed by Ziemian's time from the pre-state meet in September. They easily handled their district race. Latrobe, who won the state title three years ago, returns with a front-runner of their own in senior Natalie Bower (in PennTrackXC.com photo), and a team that averaged 19:17 on the challenging Cooper's Lake course. And Bower is joined by fellow senior Abby Hewitt, who has run closely behind in races. That's a significant time, because the course is at least 30 seconds slower than Lehigh. The D1 champion North Penn girls posted a 18:54 average at Lehigh, and have seen the emergence of junior Christy Cohick as a top runner. They return everyone as well. And not to be overlooked is the team that has helped/pushed/forced Emmaus to run so well this season – Liberty. With 2007 state runner-up SO Jess Cygan running better than ever in posting the 3rd fastest Lehigh time of 17:44 – the team is poised to take advantage of any mistakes by other teams. Other top five contenders include D1 runner-up Council Rock North, along with D3's Governor Mifflin and Warwick, and D7's Knoch and Norwin.
Individually, the girls' AAA race could be an epic battle. The top returner is Jessica Cygan (in PennTrackXC.com photo), and she is stronger than she was in 2007 when she was runner-up to 2-time champ Neely Spence of Shippensburg. But Latrobe's Bower is running her final race in the state, and after three 4th place finishes her first three years, seems to be racing at another level, as well. Don't look for either girl to give an inch. The top group should also include Boyertown (1) junior Elizabeth Simpson, whose 17:58 at the district meet showed she is ready for prime time. D1 runner-up Katie Gorman and Council Rock North sophomore Lindsay Rheiner are not far back. Cumberland Valley's Anderson has shown she knows the course and isn't afraid to push it. And the three girls who chased Bower in D7 will be there as well – including Norwin sophomore Jenna Gigliotti, her senior teammate Leslie Kovach, and Hampton junior Elaina Balouris. Plus team leader's Graybill of Emmaus and Cohick of North Penn will join any front-pack party.
AA Boys - 11:00 am
There are two defending champs returning in the boys' AA race – the team from North East (10) (in PennTrackXC.com photo), and Bishop McDevitt (3) senior Joe Beveridge.
Team: North East lost their top two guys to graduation. But that hasn't stopped the team from returning as one of the favorites. The 3-4 finish of senior Dylan Klein and junior Alex Beardsley, proved to be a key point difference at their district champs, as they led their team to a 14 point margin over both newcomer Fairview and returning runner-up General McLane. Last year's 3rd place team from West Middlesex did not advance this year. Outside of D10, the strongest challengers come from Quaker Valley (7), who plowed through their meet. They return most from 2007 when they finished 4th. Perennial AA power Scranton Prep is no longer AA. Taking their place from D2 are two very strong teams in Holy Redeemer and Elk Lake, separated by only ten points at districts.
Individually, Joe Beveridge (in PennTrackXC.com photo) is the guy to beat. His 16:42 at the D3 meet is a great time on the course. His biggest challenge should come from D12 senior Alfredo Santana of Nueva Eseranza, whose solo 16:25 over the challenging Belmont Plateau course indicates he may be ready for something special. The AA pack should be a big one this year. Included in the group should be the Holy Redeemer (2) one-two of senior Anthony Rizzo and junior Dave Levandoski - both who have experience on the course from pre-states... plus returning 5th place finisher Jim Spisak, a Bishop McCort (6) senior; D7's Omar Hyjek, Quaker Valley junior; Jon McElwain, Riverside senior and returning 4th place finisher; and John Yankello, Quaker Valley junior... Fairview (10) senior Sam Havko; and the top two guys from D4, junior Tyler Erhard of East Juniata, and senior Shawn Lake of Sayre.
Photo by Timothy O'Dowd, IrishRunner.com
Team: Ever since the Carlisle Invitational (7) when North Allegheny (in PennTrackXC.com photo) dominated a very strong field, including then PA#1 and returning state team champs North Penn (1), there has been talk at meets about whether it was a wake-up call for North Penn, or simply an indication that North Allegheny is indeed that good this year. While the district meets did little to resolve that discussion, the results did solidify the team's clear labeling as co-favorites for the state crown this Saturday. North Penn was just 20 ahead of North Allegheny last year, and while they lost two seniors, they saw the emergence of sophomore Ryan Gil as a front-running machine. North Penn also has a newcomer who had an important impact - former soccer player Sam Bernitt, a junior, who has run #2 for them late in the season.
The North Allegheny guys do hill work just getting out of bed in the morning. And North Penn purposefully made journeys to the very hilly Brandywine State Park course (Salesianum) in Delaware, and the challenging back hills of historic Van Cortlandt Park in New York. So both should be prepared, primed and pumped. If North Penn (in PennTrackXC.com photo) wins, that would make *eight of the last ten state AAA titles hailing from District 1. And they would be the first to repeat as champions since the 2002-03 West Chester Henderson (1) boys and Hatboro-Horsham (1) girls. But the WPIAL has tradition too... so step back from the line and let the dust fly... light blue and Gold and Black are comin' through!
There are plenty of talented teams to make sure these two powers don't focus solely on each other. Council Rock North (1) was just 50 back in the stacked D1 race. And Upper Dublin and Henderson had tight team compressions as well... just not as gaudy as the 38 seconds by North Penn, or the especially gaudy 30 seconds by North Allegheny on the more challenging Cooper's Lake course. Conrad Weiser (3) surprised everyone (OK, maybe just me and a few others who follow the entire state). Their dominance of strong teams from Cedar Cliff, Cumberland Valley and Carlisle show they are ready to dance the big dance. In two other districts, teams took it to the competition as Altoona (6) and LaSalle College HS (12), head for Hershey with high hopes. LaSalle is from the Philadelphia Catholic League, and will be in their first-ever state meet.
Photo by Ryan Comstock
Individually, we're pretty sure that Boyertown will not take their 3rd in a row. (That was quite a run, eh?). The top seven from 2007 graduated, and the top two returning are Perkiomen Valley (1) senior Jimmy Tarsnane, who was 8th, and North Penn (1) junior Brad Miles, who was 10th. But there will be two crashers on the front of this race who were 43rd and 49th in 2007, respectively. Lower Merion senior duo Ben Furcht and Neal Berman have been tearing up courses all fall. The two even broke a big-time course record at Rose Tree Park just a few weeks ago. They followed that up with a 1st and 3rd finish at the District 1 championships. Slipping into 2nd in that race was Tarsnane. Miles was 6th behind Henderson junior Will Kellar and Council Rock North senior Dan Wallace.
Jimmy Tarsnane photo by PennTrackXC.com photo
But Furcht, who won the Paul Short Run on the same course, just ran away over the last mile. His 16:09 on the new Hershey course at pre-states was also the fastest time of the day. No one approached that time at the District 3 meet this past week. Challenging Furcht will be D3's top three finishers, Carlisle senior Kyle Hurston, Conrad Weiser junior Zach Barker, and Carlisle junior John Pope. The District 7 top three finishers will be in that front pack as well, and include senior Matt Gregory of Canon-McMillan, senior Cam Stauffer of Seneca Valley, and the previously mentioned North Allegheny sophomore Ryan Gil. Also look for a previously untested Crestwood (11) senior Robert Micikas to be in the hunt for a top spot.
* Special thanks to Tom Moore of the Bucks County Intelligencer for the research on D1 and back-to-backs.